Make way for hydrogen car

Published Aug 07, 2012 12:00am

Signage on a hydrogen-powered vehicle. – File photo courtesy Creative Commons
Signage on a hydrogen-powered vehicle. – File photo courtesy Creative Commons

ISLAMABAD, Aug 6: Hard to believe — as it may sound — but people could all have been driving hydrogen cars today. The technology was there six years ago. What was needed was the will to make it work and carry it to the next level.

In 2006, the Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) and Ministry of Water and Power mandated to conduct research in renewable energy solutions and their promotion, developed a golf cart with integrated hydrogen fuel cell system — a year after India produced Reva that ran on similar technologies.

The fuel cell car was part of a project initiated by AEDB. According to Technical Engineer, AEDB, Asad Mehmood who was first to develop this electrical car by integrating hydrogen fuel cell technology, explained that the car was successfully road tested by passing hydrogen stored in alloy storage tank (same as CNG cylinders) through fuel cells that broke into electrons and protons.

The electrons were then channelled to produce energy (electricity) to run the vehicle or by converting chemical energy into electrical energy.

“The technology was safe and reliable and practiced world wide,” said Asad Mehmood explaining that research/experiments were still underway to make hydrogen, the fuel of the future.

Although expensive, AEDB said some European countries besides the US and Japan had launched fuel cell cars.

In the Pakistani context, Asad Mehmood explained that hydrogen was being produced at an industrial level only with an energy intensive process.

However, the AEDB fuel car project was shelved and with that the master plan to take the technology to the next level and end dependence on oil in the country.

Six years on hydrogen fuel cell car is still parked in AEDB premises.

Officials in both AEDB and the Ministry of Climate Change said half-hearted efforts put into the hydrogen fuel cell car programme. They questioned the point and the need to waste resources and the numerous hours put into it if the project was to be shelved after tests.

“We were looking at power generation from hydrogen fuel cells in stationary projects — office buildings and shopping malls as well as using it to run vehicles. It is noiseless because there are no moving parts and it’s clean,” said the then Technical Director AEDB Irfan Manzoor, one of the members behind the fuel cell electric car project.But the AEDB was unable to sustain such a promising initiative, said Irfan Manzoor.

“In fact the government should use organisations such as AEDB to continue researches for progress in scientific programmes that can benefit masses in the long run,” said Irfan Manzoor, who elaborated that as an off-shoot after the successful test of the fuel cell electric car, the mass transit system can also be converted to hydrogen fuel cell technology to run on Islamabad’s straight roads.

Although the AEDB shelved the project, University of Engineering Technology, Lahore and NED University of Energy Technology Karachi had been conducting research on the possibility of making cars run on water.

Experiments to run cars on water were being conducted for over a decade in Pakistan. Engineer Agha Waqar’s water-fuelled car that has been making news was not a breakthrough.

“His methods are crude which is why they are dangerous, given the hazardous properties of hydrogen,” explained Asad Mehmood commenting on how Engineer Agha Waqar had simply separated hydrogen and oxygen in water.

“If not contained in special cylinders, oxygen free hydrogen poses a number of hazards to human safety, from potential detonations and fires when mixed with air,” he said.

Like some experts who were apprehensive about the safety of using hydrogen directly to generate power, the AEDB was equally concerned.

“We cannot put hydrogen gas into ordinary cylinders or pipes. Hydrogen molecules are so light and tiny that they can penetrate through the hardest metals/steel that can damage a car’s body parts,” said Asad Mehmood explaining the corrosive power of the gas.

Most engineers were unanimous that Agha Waqar’s technology could not produce more energy from less energy.

“There are always losses. And such a theory is violation of all scientific laws,” said Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering Department UET Taxila, Dr M Ali Arshad based on the limited explanation Agha Waqar had given through media.

Dr M Ali Arshad who has done his PhD in Heat Transfer from the UK said safety was not an issue because hydrogen was being consumed directly inside the engine.


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