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U.S.A.:Ford readies hydrogen vehicles

Internal combustion engine uses clean fuel
September 26, 2003


SONOMA, Calif. -- Ford Motor Co. is preparing a fleet of ordinary vehicles powered by pure hydrogen gas instead of liquid gasoline. They will be sold to government agencies for on-road testing beginning in 2005. At the Challenge Bibendum, an exposition of developing powertrains, Ford showed two Focuses modified to burn hydrogen.

These shouldn't be confused with fuel-cell vehicles, which don't have internal combustion engines. Fuel cells use an electrochemical reaction to convert hydrogen (or hydrogen-rich fuel) and oxygen into electricity, emitting only heat and water vapor.

Ford's lineup included the Focus H2ICE, which has a 2.3-liter internal combustion engine powered by gaseous hydrogen, and the hybrid H2RV, which supplements the hydrogen-fueled engine with an electric motor.

The use of hydrogen in internal combustion engines "is coming along real fast," said Vince Zanardelli, leader of Ford's engine project. He said the company had not planned to bring its hydrogen vehicles to this week's event, but did so in response to the "tremendous interest" in the hydrogen-burning Model U concept car at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January.

"The program has been absolutely spectacular," said Mike Schwartz, Ford's director of sustainable mobility technologies.

Schwartz indicated that the fleet vehicles used in the test could be minivans, with engines larger than the 2.3-liter developed for the test cars.

The decision to road-test vehicles with hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines shows Ford believes this technology will help clean the atmosphere and reduce America's consumption of oil long before fuel cells are cheap enough to run automobiles.

"This isn't a whim; this isn't a short-term plan," said Schwartz. "It's a nice bridging act to fuel cells."

Ford's reasoning is this: Since normal engines can be modified to burn hydrogen directly, they could be ready in just a few years, creating a demand for hydrogen fuel. That would encourage fuel makers to invest in hydrogen, and lawmakers to put time into setting rules and regulations. Then when the price of fuel cells falls enough to use them in cars profitably, the fuel infrastructure will be ready.

Using hydrogen as fuel, instead of hydrocarbons, results in no toxic pollution and no global warming, if the hydrogen is produced in a clean way.

Zanardelli said work began "as a grass roots effort" in 1997 when some engineers said, "Let's see how close we can get to fuel-cell performance."

Andrew Lutz of Sandia National Laboratories has worked with Ford on the project. He said that in theory a hydrogen engine should get about 80 percent of the benefits of a fuel cell, and early test cars confirm that, getting about the equivalent of 40-45 miles per gallon.

Fuel cells are getting most of the attention for the future, but they cost about 10 times more than an internal combustion engine. The FreedomCar consortium of the world's leading automakers predicts that it will be 2020 before fuel cells can compete in the marketplace without subsidies. Ford's idea requires relatively simple modifications: a high-pressure fuel tank that can hold compressed hydrogen and new fuel injectors are the biggest changes.

Only Ford and BMW are openly developing internal combustion engines to work on hydrogen fuel. General Motors Corp. is not interested in the Ford approach. "Everybody's got to develop their own schedule," said Neil Schilke, GM's general director of engineering. "It didn't make any sense to us."

At the Challenge Bibendum, sponsored by tiremaker Michelin, in addition to the two Fords, Energy Conversion Devices Inc. of Rochester Hills displayed a Toyota Prius modified to burn hydrogen while there were 14 fuel-cell vehicles, including one from Ford and two from GM.

Automakers and independent researchers brought 108 vehicles to Challenge Bibendum, which is named after the tire company's famous mascot, better known as the Michelin Man.

For the first time, several heavy trucks were tested.

A 2001 Volkswagen Jetta modified by American Biofuels to run on biodiesel fuel won gold awards for top-level performance in six categories: energy efficiency, three different categories for CO2 emissions, range and crash safety.

Among automaker entries, the Honda FCX fuel cell car, in limited series production for testing purposes, and the Honda Civic GX using compressed natural gas each won gold awards for top performance in five of the 11 categories. The Ford Focus burning hydrogen scored two golds, for low CO2 emissions.

Tire friction accounts for 20 percent of fuel consumption in cars, and more than 30 percent for heavy trucks, said Edouard Michelin, chairman of his company, in explaining why a tire maker sponsors the event.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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