Volkswagen Tries Out Hydrogen Fuel

Can a hydrogen-powered car be built at a reasonable price? And can it withstand the challenges of both winter driving and steep inclines? The results of the Volkswagen HY.POWER prototype’s recent test drive would suggest that the answer to both of these questions is yes.

Working with the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) of Zurich, Switzerland, Volkswagen has developed a new, low-cost hydrogen fuel cell with “extra high performance” ultra capacitors, or “supercaps.” These supercaps eliminate the need for the heavy energy storage batteries that are currently an issue with many other experimental hydrogen vehicles by storing up the fuel-cell engine’s electricity for use during strenuous driving, such as passing while going uphill. To put these supercaps to the test,  the HY.POWER prototype was subjected to the demanding 6,578-foot high Simplon Pass that connects Switzerland and Italy.

VW_Jetta

image via Volkswagen

Because sub-zero temperatures and steep gradients both pose major challenges to a system with an electric traction motor driven by  the “cold combustion” of hydrogen fuel, this pass was a more severe test than any that had ever been attempted before. The goal of the Simplon Pass test was to aid in the development of a new type of hydrogen fuel cell driveline that can perform at outside temperatures below the freezing point.

So how did the HY.POWER perform? According to a recent release, this Volkswagen prototype tackled this high mountain pass just as dynamically as a production car of similar power rating. Researchers now have the information they need to “tune” the hydrogen fuel cell driveline so that its performance and road behavior are capable of matching a standard production Bora (known in the US as the Jetta).

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.