Riversimple Promising Equivalent of 106 km/liter

Britain-based Riversimple, a company founded by former race car driver Hugo Spowers and backed by Porsche scion Sebastian Piech, Tuesday unveiled the prototype for a two-seat, hydrogen powered car promising fuel consumption equivalent to 360 miles per gallon (106 kilometers/liter).

Riversimple bills itself as a company dedicated to making highly energy efficient vehicles using a “radical new approach to personal mobility.” Instead of selling the car, touted as the world’s first low-cost and practical hydrogen vehicle, Riversimple says it plans to lease it, for about 200 British pounds (US$315) per month – for the car’s expected 20-year lifetime.

Equivalent of 106 km/liter

Equivalent of 106 km/liter.

Leases would include refueling. Production may begin by 2013, it said. Hydrogen, which generates zero emissions, is considered just about the cleanest option for automotive power. But issues of how to store and distribute it for refueling have yet to be resolved. Most prototype hydrogen-powered vehicles developed so far have been impracticably heavy or expensive, or both. Riversimple’s vehicle is built of lightweight composite materials and weighs only 772 lbs (350 kilograms).

It can reach 50 miles per hour (80 kph) and travel 240 miles (390 kilometers) on a 2.2 pound (1 kilogram) tank of hydrogen, Riversimple said in a statement. It is equipped with four 6 kilowatt fuel cells that power electric motors on each of its four wheels. The motors double as brakes and can generate electricity, which is stored in devices called ultracapacitors. “We believe we are closer to market with a commercial viable fuel cell car than anyone else,” Spowers said in a statement.

The car was developed by Riversimple in collaboration with Oxford University, Cranfield University in Bedfordshire and Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, a Shanghai-based developer and manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cells and related products. The research was supported by the British gas company BOC Group PLC and the Piech family, including Sebastian Piech, a great-grandson of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche.

Riversimple lists Piech among members of its leading “team.” The new car represents a big step for Horizon, which sells fuel cells used to power consumer products and has developed solid-state storage and refilling technology for hydrogen. “Hydrogen has the best energy density. It is the ultimate energy storage unit,” Taras Wankewycz, a Horizon founder, said in a recent interview in Shanghai.

While big automakers have tended to adapt conventional vehicle technology to alternative fuels, Horizon has focused on the fuel cells and refueling technologies, at first starting with small devices such as hydrogen powered model cars. “We’re growing the size. The device can be made bigger, say, for a lawn mower or leaf blower or a bike. You get it a bit bigger, and it can be used for an automobile,” he said. – AP.