German Researchers Testing Fuel Cell Rickshaw

25 Jul 2012

Fuel Cell Rickshaw

Photo: © DAPD

A fuel cell cycle rickshaw is being demonstrated by scientists on the streets of Freiburg and Dresden in Germany. The ‘Hydrogenia’ has a 250 W fuel cell and a hydrogen tank installed behind the seat.

Fuel cells could be a good alternative to the already widespread electric bicycle, says Lars Röntzsch of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (IFAM) in Dresden. The batteries used in e-bikes have low range and take time to recharge before they can be used again. The Hydrogenia can be refuelled in minutes and has a range of up to 200 km. This should be sufficient for a whole day on the road for a rickshaw taxi.

It is however not intended as a production model, but as a prototype demonstrating a principle: that small vehicles can benefit from fuel cell power. Five researchers from Dresden and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Freiburg have worked for a year on the adaptation of the fuel cell, the development of a special tank and control electronics. Time is needed before it is ready for series production.

One of the challenges was developing a sturdy and compact tank for hydrogen storage. Storage of pressurised hydrogen in a hollow tank that could fit neatly in the rickshaw would not have allowed sufficient capacity, so the researchers used metal hydride storage instead. This is solid-state storage where the hydrogen atoms are incorporated into the lattice structure of a metal alloy, allowing for very dense storage. The tank is filled with pellets made of compressed metal flakes and is not much larger than a six-pack of cans. The hydrogen is under pressure of only 20 bar. The principle, says Röntzsch, is safe and robust.

Gaining commercial support for fuel cell bicycles and rickshaws will rely on the availability of hydrogen refuelling stations. Urban centres such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt have hydrogen stations, but there are only fifteen in the country as a whole.

The Clean Energy Partnership (CEP) has been working since 2002 to establish hydrogen infrastructure in Germany. In June, it was announced that as part of the National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP), Germany’s federal government and industrial sector are investing millions of euro to expand the country’s network of hydrogen stations from 15 to 50. Fuel cell vehicles such as the Hydrogenia will then be a viable option in cities and along major transportation corridors.

Reference (in German): Welt Online

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