by Jim Kerr

Have high gas prices got you down? There is hope on the horizon, and it comes in the form of a fuel cell. Ford has just delivered five fuel cell-powered cars to the Government of Canada, to be driven on the streets of Vancouver, while twenty-five more Ford Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV) will see use in the United States and Germany. This is the third generation of FCV from Ford and the first to be driven regularly by the public. Running on hydrogen instead of gasoline, they may be the future for all vehicles we drive.

2005 Ford Focus FCV
2005 Ford Focus FCV. Click image to enlarge

It has been a few years since I last drove a Ford Focus FCV, built by Ford scientists in 1997 and called the P2000. The vehicle required about half an hour of warm-up before it would produce power and even then, the vehicle was not very quick on acceleration. Now, Ford is using the third generation of FCV, utilizing a Canadian-made Ballard Mark 902 series fuel cell for power and Dynetek 5000 psi compressed hydrogen storage tanks.

The Ballard 902 Fuel cell is a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) type.
Hydrogen from the fuel tank flows onto one electrode in the stack. The electrode is coated with a catalyst that separates the hydrogen into protons and electrons. The electrons are used for power, while the protons pass through a polymer membrane to another electrode that combines oxygen with the hydrogen protons to produce the water vapour that is the engine’s only emission.

The Focus FCV also incorporates hybrid technology used in vehicles such as the Ford Escape. Under the hood is a hybrid electric powertrain. The fuel cell and auxiliary nickel metal-hydride battery pack are located under the floor pan, while some of the trunk room is used for the hydrogen storage tank.

An electro-hydraulic brake system uses brake-by-wire to maximize the regenerative braking, so the motion of the slowing vehicle can be converted back into electrical energy and stored in the battery pack.

Other than some decals, the Focus FCV looks like any other Focus on the road, and according to Ford, it also drives like any other Focus too. It’s the most sophisticated environmental vehicle Ford has ever developed.

Ford’s partners, including the Government of Canada, Fuel Cells
Canada and the Government of British Columbia are collaborating to drive and monitor the performance of these cars over the next three years. As one of the many hydrogen-related programs that will be developed for the Vancouver-to-Whistler “hydrogen highway” project leading up to the 2010 Olympic Games, the Focus FCV will demonstrate a long-term strategy toward sustainable vehicle operation.

Silverado military fuel cell truck
Fuel Cell Chevrolet Silverado. Click image to enlarge

On another note, GM has also just delivered the first fuel cell-powered truck to the U.S. military for evaluation. The Chevrolet Silverado uses two 94 KW fuel cell stacks to produce 188 KW of power and 317 lb-ft of torque, or about the same torque as GM’s 5.3-litre Vortec V8 gasoline engine.

Currently, the truck has about a 201-kilometre range, with the hydrogen fuel stored in three 10,000 psi storage tanks, even though this vehicle was not optimized for range. Despite the truck’s 3,400 kg weight, acceleration is similar to other Silverado trucks but with the added advantage of no emissions and no engine noise. Talk about a stealth truck!

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