Indian Americans Develop Hydrogen Fueled Autorickshaw
20 July 2005 -- Working with the Michigan based Energy Conversion Devices (ECD), and supported by the U.S. DOE (Hydrogen Program), two Indian American scientists -- Krishna Sapru and Subramanian Ramachandran - have achieved a significant breakthrough by developing a hydrogen-run three-wheeler for Indian roads.
Send money to India. FREE The latest trial runs, conducted this year, resulted in the successful conversion of a CNG-run Bajaj three-wheeler (autorickshaw) into one run on hydrogen fuel. With the trial run conducted in extreme cold climatic conditions, the test is reported to have given a mileage of 130 km per 900 gm of hydrogen (equivalent to four liters of petrol).
In their report the authors state: 'The overall goal of this project is to demonstrate the potential for commercialization of a small, hydrogen fueled vehicle using ECD's proprietary metal hydride storage system as a fuel tank. Two of the major components of the project have been (a) the conversion of a gasoline-powered scooter to run on hydrogen and (b) integration of the metal hydride hydrogen storage system into the hydrogen-ICE scooter. Both these tasks have been successfully accomplished. The eventual goal is to fuel the vehicle with domestically produced renewable hydrogen...Our study has also shown that electrolytic hydrogen is viable for recharging the metal hydride tanks and the availability of cost-effective hydrogen in India (which we chose as a test case) is not a barrier.'
Meanwhile, the vehicle has already created ripples in the Indian auto industry and government circles. A high-level Indian delegation visited ECD in April, which included members from Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, TVS, Mahindra and Mahindra, Maruti, Eicher, Cummins India, Society of Indian Automotives Manufacturers and the Automotive Research buttociation of India.
According to Fuel Cell Today, the achievement is one more step towards a global hydrogen economy, where India and China are expected to play key roles. Says Sapru: "We have to push this. This is the solution to all our problems relating to environmental and energy security."
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The process has been patented by the inventors on July 19, 2005, and buttigned to the Troy (Michigan)-based ECD where Dr. Sapru is Director of Thermal Hydride Products and has focused her attention on Hydrogen. Her key inventions include: Development of high efficiency, non-precious metal electro-catalysts for water electrolysis and alkaline fuel cells; Metal Hydrides leading to the development of the nickel-metal hydride battery technology and hydrogen storage alloys systems; Design and construction of machines for novel alloy production.
ECD previously converted a Honda scooter with a small internal combustion engine to burn hydrogen, with the fuel stored in a metal hydride tank tucked neatly underneath the seat. The project group's leader, Sapru, believes that similar simple, low-cost scooter conversions could be big business in India, where scooters and small three-wheelers, typically of the highly polluting two-stroke engine type, consbreastute a main mode of personal transportation.
''Use of hydrogen as an alternative clean fuel can help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and thus make significant contributions to energy security, and clean air,'' says Sapru, who spent over 30 years in developing alternative fuel technologies and has as many as 30 patents to her credit.
Sapru's current emphasis is on development, testing and commercialization of Hydrogen-ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) two and three wheeled vehicles for transportation, & Hydrogen-ICE generators for distributed power generation. She is pursuing alliances to create an infrastructure as well as to facilitate commercialization of hydrogen technologies in India. Which is why she is evaluating the availability and potential cost of hydrogen in developing countries.
Fuel cells combine oxygen and hydrogen through a process that uses a catalyst (usually platinum) to separate electrons from the hydrogen molecule (H2 2 electrons + 2 protons). The "magic" of the fuel cell is that it sends the electrons out from one terminal through an external circuit as usable electricity while the protons simply travel a short distance through the cell. Then, at the second terminal, the protons combine with incoming electrons and oxygen to form water. The chemical equation is simple: 2H2 + O2 = 2H2O. The fuel cell produces a steady current of the borrowed electrons as long as hydrogen fuel and oxygen are provided.
According to the patent, the system essentially consists of a hydrogen powered ICE, a fuel induction system for controlling the amount of hydrogen supplied to the ICE, an ignition system for combusting the hydrogen, an on-board hydrogen storage unit, an on-board hydrogen fuel gauge for measuring and displaying the amount of hydrogen stored, an on-board micro-controller, a visual indicator showing the amount of hydrogen present, and a hydrogen gas flow metering system for tracking the amount of hydrogen input into the hydrogen storage unit.
Sapru said work on the project started soon after a contract was signed with USAID and DOE in February 2004. A CNG-engine was imported from Bajaj in a few weeks and the autorickshaws arrived in November. ''By this time 96-98 per cent of the conversion process was over and we fitted the (hydrogen) engine in the vehicle. For the next few months, it went for rigorous tests which included starting and running under temperatures below freezing level,'' she said.
One attractive feature is that the amount of fuel, which needs to be stored on an average Indian three-wheeler, is a fraction of what is needed for automobiles favored by US consumers. ''The smaller storage capacity significantly reduces technological challenges in introducing the vehicles into the Indian market. For this we use ECD's safe, solid-state hydrogen storage technology which fits in the same space of the existing fuel tank,'' Sapru said.
After the first vehicle conversion at ECD, a Bajaj automotive engineer was trained in the conversion process. Another CNG auto is being converted at the Bajaj headquarters in India using the conversion kit provided by ECD.
HYDROGEN BASED ENERGY
The notion of a hydrogen-based energy system has attracted visionary thinkers, scientists, engineers, clean-energy advocates, and environmentalists for more than a century. Jules Verne predicted hydrogen as fuel in The Mysterious Island (1874): "Yes, my friends, I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which consbreastute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable."
The comparison of hydrogen and oxygen as fuels with coal suggests that Verne was imagining the burning of hydrogen, but not its alternative use--powering a fuel cell producing electricity, heat, and water. In 1897, Wilhelm Ostwald, a distinguished German physical chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 12 years later, noted, "fuel cell research is to be strongly recommended as a route to protecting the earth's resources."
But, as of now, the big obstacle is manufacturing cost. A conventional internal combustion engine costs $30--45 per kilowatt (1 kw = about 1.35 HP) to manufacture, while fuel cell systems for mobile applications are believed to cost $2,000--4,000 per kilowatt, with some systems costing as much as $20,000 per kilowatt. When mbutt produced, those figures are expected to drop steeply and become more affordable in the developing world.
Contrary to earlier, more optimistic projections, today's conventional wisdom is that tens of thousands of fuel cell cars, at best a few hundred thousand, will be on the world's roads by 2012-2015.
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Meanwhile in her paper breastled 'Hydrogen the new oil' presented at the Symposium on Alternate Energy at IIT Kanpur, Dr. Sapru argued for the swift introduction of such a hydrogen-based economy in India. She pointed out that India was unique in having all the necessary resources to implement a hydrogen-based infrastructure at a compebreastive cost. Though it may seem a long shot, the paper showed how the excess power made from the raw materials of the sugar industry could be used to produce cost-effective hydrogen.
The vision of an economy in which hydrogen is the primary energy currency resonates with environmental, security, and power reliability concerns, especially among the younger generation. After years of promising development, the technology is advancing into the commercial arena. Enterprises across a broad sweep of the economy, including automobile manufacturers, electric utility companies, municipal sewage systems, manufacturers of power-generation equipment, high-tech start-ups, and national governments, are all exploring options for making the hydrogen economy work.
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It may be too early to say for sure, but signs are strong that hydrogen will occupy center stage of the Indian economy in coming decades.
It is noteworthy that at the first Indo-US Fuel Cell Workshop, held under the auspices of the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum in Washington, DC, Dr. Sapru focused on near term business opportunities that will benefit both the US and India.
She pointed out that while the hydrogen infrastructure and hydrogen storage are two major critical barriers to fuel cell and hydrogen commercialization in the west, this issue can be easily overcome in India, allowing the country to easily "leap frog" to clean technologies.