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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Audi Shows a Plug-in / Fuel Cell Hybrid Car

I have written many articles about Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Generally speaking, I don't like them. Their fuel, H2, is derived from Methane and in the rare case that electricity is used to make H2 from water, this electricity would be better used directly in an electric car.

There is one case where I conceded that I would consider buying a fuel cell car. That is if it was a plug-in hybrid with decent (40 mile+) electric range. You may not be aware of this, but FC vehicles generally include batteries. The batteries are there to recapture regenerative braking energy and to supplement the peak power demands such as during quick acceleration.

If the capacity of these batteries were increased from the 4kWh or less that usually found in FCEVs, to say 16kWh found in a Chevy Volt today or more, then you have a car that can be charged up at home and fueled up (with H2) when it is on the road. In fact, the original Volt drivetrain design, then called E-Flex, was designed so that the range extender could be a generator or a fuel cell.

Despite this concept of a plug-in hybrid FC vehicle being around for a while, none of the FCVs announced for production from Toyota, Hyundai, or Honda allow the car to be plugged in. Some of them even have a CHAdeMO port, but that is there to allow the car to be used as a backup power source, not to charge the car.

Audi just changed that at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show. They are showing a five-door luxury fastback billed as the first sporty fuel-cell car. Audi calls the A7 h-tron quattro a "technology demonstrator".

The A7 h-tron quattro has 8.8kWh of lithium-ion batteries (the same as the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid) and like the A3 e-tron it can be plugged in and recharged. Audi claims an all-electric range of 28 miles in the A3. This is enough for most commutes. I'd prefer 40+ miles of electric range, but this is a good start.

Four storage tanks hold enough H2 for 310 miles of range once the batteries are depleted. They're housed under the hood, where the internal-combustion engine of a normal gas-powered A7 would be.

If only there was a nationwide network of H2 filling stations. Today there is no such vast H2 filling infrastructure and, IMHO, any public money spent building one would be better spent putting in much cheaper fast charge stations for EVs.

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