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4 July, 2007 - 01:00 By Staff Reporter

ITM Power makes bi-fuel breakthrough

The world’s first mass-produced hybrid car, Toyota’s Prius, may have a serious contender in the near future after alternative energy innovator ITM Power released news of a serious breakthrough in its bi-fuel car project.

ITM’s Bi-fuel Ford Focus has completed initial trials in which it was able to travel 25 miles – more than the average commuting distance – on a single charge of hydrogen, with minimal modifications.

The car was refuelled with hydrogen from ITM’s accompanying electrolyser, allowing any home user of the system to produce the gas wherever there is access to electricity and water, which is anticipated for factory production in 2008.

“Both these developments represent a seismic advance in our efforts to cut ourselves free from the dependence on oil and other fossil fuels,” said Jim Heathcote, CEO of ITM Power.

“The Bi-fuel car and refuelling system clearly demonstrate a simple, convenient and low-cost transportation solution that can significantly reduce greenhouse gases and help mitigate climate change.”

Working with the with the University of Hertford, ITM modified a petrol-engined Focus to run on electrolyser-supplied hydrogen, with zero carbon emissions, until the gas is depleted and the car switches to petrol.

“We believe combining electrolysers with an internal combustion-engined vehicle brings affordable hydrogen transportation forward by many years,” said Heathcote.

ITM plans to publicly demonstrate the automotive revolution later this year, using prototype units closely resembling those about to be put into production at the firm’s Sheffield factory, giving it one of the world’s largest electrolyser production capabilities.

 The electrolyser, which can convert renewable energy from wind, solar or wave powered sources as well as mains electricity into hydrogen, can be used to charge the vehicle at either end of one’s commuting journey. Despite hydrogen fast becoming the future fuel of choice with alternative energy researchers, and a number of hydrogen-powered vehicles undergoing testing, no infrastructure exists to supply refueling needs, excepting liquid hydrogen which must be stored at ultra-low temperatures.

“By contrast our conventional Ford Focus test car runs on pure hydrogen gas which can be produced anywhere that has access to water and electricity,” the firm said in a statement.

ITM Power, which is headquartered in Saffron Walden, is leading the drive to use hydrogen as a clean ‘green’ energy source to replace hydrocarbon fuels. Along with the Bi-fuel car, the firm is also developing a number of devices that will allow homes, offices and factories to use hydrogen as a non-polluting fuel.

In a research update, the firm also announced good progress in its fuel cell cost reduction programme, reporting that the performance of its hydrogen and oxygen fuel cell system meets the cost reduction target for June 2007 of less than $500/kW.

It also said that its longest term electrolyser membrane test cell has been taken out of service after 11,500 hours of intermittent operation – 11,500 hours on in a total test exceeding 20 months – following an anomalous decrease in operating voltage.

When removed the membrane was found to be in undamaged condition, without evidence of chemical erosion or impending mechanical failure. In the total test programme, of well in excess of 50,000 hours, no other similar examples of anomalous voltage decrease had been found, the firm said.

“This longevity test has been in operation for nearly two years and has achieved very positive results which clearly make the product commercially viable,” said Heathcote.

Also, ITM said that it has installed an electrolyser into a 3l diesel Range Rover and found that an ITM electrolyser can operate successfully in the demanding environment of a moving vehicle, and recorded reproducible reductions in the principle emissions while the electrolyser was active.

But, “the full commercial or military implications of the results cannot be judged in advance of a research programme such as the one agreed with ABRO,” the firm said.

In December, BW reported on a contract agreed with ABRO to investigate the use of hydrogen to lower the contribution of a host of diesel-powered government vehicles to climate change.

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