A 300,000 mile fuel cell for hydrogen vehicles?

Would fuel cell vehicles be more appealing to you if they had a fuel source that was comparable to the best light-weight diesel engines? Or, more simply put, could offer you the equivalent of 300,000 driven miles?

That’s a bold claim indeed given the nascent state of this emerging green vehicle market, but one which ACAL Energy thinks it can make.

ACAL Energy said it recently had developed a proton exchange membrane (PEM) hydrogen fuel cell that “reached 10,000 hours runtime on a third party automotive industry durability test without any significant signs of degradation.” This endurance is said to easily beat current U.S. Department of Energy targets for fuel cell powered vehicles to last 5,000 hours, equivalent to 150,000 road miles, with an expected degradation threshold of approximately 10%.

image via ACAL Energy

And, to crow even a little more, the company said its “breakthrough approach is also significantly cheaper than conventional fuel cell technology.”

The trick to all of this, according to ACAL Energy, is that its technology

does not rely on platinum as the catalyst for the reaction between oxygen and hydrogen. The platinum and gas have been replaced with a patented liquid catalyst, which ACAL Energy calls FlowCath. This revolutionary approach dramatically improves a PEM fuel cell’s durability and at the same time reduces the cost of a system. The liquid acts as both a coolant and catalyst for the cell’s, ensuring that they last longer by removing most of the known decay mechanisms.

Power output with this fuel cell tied to a “competitive fuel cell drive-train” reportedly would be 100kW, equal to that of a 2 litre diesel engine.

To come to its findings, ACAL spent the last 16 months putting its fuel cell through testing that “simulates a 40-minute car journey with a start-stop at the end of each cycle. The cycle, which was repeated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, mimics a vehicle journey with frequent stops, starts and a highway cruise.”

How this technology ultimately plays out in the marketplace remains to be seen. The company made no mention of automakers which might be interested it what it developed, but given it will be at least 2015 before we see these vehicles in consumer hands, it still has plenty of time to hope.

* Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling