A UCLA professor drove a Daimler Chrysler prototype hydrogen-powered car from Westwood to CSUN Nov. 17 to promote the latest innovation in fuel-cell vehicles.
High gas prices affect college students, especially at CSUN, where most students commute to campus on a regular basis, said Cota, who displayed the hydrogen-prototype vehicle in Faculty Lot E5.
“The working poor are most affected by the price of gasoline,” said Alex Cota, a retired UCLA alumnus trying to promote fuel-cell vehicles at California college campuses.
Cota said the team’s goal for the visit was to educate the public on the use of hydrogen and promote booster clubs on the campus to spread the word on hydrogen cars.
“If people push for alternative sources for fuel, it will happen,” said Vasilios Manousiothakis, chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department and professor at UCLA. Manousiothakis drove the prototype to CSUN.
The prototype car runs on two hydrogen tanks built from carbon fiber that contain 1.8 kilograms of hydrogen outputting 97 horsepower, Manousiothakis said.
“It drives like a small car,” said Ben Davis, a UCLA student majoring in chemical engineering who worked on the project with Manousiothakis, Cota and another student.
Manousiothakis said also the vehicle has more power at low speeds.
“The fuel-cell car has more torque at lower speeds than a four cylinder car,” Manousiothakis said.
A primary goal for the engineering team is to make the car more efficient, so keeping it small is the best approach, Davis said.
“It weighs 3,300 pounds,” Manousiothakis said, adding that to make the car larger would make it less fuel-efficient.
If the car goes into mass production within the next the hydrogen tank will be about $2 per gallon, Manousiothakis said. The cost of gas has dropped considerably in recent weeks following a price surge in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. National self-serve averages at the pump are short of $2.30.
Stations that supplied free hydrogen to the team that built the car were South Coast Air Quality Management District, and the air pollution control agency for Southern California in Diamond Bar, Manousiothakis said.
“My bold objective is to give hydrogen away for free to the public in the future as well,” he said.
It takes about 15 minutes to fill up the car with hydrogen, Davis said.
Technological steps need to be taken to make hydrogen-fuel cars a reality, Manousiothakis said, the first of which involves retrieving the hydrogen.
Manousiothakis said there are three different sources of hydrogen: biomass, which includes forest remains, agriculture products, and even cow manure; fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and natural gas; and solar and wind power, which do not release carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, making them a better source.
Depending on which source of hydrogen could eventually become used, when the fuel cell car goes into mass production, it would cost about $100,000, Manousiothakis said.
“(That’s) not a reasonable price now, but over time it’s expected to go down,” Manousiothakis said.
The Daimler Chrysler prototype costs $750,000 because there are only about 100 cars that are produced, Manousiothakis said. Cota said that with the mass production of fuel cell vehicles over time, the price would inevitably decrease, such as computers in the 1990s.
“The car we brought today is No. 55,” Davis said, adding that the car takes 20 seconds to start up and has a range of 100 miles.
Future innovations in fuel cell cars are being made to extend the 100-mile limit to about 250 miles.
Cota said that society’s goal should be to get away from depending on fossil fuels.
Richard Barkinskiy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.