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FUEL CELL RACE HEATS UP

Two automobile manufacturers, Honda and BMW, say they have reached new high points in the development of hydrogen-poweredfuel cells.

German auto company BMW group has unveiled its 750hL, a luxurysedan that runs on fuel cells powered by pure hydrogen. The 12-cylinder sedan, with a top speed of 141 miles per hour anda 217-mile range, reduces tailpipe emissions by 99.5%, comparedto comparably sized gas-powered sedans. The car also featureson-board fuel cells instead of traditional batteries that supplypower for the radio, air conditioner, and other functions when the engine is off. The firm has the 750hL on a five-city world tour.

Some obstacles still hinder the hydrogen fuel cell car breaking into the market. Liquid hydrogen is still more expensive to producethan gasoline, and even BMW admits that more work needs to be done to reduce the non-tailpipe emissions, namely the nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide emitted by the burning of lubricants in thecurrent hydrogen engines. Infrastructure has a long way to go too:BMW operates one refueling station in Munich and is about to opena second one in Oxnard, California, near Los Angeles.

Honda, meanwhile, has opened its first hydrogen production and refueling station in Torrance, California. Looking to make aclean break with fossil fuels, the new facility uses solar power to convert water into hydrogen, which is then compressed and store dat the refueling station. The Torrance facility will be used to test the safest methods for storing compressed hydrogen, and the stationhas constant infrared surveillance designed to shut down in the eventof an earthquake. Honda's most recent prototype fuel cell vehicleis the FCX V3.

Other automobile companies, working alone or cooperatively, have notbeen idle in developing hydrogen vehicles. The Ford Motor Company is scheduled to introduce its own prototype hydrogen-powered car soon.Toyota Motor Corp. has unveiled two fuel-cell hybrids that can runon hydrogen -- a 63-seat bus and a five-seater passenger car, accordingto Fuel Cell Technology Update. Working with Hino Motors, Ltd.,Toyota developed the two vehicles, both of which carry high-pressuretanks of hydrogen to fuel the fuel cell engine. The passenger carhas been approved for road tests by the transport ministry.


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