Ford fuel-cell vehicle exceeding expectations in testing
Ford engineers report that the cars have performed “without significant maintenance issues” since the test launch three years ago.
High grades received in the Ford Focus Fuel Cell pilot have prompted the U.S. Department of Energy to extend the three-year program with Ford for up to 24 months, until the next generation of cells is ready for deployment in the 2010 timeframe. The department shares the program’s operating costs with Ford.
“We’re very satisfied with the Ford’s performance, range and overall reliability, and we’re encouraged that the DOE is extending the program, because much more work needs to be done to advance this technology to commercialization,” said Gerhard Achtelik, manager of the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Section of California’s Air Resources Board (CARB). “Having zero-emission vehicles like the Ford in our fleet ensures that we continue to promote clean transportation.”
CARB is one of six boards, departments and offices under the umbrella of the California Environmental Protection Agency, which is an agency of the California state government.
Some of the other governments and agencies that have been test-driving the fuel cell models include:
- The U.S. Department of Energy.
- The Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
- The Department of General Services in California’s state government.
- The Department of Environmental Protection in Florida’s state government.
- The city of Taylor, Mich.
According to Ford’s global fuel-cell team, the first-generation Focus Fuel Cell vehicles have lasted three times longer and worked much better than originally expected with virtually no degradation in performance.
“We’ve had a lot of great experience with these cars and they’re running quite well,” said Scott Staley, Ford hybrid and fuel-cell development chief engineer in North America. “We expected the fuel cells to be much more problematic under real-world conditions, but it’s a credit to our development process that the vehicles have been very robust.”
More work needs to be done
Ford supports its fuel-cell fleet partners with local project managers and technicians who conduct regular service checks and collect mileage and performance data for analysis at Ford’s Fuel Cell Center in Dearborn, Mich. The vehicles have proven highly reliable, averaging 96 percent “up” time. Customer surveys indicate that Ford’s fuel-cell vehicles have outperformed those of other automakers in areas of acceleration, comfort (primarily air conditioning performance), durability, reliability and mileage, according to Ford.
Still, Ford researchers agree that much more work needs to be done before fuel-cell vehicles can be commercialized. The biggest challenge according to Rob Riley, Ford fleet manager in California, is building a viable hydrogen infrastructure with fueling stations across the country. Currently, there are 70 hydrogen fueling stations, and most of them are not accessible to the public. California is leading the way, having recently opened its 24th station.
Customer surveys suggest that purchase consideration also will be dictated by affordability, reliability and useful life of the vehicle, as well as availability of fueling stations. In addition, parts availability and an adequate number of trained technicians will be essential to ensure convenient customer service of the vehicles.
A chief concern among fleet partners is limited driving range. Ford is addressing that need by doubling fuel storage pressure on select fleet vehicles, allowing twice the fuel to be stored in the same volume.
“With continued advancement and rigorous testing of this technology, automakers will be able to produce fuel-cell vehicles that compete very effectively with internal combustion engines, without compromise to performance, safety, cost or reliability,” Riley said.
Ford in a favorable position
Fuel-storage capacity and other improvements on the current generation of vehicles have put Ford in a favorable position for the implementation of the next generation, according to Chris Gearhart, Ford fuel-cell technical specialist. The team is expecting significantly increased fuel-cell life, better mileage, more efficient use of platinum (a key catalyst), more power from a smaller fuel-cell stack, improved reliability and the ability to start under frozen conditions.
“We’re so much farther ahead than we were on the first generation,” Gearhart said. “We have better development processes and robust disciplines in the way we’re doing things.”
Staley concurred, adding: “Our fuel cell customers are very interested to know what’s next, and we’re looking forward to demonstrating it.”
Hydrogen-fueled vehicles account for just one type of Ford’s alternative fuel technology research and development portfolio. Ford has outlined a near-, mid- and long-term strategy to implement technology to increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide, from the widespread application of EcoBoost engine technology across the fleet in the near term to the introduction of plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the longer term.
Ford was one of the first automakers to launch a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles in 2005, after unveiling a prototype in late 2003.
Additional Ford hydrogen projects have included: a fleet of 20 H2ICE (hydrogen internal combustion engine) buses; the Fusion Hydrogen 999 that set a land speed record in 2007; a Fuel Cell Explorer; and a Plug-in Hybrid Edge that uses a fuel cell-powered HySeries Drive.
A hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle produces electricity through an electro-chemical process in the fuel-cell stack. There are zero tailpipe emissions when using this technology, with only drops of water coming from the tailpipe. Experts maintain that widespread use of hydrogen-fueled vehicles could help eliminate carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global climate change.
“It’s important for Ford to remain active in hydrogen and fuel-cell development as a long-term renewable fuel solution,” said Roland Krueger, Ford of Europe hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies team leader.