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LIFECar project promises an efficient high performance fuel cell sports car within three years

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September 22, 2005

LIFECar project promises an efficient high performance fuel cell sports car within three y...

LIFECar project promises an efficient high performance fuel cell sports car within three years

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September 23, 2005 A wholly British partnership yesterday unveiled plans to develop the world’s first environmentally clean sports car, powered by a fuel cell which converts hydrogen into electricity. The partnership is made up of legendary British sports car manufacturer, the Morgan Motor Company, QinetiQ, Cranfield and Oxford Universities, BOC and OSCar. The new vehicle, known as LIFECar, will be ultra quiet and its exhaust systems will produce only water vapour. It promises a clean vehicle combined with sound motoring performance and stylish good looks.

Part-funded by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), LIFECar is a two and half-year long project which marks a step change in vehicle power technology, producing a combination of performance, range and fuel economy that will be essential to the motoring world of the future. LIFECar will be based on the Morgan Aero Eight, and is powered by a QinetiQ-made fuel cell, which converts hydrogen – and oxygen taken from the air around it – into electrical energy. It will be clean, quiet and economic, and the only waste product from the car will be water. The car's power system will be incredibly efficient, producing significant improvements over current fuel cell prototype vehicles, with the fuel cell powering four separate electric motors, one at each drive wheel. The key to delivering this step change in energy efficiency lies in a combination of factors, including weight reduction and a different design approach. This approach exploits opportunities across the vehicle to reduce energy losses and requirements. Regenerative braking and surplus energy will be used to charge ultra-capacitors, which will release their energy when the car is accelerating. This architecture will allow the car to have a much smaller fuel cell than is conventionally regarded as necessary: it will only be as large as is required to provide cruising speed, approximately 24 kW, as opposed to around 85kW proposed by most competitor systems. Speaking at this year's Society of Motor Manufacturers International Business Group, where the plans were unveiled, Charles Morgan, corporate strategy director of the Morgan Motor Company and LIFECar project director, said: "This is a project which captures the imagination. LIFECar promises to combine advanced technology while retaining the best in traditional ways of designing and building cars. A sports car that is beautiful, brilliant to drive but pollution free must be a goal worth striving for." Costing a total of £1.9m, with a mix of industry and DTI funding, the two and half year project will be broken down into the following areas of responsibility:

    BOC Developing the hydrogen refuelling plant Cranfield University Systems simulation, on-board computing and control of the fuel-cell hybrid powertrain. Also responsible for analysis of the integrated design process used. Vehicle controller and control algorithm, together with modelling software Morgan Motor Company Providing the car platform and assembling the final concept car Oxford University Undertaking the design and control (note C) of the electric motors OSCar Responsible for overall system design and architecture QinetiQ Developing Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC)

Technical Background

The car's fuel cell system operates by electrochemically combining on-board hydrogen with oxygen taken from the air outside. Although in most respects fuel cells are more like engines than batteries, to the extent that they generate energy from fuel in a tank rather than store energy, like batteries, they use electrodes (solid electrical conductors) with an electrolyte (an electrically conductive medium). When the hydrogen molecules come into contact with the negative electrodes, the molecules split into protons and electrons. The protons are then carried across the proton exchange membrane to the positive electrode of the fuel cell whilst the electrons travel around the external circuit as electricity. The molecules of the hydrogen and oxygen are combined chemically, with water as the only waste product. The only emission from the QinetiQ fuel cell will be water vapour. The electric power generated by the fuel cells powers the electric motors and turns the wheels of the vehicle.

Quotes:

Stephen Evans, Professor of Life Cycle Engineering, Cranfield University: “Cranfield University is developing computer simulation models for the main vehicle components; such as the fuel cell, the hydrogen storage system and the electrical machine. These models will allow University engineers to predict the performance of the vehicle and its environmental impact long before any physical components have been manufactured and tested. These models will then be used to develop the sophisticated control software and electronics, which are necessary to integrate and manage the vehicle’s on-board hydrogen and electrical power systems. Cranfield University will also be acting as ‘project observer’ to ensure that the design techniques used are made known to others.”

Dave Wardle, European Manager of Hydrogen Energy for BOC: “The future of the hydrogen economy, and hydrogen-powered motoring in particular, is central to both our society and our company. This project has our total support, since if offers a real chance of bringing forward a time in which hydrogen fuel is a realistic option for motorists.” Dr Malcolm McCulloch of Oxford University: “It is obvious that in our transition to a sustainable society we will have to adopt electric power for cars, and they will have to be very efficient ones at that. To do this we will need to push the envelope in the design of electric motors and their control gear, which will be Oxford’s contribution to LIFECar.”

Hugo Spowers of OSCar Automotive: “This project is the first fruit of a great deal of work on the whole system design of fuel cell powered vehicles. We hope to be able to demonstrate that the perceived barriers to the adoption of hydrogen-fuelled motoring, the high costs of fuel cells and hydrogen storage are, if not bogus, much less of a problem than is conventionally thought.”

Ian Whiting of QinetiQ: "LIFECar is about catching the first big wave in the energy revolution, which is set to transform the motoring industry in the same way that the computer industry was transformed by the personal computer decades ago.”

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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