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(Editor's Note: see a video of Sam in the FCV here)

At the recent opening of a new hydrogen filling station in Taylor, Michigan, Ford gave attendees the chance to get a brief drive in a hydrogen fuel cell powered Ford Focus. At the same event fuel cell programs chief engineer Greg Frenette agreed to let AutoBlogGreen have a longer evaluation with one of the prototype Focus FCVs. Recently, the call came that the car was ready, and a couple of hours later, a Ford engineer dropped off the car, worth about a million dollars, at my office. After a brief review of the operating procedures for starting and shutting down the car, the Focus was ready for evaluation.

The test car and most of the other Focus FCVs were built-up from pre-2004 Focus sedans. The cars look largely stock from the outside, but there are differences, most notably in the front. The air intake on the FCV is much larger than the stock Focus indicating a need for increased cooling for the electric drive motor and the power electronics.

The story continues after the jump

The original drive-train of the Focus has been completely discarded, replaced with new hydrogen and electric hardware. Under the hood, the Focus gets an 87 hp/170 lbs-ft AC induction motor that also functions as a generator during braking. The motor is connected to a single speed trans-axle. Since electric motors have a flat torque curve from zero up to their maximum rpm, they can get away with out any extra gearing. Sitting on top of the motor is the traction inverter module. This unit is a three phase bridge that has a maximum current capacity of 330 amps and operates at a nominal voltage of 315 volts.

Underneath the car there are more substantial modifications. Where the Focus has a relatively flat floor, in the FCV there is a substantial 6.5 inch step up below the front seats that stretches the width of the car. Under this hump sits the Ballard Mark 902 fuel cell stack. The fuel cell combines the gaseous hydrogen and compressed oxygen to produce electricity and steam.

Continuing back under the car, under the rear seats where the fuel tank normally resides, is the battery pack. The current version of the Focus FCV uses a cluster of NiMH D-cell batteries like the ones you use in a flash light. The battery pack is used to pressurize the fuel cell stack at start up, run the air compressor and also to provide a power boost when needed during normal driving. On the left rear fender is a small grill that serves as the air intake for the fuel cell. The compressor draws in air and pumps it into the fuel cell to provide the oxygen part of the exhaust.

Finally, back in the trunk is the hydrogen tank. The tank holds 4kg (8.8 lbs) of gaseous hydrogen at 5000 psi. The wall of the tank is two inches thick and comprised of aluminum wrapped in layers of kevlar and carbon fiber. The tank is designed to meet all current crash test standards. Ford has thoroughly tested the tank, doing all kinds of impact and crush tests and says they are completely confident of its safety.

The hydrogen tank has a pressure relief valve in the top.

Coming tomorrow in Part Two, the feel of the drive.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 9 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      I'm don't see much value in critisizing Ford on their "slick" grahics. The fact that they're one of the few OEM's running significant fuel cell demonstration vehicles out in real-world applications (not just the lab)is evidence that they're working to better understand and ultimately solve the scientific challenge of running hydrogen-powered-vehicles. GM talks about their prowess in running fuel cell vehicles and all I ever see are "press events" and quotes about what they're going to do a year from now. At least Ford goes out and quietly develops and demonstrates the technology today!!!! I prefer to encourage them.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Hydrogen is an absurdly bulky fuel, and the dimensions and specs for that tank proves it. At those pressures, even a tiny leak would be dangerous. Storage is a major problem, and a major cost. I really don't think hydrogen will ever be cost effective for automotive use, especially when lithium batteries cost less, perform better, and are more efficient.

      As for the 12 volt battery under the hood (sharp eyes, J) it is like the Prius and other hybrids - the 12 volt battery powers accessories and the computer that controls the startup and operation. Once started, a DC-DC converter supplies 12 volt power stepped down from the high voltage system.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "The tank holds 4kg (8.8 lbs) of gaseous hydrogen at 5000 psi. The wall of the tank is two inches thick and comprised of aluminum wrapped in layers of kevlar and carbon fiber. The tank is designed to meet all current crash test standards. Ford has thoroughly tested the tank, doing all kinds of impact and crush tests and says they are completely confident of its safety."

      Uh-huh. Sure. Only a matter of time before a terrorist removes the safety wrap (probably won't have to remove all of it, but just weaken it with some carbide-tipped power tools), puts a small shaped charge (easily 'imported' through our incredibly porous borders) on the aluminum, and detonates one of these on a crowded street at rush hour.

      Using hydrogen to power cars is insanely stupid.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Howard -

      Please do some research before posting blanket statements. If terrorists wanted to blow something up with in-vehicle fuel, they'd quickly figure out that the 15+ gallons of gasoline available in most cars can do far more damage. Here's a few places to start reading:

      http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid536.php

      http://www.hydrogensafety.info/archives/2004/feb/1.html

      Personally, I agree with you one one point: Powering cars with hydrogen currently makes no sense - but it's because most hydrogen today comes from natural gas, and does little to change our dependence on fossil fuels. But that has the potential to change in the future.

      In that regard, I'm tired of seeing yet another spiffy fuel cell car with slick graphics. It matters little until we develop an efficient, effective, scalable hydrogen source.
      • 8 Years Ago
      We need to start protecting our environment. We need to get away from the reliance on petrol and reduce the toxic fumes associated. I am in orr of how people are afraid of terrorist attacks, the fear is out of all proportion to reality, Cars can be used in terrorist attacks regardles of their fuel systems, but so are Neuclear power stations, gas stations, chemical plants, oil refinerys and the list goes on and on. Get a life people, because unless we start addressing the real isues of climate change, destruction of the environment the life I'm telling you to get will not be worth having. Think about it, no clean water, no fresh air, conteminated fruit and vegetables, meat and fish will be accepted as OK in 30 years because there will be no choice. Hydrogen powered cars or any technology that helps to secure a clean air, water and food future for our children has to be considered without the I'm so scared of terrorists mentality, put it in proportion. Less the 10,000 people have been killed Globally by terrorists (non military) since September 11, hundreds of millions die of starvation, HIV aids and murder by insane Dictarors each year. Cars that are better for the environment need to be encouraged.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Howard,

      did you consider that we already have many targets for terrorists to blow up. Did you consider that the water coming to your home could easily be infected by a deadly virus were the water-treatment plant in the hands of terrorists?

      What about nuclear powerplants and bridges?
      And air intakes of underground tunnels?

      There is a vast quantity of dangerous stuff around us, consider your surroundings!

      And also, both 0.29mJ and 0.017mJ are small ammount of energy; that said, I would not stay in an environment filled with either Methane or Hydrogen. And, gasoline is toxic anyway.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The increased cooling demand will be mostly because of the cooling demand of the fuel cell system. Electric drive system and power electronics generate much less heat than those...
      • 8 Years Ago
      "Please do some research before posting blanket statements."

      I have, and more than just a pro-hydrogen propoganda piece or two found on the internet.

      Instantaneously releasing more than a small fraction of the energy in a tank of a liquid fuel such as gasoline requires considerable effort. Even exploding a methane container and releasing all of the energy is non-trivial, because methane has nowhere near the range of explosive air mixture ratios of hydrogen.

      Instantaneously releasing a substantial percentage of the energy in a 600 bar tank of compressed hydrogen is trivial -- greatly aid by the extreme pressure needed to store a usable quantity of the stuff, and the extremely wide range of explosive air mix ratio.

      http://www.llnl.gov/es_and_h/hsm/doc_18.04/doc18-04.html

      http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codeq/doctree/canceled/871916.pdf

      From the latter: Note that hydrogen will burn in air in concentrations between 4 and 75 percent. It can explode violently in air between 18 and 59 percent. And a *very* low-energy spark is sufficient to ignite it. Methane is nowhere near that explosive. The minimum spark energy required for ignition of hydrogen in air (0.017 mJ) is considerably less than that for methane (0.29 mJ) or gasoline (0.24 mJ). Note also that the safety manual is concerned mostly with *accidental* fire and explosion, not a planned terrorist attack.

      Using hydrogen to power cars is insanely stupid.
      • 8 Years Ago
      To bring this back on topic... Why is there still a lead acid battery in the engine bay?