Houston Community News >> Chinese Company Starts Small Hydrogen Powered Car
7/24/2006 China-- It's a dream that's been pursued for years by governments, energy companies and automakers so far without success: Mass-producing affordable hydrogen-powered cars that spew just clean water from their tailpipes.
"Public awareness and education are the first steps toward commercialization," said Horizon founder Taras Wankewycz, 32. "We want to make sure this technology gets adapted globally."
There's the cost and challenge of building fuel cells that convert hydrogen to electricity, and the question of how to cleanly generate the gas and distribute it to yet-to-be built fueling stations. Though prototype hydrogen cars exist, they're far from practical or affordable.
The fuel is supplied by its alarm clock-sized refueling station. A small electric current, generated by the solar cells, extracts hydrogen from water. (A battery backup is available for cloudy days.)
With the flip of a switch, the car takes off and runs for 4 minutes on a full tank. The gas never ignites -- and any would-be re-creators of the Hindenburg disaster are likely to be disappointed by the toy's negligible amount of the gas.
Horizon has bigger plans for the technology. Wankewycz said it's working on ways to make fuel cells more efficient, so that they can be used to power cell phones and laptop computers, and eventually vehicles and households. Still, what works for a toy isn't close to being ready for full-size cars. For one, it's extremely expensive, said Daniel Nocera, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemistry professor and one of the world's leading researchers in exploring how sunlight can be used to extract hydrogen from water.
Still, he admires Horizon's raising awareness about alternative energies through a toy.
Bigger fuel cell companies like Canada's Ballard Power Systems are working with governments in Europe, the United States and large Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai to build fuel-cell demonstration programs for buses and other public transport.
Horizon envisions neighborhood systems of small shops providing refills for small hydrogen canisters to families, much as they now sell tanks of liquid petroleum gas or propane for stoves and heaters. The canisters could be used to power scooters or small, electric cars suitable for short jaunts, Wankewycz said.
(Contributed by AP)