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Hydrogen Vehicles

Raw Materials and Sustainability in an Automotive World

Car interiors are looking very stylish with many colours available, many textures and, of course, technologies.  Even the exterior and structure of new cars utilise some pretty sensational materials that are lightweight, strong and malleable.  So what are the main raw materials that make up the structure, style and flair that we love in our vehicles?

Inside each new car are different materials that require a number of raw materials for their production.  Aluminium, glass, coking coal, and iron ore are used in the process of making steel.  Kia and Mazda use very high-grade, high-strength steel in the production of their cars.  Mazda even states that they use very thin and strong steel.  There is a cost, though; the more high-grade, lightweight and high-strength the steel, the costlier it is to produce.  High-strength steel alloys cost more to manufacture.  Not only is the high-grade alloy harder to create in its raw form; it is also harder to work with.  Stamping it and forming it becomes harder, and so more energy and stronger tools are needed to press, form and cut it.

The automotive industry also relies on oil and petroleum products, not just for the gasoline and fuel to power the vehicles, but for the synthesis of plastics and in the production of other synthetic materials.  Petroleum products are needed to make huge amounts of plastics, rubber and special fibres.  After the raw materials are extracted from the earth, they are transformed into products that automakers or auto parts companies use in the car assembly process.

But wait; there is more – but only if you are into driving an electric vehicle (EV).  An EV is made up of all the raw materials described above, as the only thing that’s different about an EV from a vehicle that is powered by a combustion engine is that an EV uses a battery pack to get its power.  In every EV battery, there’s a complex chemistry of metals – cobalt, lithium, nickel and more.  These are all raw materials that need to be mined from somewhere around the globe.  Some researchers are expecting to see double-digit growth for batteries’ special raw materials over the next decade, and this sort of growth will increase the pressure on the raw material supply chain for EVs.

Hydrogen vehicles are powered by hydrogen.  The power plants of such vehicles convert the chemical energy of hydrogen into mechanical energy by either burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, or by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to power electric motors.  The fuel cell is more common.  A hydrogen powered vehicle is made up of the same core raw materials as the contemporary combustion powered cars and the EVs; however, like the EV, the hydrogen vehicle gets it power from a different source (hydrogen).  As of 2019, 98% of the hydrogen was produced by steam methane reforming, and this emits carbon dioxide.  Hydrogen can be produced by thermochemical or pyrolytic means using renewable feedstocks, but the processes are currently expensive.  So, you can run a hydrogen vehicle with an internal combustion engine that uses hydrogen as the fuel.  However, you can also run a hydrogen vehicle that uses a hydrogen fuel cell.  The hydrogen fuel cell is more complex, relying on special raw materials (one raw material being platinum as a catalyst) to deliver the hydrogen for powering the vehicle.

Biofuel is another fuel which can be used for powering combustion engine vehicles.  Biofuel can be produced sustainably from renewable resources.  The hitch with this one is ensuring there are large enough areas and methods dedicated to growing and producing biofuel for the masses.  Biofuel is considered to be a fuel that is derived from biomass, which can be from plant or algae material or animal waste. Since such plant, algae or animal waste material can be replenished readily, biofuel is considered to be a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas and even EVs.

Without a doubt, the automobile industry is one of the largest consumers of the world’s raw materials, and it’s important we get informed as to just how green a heralded new technology is said to be.  Science and sustainability need to continue to power our much needed vehicles about the globe and not fossil fuel giants, electric companies or blinded government bureaucrats.

Robert Opron and the Simca Fulgur: Better Than Nostradamus?

The question as to where all the flying cars are now that we’re in 2020 has become a bit of a cliché.  It’s been a bit of a cliché ever since we hit the new millennium. This is a reference to the way that popular culture envisioned what family cars would look like in the 21st century.

However, at least one car designer had ideas that were a bit more down to earth – literally.  The year was 1958 and the designer was Robert Opron. This designer had accepted a challenge to produce a concept car for the 1959 Geneva Motor Show for his parent company Simca. Never heard of Simca? This was a French company owned by Fiat that rivalled Citroen for the title of “France’s answer to the VW Beetle”. I owned one back in my student days – possibly a Simca 1300; it had a front engine like a normal car rather than a rear engine and it’s probably worth a mint now, so I’m rather regretting selling it. Its only quirk was a flaw in the speedo: after it hit 50 mph, the needle went back down even when I accelerated.

Anyway, enough memories of student cars and back to Robert Opron.  Opron later took his genius to Citroën, then Renault, then Alfa Romeo. He has been recognised as one of the top 25 designers of the 20th century, although he wasn’t the chap responsible for the very distinctive Citroen 2CV. The Renault Alpine was his, though, as were a number of 1980s Renaults.

Opron had come across a challenge issued by the Journal de Tintin.  Yes, that’s Tintin as in the intrepid red-haired reporter who has a dog called Snowy and a best friend called Captain Haddock.  The challenge was to design a “typical” car for the 1980s or for the year 2000. The challenge included a list of specifications that had to be included in the design, including the following:

  • fuelled by a nuclear-powered battery or a hydrogen fuel cell with a range of 5000 km
  • running on two wheels, balanced gyroscopically, at speeds over 150 km/h,
  • voice controlled
  • radar guidance for navigation and for detecting hazards
  • top speed of over 300 km/h
  • automatic braking if it detected a hazard
  • headlights that adjust automatically with speed

Although Opron didn’t produce a full working prototype, he did show a shell of the concept at the 1959 motor show and the full details of the concept car, known as the Simca Fulgur, were published in the Journal de Tintin (this suggests that it would have appeared alongside The Red Sea Sharks and/or Tintin in Tibet – just in case you were curious, like I was).

The Simca Fulgur – which takes its name from the Latin word meaning “lightning” – looked like the classic Jetsons flying car, except it didn’t fly. It captured the public imagination somewhat and became the basis for what people thought futuristic cars would look like. Or what UFOs would look like – take your pick.

Anyway, from the perspective of late October in 2020, 61 years later, it’s amusing to take a look at the cars of today and see how close we’ve actually come to getting some of these features. How well did the Fulgur predict what we’d have on our roads?

  • Voice control: Yes, we’ve got this, although it’s not quite a case of telling the car your destination and letting it get there (they’re working on that). But you can use voice control on quite a few things, including the navigation system.
  • Top speed of over 300 km/h: Yes, but most cars that are capable of this have their speeds limited for safety purposes.
  • Autonomous braking and hazard detection: Yes. However, human input is still needed.
  • Automatically adjusting headlights: Yes, although they adjust for the ambient light levels rather than how fast you’re going.
  • Electric motor with hydrogen fuel cell technology: Yes, although the range isn’t anywhere near what was predicted. We’d all love a range of 5000 km in an EV (electric vehicle) or HFCV (hydrogen fuel cell vehicle).
  • Electrical motor with nuclear power: Are you kidding me? Since Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power isn’t quite the sexy answer to our energy problems that it was back in the 1950s.
  • Balancing on two wheels with gyroscopic stabilisers at speeds over 150 km/h: No. Just no. If you want that sort of thing, get a motorbike, not a family saloon.

All in all, not too bad a job of predicting the future, Monsieur Opron – you did a better job than your compatriot Nostradamus.

BMW Updates And Hyundai Hydrogen Power.

BMW continue to roll out new or updated models at an astonishing rate in 2020. For the brand’s M Pure range, there will be another two models being added. Dubbed M135i xDrive Pure and M235i xDrive Pure, they’ll come with an extensive range of standard equipment and sharp pricing. The M135i xDrive Pure is priced at $63,990 and the M235i xDrive Pure at $67,990. This is a $5K savings in comparison to related models.

Power for both comes from BMW’s TwinPower Turbo four. 225kW and 450Nm spin an eight speed auto Sport Steptronic transmission that send grip to all four paws via the xDrive system with an LSD on the front axle. Steering column paddle shifts are standard. External style cues comes from the sharing of styling packages, wheels, and tyres.

BMW lists the M135i xDrive Pure with M Sport steering, 19 inch alloys in M spec Cerium Grey that wrap M Sport Brakes and blue calipers. Inside there is a BMW specification Head Up Display and the bespoke Driving Assistant package. There is Lane Departure Warning, Lane Change Warning, Approach Control Warning with city-braking intervention, Rear Cross Traffic Warning, Rear Collision Prevention and Speed Limit Info. There is also their Comfort Access System that features Electric Seat Adjustment, driver’s side seat memory function with the seats in Trigon black and Alcantara, and dual zone climate control. On top of that is the M135i xDrive which adds a panoramic glass roof, adaptive LED front lights and “Dakota leather upholstery, plus a thumping Harman Kardo audio system. The value here is over $6K. The same packages apply to the M235i xDrive Pure and M235i xDrive.

The stable now consists of M135i xDrive Pure and M235i xDrive Pure, the M340i xDrive Pure M550i xDrive Pure, before migrating to X2 M35i Pure, X5 M50i Pure, and X6 M50i Pure.

The two new additions will be available in the coming months.

Hydrogen is being touted by Hyundai as the next thing in vehicle power sources and the Korean company has moved swiftyly into areas outside of passenger vehicles. In a global first, Hyundai have sent to Switzerland 10 units of their hydrogen powered machine called XCIENT. This commences a roll-out which will comprise 50 units to start with. A goal of 1,600 trucks are expected to be released by 2025. Due to the tax structures in Switzerland, Hyundai chose the country with one levy, the LSVA road tax on commercial vehicles which does not apply for zero-emission trucks, as a main consideration. That nearly equalises the hauling costs per kilometre of the fuel cell truck compared to a regular diesel truck. And thanks to the green energy costs from hydropower, it counts towards the eco performance of the country.The power system has a pair of 95kW hydrogen fuel cells. Just on 32 kilos of the fluid form are stored across seven super-strong storage tanks. Hyundai specifically developed the system for the truck with the current and expected infrastructure in Switzerland, and have engineered in a range of 400 kilometres. Refuel time minimises downtime with anywhere from 8 to 20 minutes. Hyundai says that this should work in with obtaining “the optimal balance between the specific requirements” of the customer base and that refuel infrastructure. In Cheol Lee, Executive Vice President and Head of Commercial Vehicle Division at Hyundai Motor, opines: “XCIENT Fuel Cell is a present-day reality, not as a mere future drawing board project. By putting this groundbreaking vehicle on the road now, Hyundai marks a significant milestone in the history of commercial vehicles and the development of hydrogen society.”

A key attraction of the hydrogen technology is how well, like diesel, that hydrogen is admirably suited to long distance driving and the quick turn-around times required in heavy haulage. Engineering can also build engines, such as they have here, to deal with expected terrain such as the road system in a mountainous country. To that end, Hyundai is developing a unit for a tractor with a mooted range of 1,000 kilometres with markets such as the United States and Europe in mind.

The origination of the program goes back to 2019 with a joint venture named Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility, a partnership between H2 Energy in Switzerland and Hyundai. The basis for the trucks being operated will work around a lease agreement with commercial operators and on a pay-per-use agreement. This helps budget requirements as there is no immediate up-front costs.

Depending on the results, with expected high success levels, the program may be expanded to other European countries.

An Abundance Of Energy: H2X Australia

Australia’s car manufacturing industry is dead. Long live the Australian car manufacturing industry.

But all is not yet lost…Hydrogen is seen as the potential next step in powering automobiles on Earth, and the technology has been around for decades, featuring strongly in the aerospace industries. Australian company H2X, based in Sydney, has been quietly working away since 2015 on using the most abundant element known, hydrogen, as the source material for automotive propulsion.The heart of a hydrogen powered vehicle is the fuel cell. Take hydrogen and oxygen, wave the magic wand, and electricity is made. The resulting leftover is water. Simple H2O. The efficiency of this process varies and comes in between 40 to 60 percent. Waste heat can be reused and brings efficiency to over 80%.

H2X are applying hydrogen fuel tech to vehicles that they hope to have up and running by the mid 2020s. A minivan, a tractor, and an SUV are amongst the range that the company has in mind. The firm recently turned the dirt at a location at Port Kembla, south of Sydney. It’s here that they currently intend to build the vehicles and also invest in battery and super-capacitors. However, in a reasonable effort to minimise extravagant start up costs, the firm will first use pre-assembled parts readily available from Asia, and a fuel cell from a company called ElringKlinger.A common issue with starting a new company is sourcing people with the required expertise. Here, H2X don’t appear to have a problem. Their CEO is a person that comes from hydrogen related businesses plus a solid automotive background with BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen. Heading the design bureau is the designer of the Giulietta, Chris Reitz. He’s also worked with VW and Nissan. Saab and GM have their DNA running in the veins of Peter Zienau as he worked on hybrid and electric programs with the pair. Opel, Lotus, Volvo, Aston Martin and Tesla have given Peter Thompson over thirty years of experience, including his involvement in the Tesla Roadster.There’s more power to come in the board, with Alan Marder, also with plenty of experience in startups dealing with hydrogen fuel cell and automotive industries spanning 35 years. He’ll head the marketing and strategy section, while the former head of the VW Group Asia, Kevin McCann, who also works with Hyundai, Volvo, and Deloitte, will be on the supervisory board.

Picking Port Kembla, says H2X, was a given, as it’s a focus for industries H2X will need as supports. Rail, metal manufacturing in the forms of steel and aluminuim, the size of the port to allow cargo ships, and electronics makers at a military spec level will go a long way to assisting the rumoured workforce of 5,000.They’ve already put forward what they hope will be the first vehicle to drive off the production line. The “Snowy” SUV, with a mooted range of 650km, a refuel time of around three minutes, and a freeway speed reaching time of 6.9 seconds, will be backed by a bio-safe interior, smartphone apps, and autonomous emergency braking. The powertrain is said to be a combination of a 60kW Elring Klinger PEM fuel cell, a graphene ultracapacitor from Skeleton Tech, a powerful 200kW electric motor, and a 5.0kg-capacity hexagon Type 4 hydrogen tank. A key feature that’s under the radar is a suspension system that will, like braking regenerative energy, apply the same process from suspension travel. The Snowy is on track for a 2022 unveiling.