UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Transportation researchers get DaimlerChrysler hydrogen car for the holidays

F-cell car video clip Taking the F-Cell car for a spin: Roxanne Makasdjian reports
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– Flat panel televisions and iPods may be on a lot of Christmas wish lists, but researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are getting a more elite gift for the holidays. For the next two years, they will get to drive a new hydrogen fuel cell car, courtesy of the DaimlerChrysler Corporation.

Tim Lipman behind the wheel of an F-Cell hydrogen car
Tim Lipman, UC Berkeley research engineer, sits behind the wheel of DaimlerChrysler's prototype F-cell hydrogen car. He is one of the drivers who will field test the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle over the next two years. (Photo by Sarah Yang / UC Berkeley)

DaimlerChrysler officially handed the keys to the F-Cell, the company's limited production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, to researchers at UC Berkeley's California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH) today (Tuesday, Dec. 20), as part of a project to study the vehicle's use in real-world conditions.

"We're interested in the performance of the vehicle and the reactions of PATH staff to its experiences with the car," said Tim Lipman, project co-manager and assistant research engineer at the California Center for Innovative Transportation at UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS). "Hydrogen is a promising fuel for a sustainable energy future, but there are key technical and economic obstacles remaining to its widespread use."

Hydrogen cars are being explored nationally as an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline powered vehicles. The project at UC Berkeley is connected to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) effort to assess the viability of hydrogen vehicle and infrastructure technology in real world settings. Through the Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project, the DOE expects to help automotive companies make a decision by 2015 about the commercialization of hydrogen vehicles.

DaimlerChrysler, the head of one of five DOE teams in this project, has manufactured more than 100 fuel cell vehicles, a third of which are earmarked for demonstration projects throughout California. Most of the vehicles are being placed with state and local agencies. UC Berkeley is receiving the F-Cell for research purposes.

In hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, the hydrogen is converted into electricity to run an electric motor, producing water as a byproduct. Even when hydrogen is burned in a combustion engine vehicle, the exhaust is much cleaner than that of gasoline- or diesel-powered engines, as well as that burned in gasoline-electric hybrids that have grown increasingly popular in recent years.

The F-Cell vehicle employs a 72-kilowatt fuel cell system. The vehicle can travel up to 100 miles on a full tank of about five pounds of hydrogen.

"One of the things we'll be evaluating in the next year is interest in the public in fuel cell vehicles and reactions to refueling, which can take up to 10 minutes, and a limited driving range," said Susan Shaheen, project co-manager and PATH program leader in policy and behavioral research.

While a great deal of attention has been paid to the promise of hydrogen vehicles, one of the major constraints to the wide deployment of such cars is the limited availability of refueling stations. UC Berkeley researchers will be filling up at a station operated by AC Transit in Richmond. That station currently supports the agency's fuel cell bus program. The researchers will also have use of a hydrogen fueling station at UC Davis, where transportation researchers have been testing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles made by Toyota.

In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order creating a public and private partnership to build a hydrogen highway in California. There are currently 16 hydrogen fueling stations operational in California, and 15 more in the planning stage. The "Phase I" goal of the hydrogen highway is to create 50 to 100 hydrogen stations throughout the state by 2010.

Earlier this year the state legislature approved $6.5 million in initial funding for the California hydrogen highway effort. This includes funding for three new stations that will be cost shared with industry.

The focus of the UC Berkeley research will be on the use of the F-Cell vehicle in a commercial fleet rather than through personal or consumer use. As such, the car will be kept at the PATH facility at the UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station, and driven for work-related trips to Sacramento and other locations.

UC Berkeley researchers will get to drive the vehicle for two years. During that time, they expect to put 10,000 miles per year on the vehicle.

The researchers expect to let other PATH employees get behind the wheel in exchange for participating in surveys and focus groups, and to apply for funding for additional studies related to vehicle fleet user and general public responses to this new vehicle technology.