Ford Hedges Bets in Europe with LCV Hydrogen Pilot

While Ford of Europe continues its marketing push of commercial BEVs, it is also keeping other options open with its participation in a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) pilot.

It has partnered with UK hydrogen powertrain specialist, Viritech, in a three-year program using Ford Transit test mules for the pilot in collaboration with BP, Ocado, Cygnet-Texkimp and Cambustion. This £16.3M ($20.6M) program to develop zero-emission light commercial vehicles, will be part-funded by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC).

With the concern that BEVs will be unable to fulfil LCV usage that require high payloads, high daily energy consumption, extended range, or where there are limited opportunities for charging, FCEV should offer a viable zero-emissions alternative. Viritech will develop hydrogen pressure vessels using its integrated mounting system which reduces the cost and weight of fitting hydrogen pressure vessels to a vehicle. Current pressure vessels use external attachments which add weight, complexity and cost. Viritech’s Graph-Pro design, integrates the mountings into the structure of the pressure vessel, so they can be bolted directly to the chassis.

In addition, the company will lead development of Type 5 hydrogen pressure vessels. These are not yet commercially available but could offer the prospect of a significant weight reduction thanks to the removal of the inner tank liner currently used to prevent leakage.

In addition, Ford will test Viritech’s Tri-Volt hydrogen powertrain ecosystem which, unlike other systems, uses the fuel cell as the prime mover when a vehicle is at a steady speed and uses small, high C-rate batteries to manage power during transient conditions (e.g. pulling away from rest or braking). High C-rate batteries are able to charge and discharge quicker than conventional batteries and produce more power for short periods – for example, a 6KWH battery pack is claimed produce up to 600KW for 20-30 seconds.

Timothy Lyons, CEO of Viritech said: “We are delighted to be part of this hugely important research project. We are especially proud to be a key contributor to this important project with the manufacturer of the world’s best-selling cargo van. This will be a major demonstration of Viritech’s ground-breaking technology and an important opportunity to demonstrate the efficiency and relevance of FCEVs.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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