April 20, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Hydrogen power for bikes and toy cars

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In the commercial/industrial realm, Horizon has started to experiment with unmanned aerial vehicles, those silent drones armies and police agencies use for surveillance. The DLR Institute for Technical Thermodynamics in Germany built and has flown the Hyfish, a hydrogen-powered UAV.

Next, Horizon will work with DLR and others to create a hydrogen-powered UAV that can stay in the air for more than 15 hours. In all likelihood, he added, hydrogen UAVs when eventually put into production will not run on hydrogen alone. Instead, a hydrogen fuel cell would supplement and back up a battery-powered engine, he added.

Although prices will invariably decline over time, building fuel cells and hydrogen storage systems isn't cheap. The fuel cell bike, for instance, will likely cost around $1,000, and about $600 of that price will come from the cost of the power system. A typical electric bike in China with a lead acid battery costs about $200. Thus, at least initially, these bikes will have to be sold to companies that rent them out to people, sort of like rental cars.

While the price disparity makes it appear nearly impossible that hydrogen bikes could catch up to regular bikes, government regulations may help. Cities in China and India have already clamped down on two-stroke and diesel engines, and stiffer regulations on battery disposal aren't out of the question, Wankewycz said.

On the bikes, the hydrogen gets stored in a solid-state chamber, where the hydrogen gets embedded in metal. Solid-state storage weighs more than an aluminum (or carbon fiber) gas tank, but the potential for mishaps and fires evaporate.

If anything, consumers seem intrigued by hydrogen power, according to Wankewycz. Sales of the H-racer, which goes for $115, have been good in the first nine months of its release, he said, and it's now sold in 28 countries. A faster, upgraded version that will sell for $150 comes out soon, while the slower $85 Hydrocar hits in May.

Recently, Horizon also released a drop-in fuel cell for enthusiast remote-controlled cars. With the fuel cell, one of these remote-controlled cars can go up to 22 miles per hour.

"There is a lot of creativity out there," he said. "We get (potential) applications all the time."

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4 comments

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No sparks
Keep away from open flame.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
cause you know gas is better.
and non flamable.
Posted by Oleg Simkin (53 comments )
Link Flag
cause you know gas is better.
and non flamable.
Posted by Oleg Simkin (53 comments )
Link Flag
Hydrogen .. let's get serious
Hydrogen is an extremely explosive material. Its use needs great care because it is explosive in air over an extremely wide range of mixtures.

Any hydrogen usage (fuel cell or other) needs great care to make sure that there won't be a fuel leak and explosion. In an very well engineered fuel cell vehicle, this is unlikely, but in trivial applications where the engineering is more marginal accidents are not only likely to happen, they are certain.

50 years ago I scattered glass throughout a laboratory when I caused a hydrogen explosion from a poorly purged furnace. I had been poorly instructed, but the education I got from the explosion is still strong. Fortunately, I was the only one present and looking away from the explosion.

Hydrogen toys will have to carry a rather large product liability, as I see it.
Posted by rdill (2 comments )
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