Breakthrough for hydrogen-powered carsInventors show prototype home refuelling station

11 July 2008

Hydrogen refuelling station

The idea of running cars on hydrogen is moving closer to reality following a major breakthrough by a British firm

Sheffield-based ITM Power has developed a way of making hydrogen at home that could be used to fuel a car.

Any surplus hydrogen from the refuelling station – which is currently only a prototype – could also be used to generate power for household appliances, lighting or heating.

Hydrogen fuel cells have long been touted as the heir apparent to carbon-emitting diesel and petrol.

Ford Focus

But progress towards mass production of hydrogen-powered cars has been hampered by high costs and technical difficulties.

Scientists at ITM Power have spent eight years trying to overcome these problems and have now unveiled a prototype Ford Focus hydrogen-petrol hybrid.

It’s designed to be flexible – using hydrogen for short trips and switching to the petrol motor for longer journeys.

At the moment the Focus’ hydrogen tank is quite small and so gives a range of only 26 miles before a refill is needed.

Mass production

But ITM says future models should be able to handle compressed hydrogen that would extend its range to around 100 miles.

ITM believes its home refuelling station could kick-start a hydrogen-based economy by providing a simple way of supplying the fuel to drivers.

ITM chief executive Jim Heathcote said: ‘It could be commercially available in the near future. If mass produced they could be as cheap as a household boiler – so in the region of around several thousand pounds each.’

Mr Heathcote added that he saw the first market for the product as being large companies which use a lot of vehicles such as the Post Office.

Major challenges

But he thinks eventually the refuelling station could become common in homes.

Which? motoring researcher Anthony Hume said: ‘For first time it’s possible to see the potential of hydrogen but there are major challenges ahead.

‘Making the technology cheap enough to convince the average driver or home owner to make the switch still seems long way off.’