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EU-funded fuel cell vehicle performs like conventional car

The HyTRAN vehicle is an electric prototype equipped with a complete fuel cell system. Essentially a modified Fiat Panda, it can accelerate from 0 to 100 kph in just 13 seconds.

Fiat's HyTRAN Panda © HyTRAN
Fiat's HyTRAN Panda

Fuel cells, as an efficient conversion technology, and hydrogen, as a clean energy carrier, have the potential to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as our dependence on hydrocarbons, and to contribute to economic growth. In the automotive sector, the European Union is supporting work towards breakthrough technologies that would enable the industry to bring cleaner fuel cell vehicles to the mass market.

"Our HyTRAN Panda performs quite similarly to a normal production Panda," explains Alessandro Pozzato of  Centro Ricerche Fiatexternal link. "It accelerates quickly and has a top speed of about 130 kmh."

Outstanding specifications

Funded under the EU Research framework Programme, HyTRAN has achieved important advances in terms of energy storage and refuelling time. Its punchy performance is thanks to a highly efficient and noiseless electric motor, "but its most critical feature", says Pozzato, "is the complete absence of pollutant emissions. And it can travel 250 to 300 kilometres on a single charge, much farther than other electric vehicles. Our refuelling time is also very short – about five minutes."

The HyTRAN prototype is equipped with a number of innovative new components and subsystems, including:

  • Traction electric motor and inverter
  • Air compressor
  • Stack for power generation
  • Primary cooling pump
  • Carbon fibre storage tank
  • Innovative vehicle management and control system

The vehicle has been successfully demonstrated, notably at the 2010 Bibendum Challenge in Brazil. "Bibendum is an important worldwide event," explains Pozzato, "We drove a 300-kilometre route in Rio de Janeiro and its surroundings. And the event also included a special track session aimed at evaluating handling and fuel consumption."

What are we waiting for?

As with other emerging alternative energy technologies, before fuel cells and hydrogen can become competitive vis-à-vis conventional fuels, a great amount of investment is still needed, not only in R&D but also in transport, storage and refuelling infrastructure.

"The cost of producing this vehicle is prohibitive, but that would be expected to change with higher production numbers," says Pozzato. "The major limiting factor right now is that the supply network for recharging is not yet developed."