With the world's motoring manufacturers all feeling the pinch it may be unrealistic in these hard times to expect them to come up with new technologies to wean us off oil. Development costs for new vehicles are huge and no doubt the petrochemical companies would prefer it if every drop of oil was pumped from beneath the earths crust before mankind looks towards a cleaner, greener solution. So the launch on the 16th June at Somerset House in London of the Riversimple hydrogen car may just be the kick start this burgeoning technology needs.
On the face of it, this could be seen as just another prototype. A prototype launched with a huge fanfare that will, as many others have in the past, fade into oblivion after the party has ended. The major difference with the Riversimple however, is that the engineering designs will be given to the 40 Fires foundation, a non-profit organisation that will make the designs "open source". Meaning that anyone with the wherewithal will be able to build and possibly improve on the designs, feeding the information gleaned back to the 40 Fires foundation, which in turn will update the designs. Dramatically cutting back on development costs for individual companies and as a result moving the car from prototype to localised production.
The other problem facing the Riversimple is the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, as obviously at the moment it just doesn't exist. Their approach to this dilemma will be to hopefully get a forward thinking small UK city to install a hydrogen hub that will service around fifty vehicles - vehicles that will be leased to individuals with both fuel and repair costs included for around £200 per month. Further towns around the city could then be joined to the hub, allowing a gradual growth of filling stations to spread. A partnership with BOC gases has already been agreed to install the hydrogen stations in the chosen city where the prototype launch will be made.
The car itself was developed in Oxfordshire by the entrepreneur Hugo Spowers with the help of Oxford and Cranfield universities. Weighing only 350 kgs, the Riversimple is powered by a fuel cell rated at a measly six kilowatts, however, because it weighs so little, the Riversimple can travel at speeds of up to fifty miles per hour and has a range of around two hundred miles, fuel efficiency equivalent to three hundred miles per gallon. All achieved because the Riversimple has been designed from scratch, rather than taking an existing design and then trying to shoehorn the technology into it. The result, well to wheel emissions of around 30 g/km as compared to the lowest oil powered cars of around 121 g/km, which will be seen by many as a massive leap forward.
Although the company needs to line up further funding to continue testing the car, Spowers believes the concept could be available as early as 2013 and was quoted on CNN as saying "I'm absolutely convinced that we're offering a better solution for a segment of the transport problem and we'd be crazy not to pursue it."
Will the Riversimple become a familiar sight on our highways and byways? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure though, motor manufacturers worldwide will be keeping a close eye on their success, or failure.