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Auto industry in search of alternative fuel
Jakarta Post (22 Jul 2004)

INDONESIA: DaimlerChrysler Southeast Asia Pte Ltd. presented the first fuel-cell powered car in Southeast Asia to Singapore's National Environment Energy on July 19, which was followed by the opening of BP's first hydrogen refueling station to support the project. The German automaker also hosted a one-day seminar on alternative energy. The Jakarta Post's Primastuti Handayani was ivited by DaimlerChrysler to Singapore to cover the event.

When keynote speaker Andreas Truckenbrodt, director of fuel cell and alternative powertrain vehicles at DaimlerChrysler AG, jokingly said he wished to have the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren powered by a fuel cell, the 80 people attending the seminar on alternative energy immediately laughed.

The SLR -- whose body is made of carbon-fiber and equipped with a 5.5-liter V8 engine that results in maximum power of 626 horsepower (hp) at 6,500 revolutions per minute -- of course is not comparable to the "experimental" F-Cell, which uses an alternative energy that results in a maximum output at 87 hp, or seven-times less than the SLR.

The F-Cell car has a different advantage, though. It is a zero-emission vehicle and its efficiency is twice as high as the internal combustion engine. The F-Cell is fueled with hydrogen and emits only pure water vapor.

Truckenbrodt also promised that the pleasure of driving an F-Cell would be no different from that of regular cars.

According to Truckenbrodt, there are five steps that can be taken to ensure environmentally friendly and sustainable mobility: the optimization of combustion engines, the worldwide improvement of conventional fuels, the development and use of largely carbon dioxide-neutral biofuels, the further development of hybrid propulsion systems and fuel cell technology.

John Harris from Ballard Power Systems said at the seminar that the main driving force behind current research on alternative energies was that the world was running out of oil. Ballard has already provided fuel cells for 50 passenger cars and 30 buses, and a further 150 are expected on the roads before the end of 2005.

"We used to run for oil but now we are running out of oil," he said.

As an example, U.S. oil consumption this year is expected to be about 20.4 million barrels per day (mbpd), a 0.3 mbpd increase from last year. The country, which accounts for about 26 percent of total oil consumption in the world, will see a continuous rise in its oil consumption over the next five years to 22 mbpd.

Meanwhile, China is expected to see its oil consumption rise to about 7.0 mbpd in 2009 compared to this year's 5.6 mbpd.

Beside the huge consumption of oil, Harris said, recent power blackouts from New York and Toronto to Turin and parts of London have pointed to the fragility of the existing power network.

Therefore, researchers continue to develop "green cars" using alternative energy. F-Cell technology is not only being developed by DaimlerChrysler but also by Ford. Other carmakers like Volvo, Chevrolet and VW have also turned to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as an alternative.

Before developing the F-Cell, Mercedes-Benz, the flagship of DaimlerChrysler, was developing the New Electric Car (Necar) since 1994, using the F-Cell in collaboration with fuel cell specialist Ballard. In 1997, it continued with the development of the New Electric Bus (Nebus).

Besides the F-Cell, Mercedes-Benz has successfully launched the E 200 NGT, whose first showcase was at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September. The car is powered by natural gas and has a bivalent drive system, meaning the driver can choose between natural gas and gasoline at the touch of a button. Compared with gasoline-operated vehicles, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by more than 20 percent.

At the Tokyo Motor Show last November, Mercedes-Benz also revealed its F 500 Mind, which uses a hybrid diesel engine.

However, the development of the F-Cell car, which is expected to enter the market in 2010 at the soonest, still faces some challenges.

Truckenbrodt named the life of the fuel cell itself as the main challenge, but he expects the F-Cell stack eventually to operate for 5,000 hours. Besides that, the infrastructure for hydrogen refueling is another problem.

BP general manager for hydrogen Michael Jones said BP planned to open a second hydrogen refueling station by the end of this year to support the F-Cell project in Singapore.

"About 5,000 tons of hydrogen can be produced daily in a mass-scale production. Then hydrogen will not be expensive," he said.

The possible problems in producing hydrogen include the storage technology and the public commitment to switching to a more environmentally friendly energy.

In a touching moment, Jones recalled seeing a six-year-old girl and her parents approach the BP hydrogen refueling station on Upper East Coast Road in Singapore on Sunday, and the interest the little girl showed in the new technology.

"I hope in the future all children will prefer to buy cars that do not contribute to climate change and global warming," he said.


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