Grid Scale, Storage

Metallic Power Tests Refuelable Fuel Cell Vehicle

Metallic Power will announce that it has completed tests of what the company believes is the world’s first refuelable on-road zinc fuel cell powered vehicle.

CHULA VISTA, California – June 21, 2002 [SolarAccess.com] This milestone is especially significant because Metallic Power has accomplished the drive with very limited funding of less than US$27 million in a relatively short three-year period. Energy alternatives using hydrogen and other fuels have benefited from billions of dollars in funding over more than a decade to reach this stage. In addition to demonstrating the viability of the concept, the company is aiming to show that the robust simplicity of its proprietary regenerative zinc/air fuel cells should lead to more rapid commercialization of products based on this technology. The technology demonstration, which began in Chula Vista, included more than 100 miles of test-driving on highways and surface streets over various terrains in humid coastal areas and the dry, hot Central Valley of California. “We are pleased that our zinc fuel cells performed so well in this challenging test and demonstration project,” said Jeffrey Colborn, chief executive officer of Metallic Power. “This project, partly sponsored with a grant totaling nearly US$300,000 by several California State and local government agencies, has demonstrated the long-term viability of our technology for powering zero-emission electric cars, and at the same time has provided us valuable information that will help us to improve our core near-term products for telecommunications backup power.” The project was co-sponsored by Metallic Power, the City of Chula Vista, the California Energy Commission (CEC), the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee (MSRC), the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the San Diego Air Pollution Control District. “We are enthusiastic supporters of this project and zinc fuel cell development at Metallic Power,” said California Energy Commissioner James D. Boyd.” “The CEC believes this is an important technology, developed by a California-based company, that could play a major role in future power systems for both stationary and transportation applications, as well as providing job opportunities for Californians.” For the demonstration, four of Metallic Power’s prototype telecom backup power zinc fuel cell systems were fitted into a Geo Force sedan converted to Solectria’s electric drive, with a small cargo compartment built into its rear. The company performed extensive laboratory tests on the system before taking it onto the highway. The test crew drove the vehicle at speeds reaching more than 50 mph and then rapidly refueled it in approximately 30 minutes using simple fuel hoses that can be optimized to make the process as simple as pumping gasoline. A small, lead-acid battery bank connected in parallel with the vehicle’s fuel cells provided extra power for short bursts of acceleration and hill climbing, while the fuel cells supplied the bulk of the energy for long-range driving. The technology holds the promise of delivering as much as five times the energy of the same weight of lead-acid batteries. As a result, such a vehicle could ultimately provide two to three times the range capability of a typical battery-powered electric vehicle. “This could someday enable zero-emission vehicles, with ranges of 300 miles or more, that consumers could safely refuel in a few minutes,” said Colborn. Metallic Power’s zinc fuel cells are fueled with small zinc pellets. As this fuel is consumed inside the fuel cell, it is combined with oxygen from the air to form zinc oxide, a common white powder found in sunblock and skin creams. During refueling, the zinc oxide (which remains dissolved in a liquid electrolyte) is pumped out of the vehicle while fresh fuel and electrolyte are pumped back in. The zinc oxide and spent electrolyte can be completely regenerated back into fresh fuel and electrolyte in a separate, stationary device also under development by the company. “It’s a completely closed-loop system,” said Colborn. “There’s nothing added, nothing wasted, and nothing to throw away or pollute the environment. While other metal/air technologies have been used to power vehicles, their implementation has required replacement or rebuilding of the cells rather than a simple refueling operation that we feel is a more commercially viable approach.” Pilot units of Metallic Power’s first commercial product, a 1.25kW 24-hour backup power module for telecom backup power, are scheduled to be available to telecommunications carriers in late 2003.