This is Nissan’s view of the future: the hydrogen-powered Nissan X-Trail Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV). The prototype, worth 1.3 million euro, is the first registered in the UK and available for testing on our roads – and Green-Car-Guide was able to drive it around London.
The five-seater X-Trail FCV is a zero-emission electric vehicle that runs in near silence. It’s powered by electricity produced on board the vehicle, in a hydrogen fuel cell stack. Electricity is generated following an electro-chemical reaction between hydrogen – which is stored at 700 bar in a purpose-designed high-pressure tank – and oxygen. The only by-product is water vapour.
This electric current is channelled through an inverter to drive a powerful motor in the front of the car. The X-Trail FCV, which has been undergoing real-world trials in Japan and California since 2006, has an official top speed of 150 km/h and a range of 500 km. Maximum power is 90kW (120PS) while maximum torque is 280Nm. It also features the latest in battery technology: a Nissan-designed compact lithium-ion battery with thin laminated cells. The Li-Ion battery is used to start the vehicle and to boost power under acceleration. Kinetic energy created under deceleration is captured and stored in the battery for future use.
What’s it like to drive? Well, very much like a conventional X-Trail, but it’s virtually silent – so along with electric cars, it’s potentially lethal for sleepy London pedestrians. It has automatic transmission, and the prototype has much lighter steering than the normal car. The rear seats are also much higher, as they sit on top of the substantial hydrogen tank.
The FCV is still in the relatively early stages of development, and Nissan is currently working to improve durability of the components, to find a breakthrough in hydrogen storage systems, and to reduce the cost of the technology. The company hopes to see fuel cell vehicles in series production by 2015.
After being approved by the Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in November 2002, the X-TRAIL FCV went into public road testing in Japan. Nissan made further improvements to this base vehicle and developed the 2003 model that included the NEO FC system, unveiled in December 2003. Limited leasing of the FCV is now available in Japan, and a chauffeur service operates an FCV in Tokyo, where there are ten hydrogen fuel stations.
On the 23rd July 2008 the Nissan FCV set the fastest lap for a fuel cell vehicle at Nürburgring – 11 minutes, 58 seconds – with zero emissions – and this was even in wet weather. Nissan is the first carmaker to record an FCV lap on the famous race track.
The X-Trail FCV is part of the Nissan Green Program 2010, Nissan’s midterm environmental strategy which is aimed at reducing CO2 emissions from the company’s products and activities around the world, as well as reducing other exhaust emissions and increasing recycling.
London’s Imperial College – the venue for the FCV drive – carries out hydrogen and fuel cell research, and has been doing for over 30 years. Yet we still aren’t driving hydrogen cars. So why is this? Well, making hydrogen-powered cars is very expensive, making sustainable hydrogen is very difficult – at an economic price, and no hydrogen refuelling infrastructure exists. To refuel the FCV, a mobile refuelling site had to be set up in London as there is no commercial hydrogen refuelling station anywhere in the UK.
Imperial College is trying to make the link between hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also working on harvesting solar energy to make hydrogen, and even aiming to produce hydrogen from algae. Despite all this, Imperial College says sustainable production of hydrogen, in the UK, is likely to be at least ten years away.
In the meantime Nissan says it will launch an electric vehicle in 2010. As is now becoming more common practice, the company’s business model will include leasing the battery.