Ford added to its prototypes that burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine (H2ICE) today with the unveiling of a new H2ICE Shuttle Bus. The Ford H2ICE E-450 combines a Ford E-450 chassis cab with a shuttle bus body and a modified 6.8-liter Triton V-10 engine fueled with hydrogen. Ford will put two of the H2ICE E-450s into service as shuttle buses at the 2005 North American International Auto Show to demonstrate their capability.
The hydrogen-burning E-450 seats up to 12 passengers and their luggage, including the driver. The vehicle is equipped 5,000 psi (350 bar) hydrogen fuel tank. Ford expects the H2 shuttle bus to have a driving range of to 150 miles depending on conditions and vehicle load.
With these rollouts, Ford appears to be siding more closely with automakers such as BMW who are looking to hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines as a transitional platform to hydrogen fuel-cell-powered cars.
Their positioning around the rollout of this new shuttle bus is perhaps more interesting than the specifics of the bus itself. Here is Ford’s view:
Ford is active in the development of alternatives to traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. For years, Ford and the industry focused on battery-electric vehicles as the answer. But as years passed, battery technology never progressed or showed hope of progressing to reach a level near the efficiency of gasoline power. The industry has shifted its eyes and efforts toward gasoline-powered hybrid-electric, “clean diesel,” direct injection gasoline and diesel, and eventually, hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Hydrogen fuel cells are now almost universally recognized as the eventual heir to the internal combustion engine. Yet, even with tremendous progress in recent years, additional work is required to satisfy customer expectations in terms of durability and affordability.
As the development of the fuel cell continues to mature, the industry, governments, energy companies, and interested non-governmental organizations ponder how customers will fuel hydrogen vehicles of the future. Today's highway is lined with gasoline stations not equipped for hydrogen needs.
While the development of fuel cells continues, Ford believes H2ICE is a technology that will make hydrogen-power more practical. Ford also is utilizing H2ICEs to developing stationary backup or supplemental power systems and off-street applications such as airport ground support vehicles. Making H2ICE accessible sooner will help spur growth in the development of a hydrogen infrastructure paving the way for fuel cells in the future.
The focus on hydrogen is fine from a developmental point of view, but the danger is that other promising—and necessary—shorter-term avenues for dramatically improving fuel economy and lowering emissions can be overlooked in the focus on the more distant goal.