Firm powers research on low-pollution cars
October 27, 1997
Web posted at: 7:02 p.m. EST (0002 GMT)
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNN) -- A Canadian company is at
the wheel for an exciting spin into the 21st century.
Ballard Power Systems, a leader in research that could help
cut motor vehicle emissions, is touting the development of a
fuel cell engine as the answer to the pollution caused by
cars, trucks and buses.
"We would like to be the Intel of the power-generation
business," said Mossadiq Umadely, chief financial officer of
the Vancouver-based firm.
Fuel cell technology uses an electro-chemical process that
converts hydrogen and oxygen into energy.
The fuel cell itself runs on external fuel. It is at its
cleanest when using pure hydrogen. The cell also works with
hydrogen-rich fuels like methanol, natural gas or gasoline.
According to the U.S. Energy Department, the fuel cell can
achieve double the fuel economy of current automobiles,
cutting emissions of greenhouse gases in half.
Drivers of a gasoline-fueled fuel cell car could still pull
in for a fill-up. But they would fill up far less often and
create less pollution than today's combustion engines.
Eight of the world's top 10 automakers are working with
Ballard. Daimler-Benz of Germany just purchased 25 percent of
the company. Ballard has a deal with Daimler-Benz to develop
fuel cell technology jointly and work on a new electric car.
The carmaker estimates that cars powered by fuel cells will
be in dealer showrooms possibly by the middle of the next
In Chicago, a bus built by Ballard that is powered with fuel
cells provides a glimpse of the future. To power the electric
motor on the bus, dozens of fuel cells are stacked together.
While it rides like a normal bus, the Chicago vehicle is
quieter. Thanks to hydrogen tanks, the only emission from the
engine is water vapor.
While the bus costs four times as much to build as a diesel
bus, in the long run it could be cheaper to operate because
of fuel savings.
Chrysler Corp. has said costs would have to be cut
drastically for the engine to compete with current cars. Even
mass-produced, the technology would cost $30,000 per car now
compared with $3,000 for conventional cars.
"What we are doing right now is working with alternative
materials and different manufacturing processes to drive the
cost down so it is competitive with internal combustion
engines," said Firoz Rasul, Ballard chief executive officer.
Correspondent Dick Wilson and Reuters contributed to this report.