Saturday, 30 June 2007

David Millward takes the world's fastest zero-emissions car for a test drive

Getting behind the wheel of any new car is a tad nerve wracking, but being entrusted with something worth around £5 million is enough to induce a cold sweat.

Somewhat rashly Honda invited me to get behind the wheel of its latest concept car, a vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell engine. The car is filled with hydrogen rather than petrol and is the world's fastest high performance zero emissions car.

The hydrogen is pushed through a "fuel stack" somewhere beneath the arm rest between the driver and passenger, where it is converted into electricity which powers the engine. While conventional cars give out varying amounts of C02, this rather sleek beast emits only water vapour.

Transport for London has been part of an EU project testing the technology on buses and many of the major companies are trying to develop the ultimately ecologically friendly car.

There are already hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, which are powered by a combination of petrol and electricity and, though their carbon emissions are much lower, there is some debate about their fuel economy.

Cars such as Saab's dual fuel car run on any bio-fuel, but they are losing ecological brownie points from some who argue that they are merely depleting another valuable resource.

The latest Honda car is their third crack at the technology. The previous two sounded a bit like high-technology washing machines, with a tendency to hum rather than roar. Now the fuel stack - the box which converts the hydrogen and oxygen into electricity -has shrunk, making the new version radically different to drive.

The Honda car can travel up to 100 mph and is due to go into production in small numbers in Japan next year, where owners will be able to lease one for upwards of £250 a month. Unfortunately, the only hydrogen fuel station in Britain is in Hornchurch, east London, (20p a litre) meaning that Honda's green machine may never take to the roads in its present form, but the engine technology could become commonplace, perhaps within a decade.

My contribution was not to crash the concept car.

full article

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