After testing out the H-racer fuel cell toy car sent by BASF (see ICB 5/11/09, p.7) I got the chance to test out a real fuel cell vehicle on July 14 courtesy of General Motor's Chevy Equinox fuel cell demo car powered by Shell's hydrogen.
Shell, in partnership with GM, opened its second hydrogen refilling station in New York for fuel cell car drivers. There aren't any fuel cell cars out there yet for sale but some are testing demo cars such as GM's Chevy Equinox under the company's Project Driveway program.
GM said there are 30 of the model available for testing in New York and 60 in California. The company has overall 115 for testing across the globe. Since the program's inception in January 2008, these cars burned 900,000 miles in total all producing just water as emissions.
The car has an estimated rate of 39 miles per kilogram so if we do the math, it can actually go to more than 160 miles (even 200 miles GM said) before it needs to be filled up again with hydrogen.
At first glance, the car didn't even looked anything like my vision of a greener bat mobile and instead featured a gray SUV/van-type of automobile that any parent with two kids who'd like to have. It did sport a Fuel Cell logo along with trailing green water molecules that look like vines from a distance.
The shiny fuel cell powerhouse is located under the front hood replacing the odd bits and pieces of greasy motor innards typical of a petroleum-powered car. On the back of the car are four exhaust slots where water mists flow out. GM assured no dripping water here.
I had one of the GM officials to chauffered me around a parking lot so I can check the nuts and bolts inside the car (and to avoid being sued in case I crash it). GM did not disclose the cost of the car but said that they were very expensive to make. The fuel cells were hand-made by the way.
One feature that was very interesting to watch while the car is being driven is the energy display monitor near the dash board which shows power flowing from the fuel cell to the motor and/or battery as well as charging power returning to the battery during regenerative braking. It also showed how much petroleum was saved depending on the car's total mileage.
The car that I rode already had 9,392 miles on its hood and indicated about 417 gallons of petroleum saved.
I generally don't like to drive and it has been 10 years since my last attempt but all in all I was very impressed and was mightily tempted to buy an electric vehicle at that moment - if there's one already available and if it's cheap.
All I ask is to put a nice sounding chime to it when the car starts to avoid a possible crash. It's so darn quiet that I didn't even realized it was already turned on! Oh, and GM did assured me that the three hydrogen tanks located underneath are crashed proof.
We don't want another Hindenburg incident, do we?