A Swiss Fuel Cell Vehicle with Michelin In-Wheel Motors and Maxwell Capacitor Storage

Subtitle: No Plug, No Spark, No BOOM… Maybe

Hy-Lite, a concept car from Michelin
It looks as if Michelin took a page from the Bridgestone book and designed in-wheel motors. A reviewer asks, “How much unsprung weight do the in-wheel systems add, and at what detriment to drivability?” More of a concern for this blog, Houston, is reliance upon tanks of hydrogen and oxygen for the fuel cell.

This blog recently expressed the hope that improvements in nanotechnology applicable to advanced lithium batteries and power-type super capacitors could lead to more than just a “proof-of-concept” car. So, AutoBlog Green1 relayed a Business Week story about another concept car.

The concept car from Michelin is a FCHV (Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle). It uses a PEM (Polymer Electrolyte Membrame) fuel cell to convert hydrogen to electricity. The Hy-Lite uses an ultra capacitor module as a reservoir for the relatively low-voltage / high-current DC output from the fuel cell. The super capacitors also store electric power generated from regenerative braking.

125VDC Maxwell Ultra Capacitor Module
125VDC Maxwell Ultra Capacitor Module designed to perform reliably through one million or more deep charge/discharge cycles, which equates to more than 15 years of operational life. The new module has integrated monitoring capabilities and a highly efficient cooling configuration.

Converting kinetic energy of braking and suspension into electricity and sending it to the “power-rich”, ultra capacitor module2 is an innovative approach that may some day become the norm. In critiquing the very expensive, CUTE (Clean Urban Transport for Europe) project, Ulf Bossel observed that one thing learned from the experiment comparing standard diesel powered buses with similar fuel cell vehicles was the benefit of regenerative braking.

In the ABG post Jeremy Korzeniewski questioned whether the fuel cell provides enough power. The Business Week article3 informed that Michelin engineers teamed up with the innovative regional electric utility in Fribourg. Groupe E installed 55 square meters of solar panels. An electrolyzer uses the photo voltaic electric power to split enough water into oxygen and hydrogen “to run the car for 20,000 km (12,500 miles) a year.”

This blog previously reported on a similar approach. A Proton Energy Systems converted water to hydrogen and oxygen. The difference was that Burlington Electric used a wind turbine, which generated the electricity for electrolysis.

After announcement of the Ford Edge Hy-Series
Ford Motor Company recently unveiled a concept vehicle that combined an onboard hydrogen fuel cell with lithium-ion batteries to deliver more than 41 mpg with zero emissions. The Ford Edge Hy-Series had a plug; one could re-charge the advanced lithium batteries by plugging into the Grid.

Korzeniewski anticipates and rhetorically asks the question:

Why not use the electricity that is required to crack the hydrogen from its source to charge an electric vehicle? I guess the market is being developed now in hopes of a breakthrough in hydrogen production and storage.

As noted in the eVermont example, it would seem much more direct to send clean energy into the grid. To avoid recharging from the mains seems to be a significant oversight. But, such an approach, requires batteries and more complex power electronics to charge and deplete the super capacitors, before any additional charge is drawn from the battery module, plus batteries add expense and weight.

Yet batteries also provide flexibility in that only enough are required for the all-electric range that the owner wants and can afford. And, while the public is quickly made aware of problems with lithium ion batteries (No, not the traction batteries now being developed, rather ones in laptop computers), it is difficult to imagine someone wanting to drive this particular vehicle on the Hydrogen Highway. The Hy-Lite has two specially developed tanks that carry extremely flammable hydrogen and oxygen.*

* Note: The Business Week article explains whereas most fuel cell vehicles draw oxygen from the surrounding air — an approach requiring an onboard compressor and a system for controlling air quality — the Hy-Light method increases the efficiency of the fuel cell by almost one-third by drawing upon oxygen stored in a separate tank.

  1. 1The Hy-Light, the reinvention of the auto industry?
  2. 2How to Size Ultra Capacitors
  3. 3Driving Michelin’s Zero-Pollution Car
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