In September 2007, I had talked about how carmaker Daihatsu was developing a platinum-free fuel cell that uses liquid or solid hydrazine hydrate for fuel instead of gaseous hydrogen. Now, 5 years later they are still showing off their FC ShoCase concept vehicle that runs on hydrazine hydrate (N2H4H2O).
I hope they are a little bit farther down the development path than they were in 2007. In fact, I hope they are ready to commercialize a fuel cell vehicle using hydrazine. Apparently it’s a pretty easy process to create hydrazine and 260,000 tons are produced every year.
So, why hydrazine and not hydrogen? According to TorqueNews.com, “Hydrogen’s biggest dilemma in fuel cell use is its requirement that it be bathed in highly acidic electrolyte solution in order to facilitate the proton exchanges necessary to give off that coveted electron to run through an electrical circuit. This acidic chemistry means that most metals will not last long and thus cannot be used as a catalyst. Top choices are narrow and usually expensive, with most using platinum as their choice. This is what makes fuel cells expensive, potentially dangerous if ruptured, and relatively hard to build. Add to that the highly volatile nature of hydrogen itself, one of the most flammable gases known, and there are some obvious obstacles to overcome with hydrogen fuel cells.
“Hydrazine, on the other hand, has none of those problems. Hydrazine works best in a fuel cell that is aklaline, rather than acidic, and so just about any cheap, readily available metal can be used as a catalyst. Daihatsu has tried both cobalt and nickel with success. What’s more, if the fuel cell is ruptured, nothing inside need be toxic to the environment or people, making it much safer.”
There are no CO2 tailpipe emissions when using hydrazine. The only emissions are nitrogen and steam. Is using hydrazine a good idea? Perhaps. My biggest concern is with Daihatsu. After 5 years of research and development all they have to show for themselves is a showcase show car. C’mon Daihatsu, put the petal to the metal and get that ShoCase ready for prime time. Hyundai says they will be rolling out 1,000 hydrogen fuel cell cars this year.
It’s time for all carmakers to express the “urgency of now” and get their cars ready for commercialization the next 6 months to 2 years. It won’t be wise to fall behind the pack when this new technology hits the streets.