London: Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells will soon challenge the dominance of petrol and diesel cars on UK roads, experts say.
According to a Loughborough University researcher, Michael Whiteley, who is three years into a four year project on hydrogen fuel cell technology, the UK government is encouraging competition with Asia, Japan and America where the cars are starting to take off.
South Korea's Hyundai is the first manufacturer to release a mass-produced fuel cell car, which has just gone on sale in the US, and Toyota will be selling their version in the UK next year.
Whiteley is researching fuel cell degradation and has just secured funding to build what is thought to be the only test rig of its kind in the UK.
"The UK has been selected by Toyota as a promising country in which to launch their fuel cell car next year," Whiteley said.
"It's doubtful that anything will take over completely from the internal combustion engine because we are not suddenly going to run out of oil, it will be a gradual process.
"But there is a place for the hydrogen fuel cell car. They have significant advantages over traditional cars," he said.
He said that hydrogen fuel cell cars have all the advantages of cars powered by batteries and the internal combustion engine, but none of the disadvantages.
However, they do tend to be rather expensive at the present time, so much of the research work is aimed at cost reduction.
The fuel tank is filled with hydrogen instead of petrol or diesel and the fuel cell converts this to electricity, which powers the car.
A fuel cell car will do about 644 km on each tank, which (before tax) costs about 30 pounds. All that comes out of the exhaust is water.
The big problem is that there is no infrastructure for refuelling although the UK government has announced plans to fund 15 refuelling stations by the end of next year.
Whiteley said petrol stations could be adapted and even make their own hydrogen on site like in Japan. And if they use renewables to create the electricity, the hydrogen would be 100 per cent green.
Whiteley said many of the hurdles are being overcome. Fuel cells now have a longer life, are more reliable, with lifetime targets of 241,401 km.
Less platinum, which is expensive, is being used in the fuel cell, and the price of a car should come down once they are mass produced.