City firm helps put UK on pole

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Pioneering eco energy companies from South Yorkshire and Cheshire are joining forces to put Britain at the forefront of the global race to develop cheap, efficient, green car engines.

ITM Power from Sheffield and ACAL Energy from Runcorn have secured £500,000 from the Carbon Trust to combine their cutting-edge hydrogen fuel technologies.

The Sheffield firm is the brains behind low cost electrolysers that store electricity from renewable sources by using it to extract hydrogen from water.

Hydrogen can already be used instead of petrol in a conventional car engine. Alternatively, it could be converted back into electricity by a fuel cell – and that is where ACAL comes in.

Using an electric motor, powered by a fuel cell, to run a car is more than twice as efficient as using a conventional internal combustion engine, which is typically only 25 per cent efficient.

That means that a fuel cell electric vehicle, or FCEV, could go twice as far as a vehicle with a conventional engine on the same volume of hydrogen.

What’s more, an FCEV can be refuelled with hydrogen in about the same time as it takes to fill a petrol tank and uses a smaller battery than vehicles powered solely by batteries, which suffer from load fluctuations and discharge problems.

Both electrolysers and fuel cells have been costly in the past, but ITM and ACAL have made technological breakthroughs that have enabled them to develop economical versions.

Now the companies will work with an unnamed Japanese car maker to develop their technology for the mass market.

ITM’s chief technical officer, Dr Simon Bourne, says high level introductions made by the Carbon Trust to commercial end users and the continuing success of evaluation studies means the company is now in a very strong position to exploit the new fuel cell technology.

Carbon Trust technology commercialisation manager Dr Ben Graziano predicted that British fuel cell technologies could be powering mass produced cars by 2017.

“British technology is in pole position to be under the bonnet of a next generation of mass-produced hydrogen-powered cars,” said Dr Graziano.

“Fuel cell technology is now a great growth opportunity for the UK. The funding that we have received from the Department for Energy and Climate Change has enabled us to support the development of some truly world-class British technologies that could slash the costs of fuel cells and transform how we all get about.”