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Canada’s effect on Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History

 

“I don’t think we’re going to see the price of oil going down in the near future, that’s the reality.”      -Carly Fiorina, former Republican presidential candidate

When fuel prices increase again –very likely– and supplies diminish –very certain– alternative fuels are the only alternative. Hydrogen and electricity are two such substitutes, and fuel cells are the devices where these two “come together” to provide the electrical energy to drive our vehicles, aka MOTORcars, down the road.

Hydrogen can also be burned in internal combustion engines as an alternative fuel for petroleum. However, because of the ICE’s nature, they will still produce some emissions, and they are complex mechanical, noisy machines.

One of the early believers, who started researching this ‘simple’ element called hydrogen, and who is still adding to our knowledge of H2, is the Musashi Institute of Technology in Tokyo. Starting in 1974, they have continued to research hydrogen as a fuel in internal combustion engines (ICE).  Musashi has studied two-stroke and four-stroke cycle engines in vehicles from small cars to trucks, in turbocharged engines, with sparkplug and compression ignition (Diesel) and with liquid and gaseous hydrogen. Up to the time of the Kyoto Accord in 1997, the Institute had constructed ten different research vehicles. (See several other photos on another page on this website) Since 1992, the group operates as the Hydrogen Energy Research Center, still under the patronage of the Musashi University.

While we’re on the subject of ‘more photos’ and information, I have to acknowledge that the creator of this website has done such a remarkable job of assembling pictures and explaining occurrences that I am struggling to find other pictures. It is only because of Kevin Kantola’s compelling enthusiasm for this subject that I am able to expand –in a small way- on this subject of interest to all of us.

Musashi 9 Liquid hydrogen truck in 1994 — at least 6 other Musashi photos at the History of Hydrogen Cars (under different years)

Other countries, Canada among them, also saw great promise in alternative fuels, -and still does- even though Canada is fortunate to have more petroleum reserves than most other regions in the world.

Regardless, some individuals already anticipated a time beyond carbon fuels during those early years. Canadian Greg Vezina is one person who had that vision and who is still trying to make a difference as I write this in 2017. Greg recently tried ‘getting his feet wet’ in provincial politics.

During my time with the Automotive Evolution Center & Museum in Kingston, Ontario, I was in contact with Greg, trying to display his work and his car. At the time, his car was away for tests in the USA.

With money borrowed from family and friends and his own, Vezina founded the Canadian Alternative Energy Corporation (C.A.E.C.).  He converted a 1981 Chevrolet Impala sedan to run on a mixture of hydrogen and nitrogen, namely ammonia, a non-polluting, non-carbon fuel substitute, already in use and commercially available.  Vezina called that fuel ‘Hydrofuel’ and registered it as a trademark in 1984.  He drove his Chevy across Canada, ammonia tank mounted in the Chevy’s trunk, trying to convince politicians to fund research of his venture, and alternative fuels in general.  Several high-ranking government officials of the time drove the ‘ammonia mobile’ and were sufficiently impressed.  CNN and CBC found Greg Vezina’s story to be suitably interesting for the general public to broadcast it. In 2007, the company drove a fleet of vehicles running on ammonia (“Hydrofuel”™) from Toronto to New York City and on to Los Angeles.

After all, during World War II, Belgium had converted its complete public transit system in a very short time to run on ammonia, when the occupying Nazis took the diesel fuel supply of their neighbours for their own purpose.

Gregory Vezina emailed this to me: “A World Hydrogen Energy Conference was held every two years [at that time], to review progress in hydrogen technology.  The 1984 Conference was held in Toronto.  We had our 1981 Chevy at this conference. From the Canadian point of view, it was an upbeat affair.  It was chaired by Bryan Taylor, with the organization in the capable hands of Richard Champagne of the Hydrogen Industry Council.  The Canadian research effort was praised by delegates from Japan and the United States, and Canada was referred to as “a world leader” in the field. — More on that coming soon.

One of the first acts of the new Canadian Conservative government at that time, led by Brian Mulroney, decimated the funding for research on solar energy and hydrogen.  The hydrogen research program in the National Research Council was terminated.  Bryan Taylor, the principal of the Hydrogen Energy Research Program, left NRC for a job in the battery industry on the West coast. Abandoning its research role in the mid-80s, Canada may have [temporarily] lost its momentum in international hydrogen circles.  In contrast, Germany, Japan and Sweden, among others, have greatly intensified their support of hydrogen research in recent years.”

Proponents for ammonia also exist in the USA; more on that coming soon as an important part of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell History.

Win some – lose some. Progress is driving forward. And Canada took the lead again very soon, the effects being felt at present everywhere. (More on that coming soon.)

Next: Car Designer Favours Hydrogen and Fuel Cell History

About George Wand

George Wand
Our guest writer George Wand retired from the automotive industry. During his career, he worked in R&D on advanced EV mobility concepts, and working with a museum drives his interest in history. These Hydrogen and Fuel Cell History items are but a small part of more than 750 articles he published in print and digital form. He compiled some of those in a series of eBooks from Amazon-Kindle. Racing to Preserve Precious Petroleum, Part 1 and Part 2 were released in 2016, Part 3 is ready to go by mid-2017. (Download ‘Kindle-for-PC’ or ‘Kindle-for-Mac’ and read on any computer.) Wikipedia, HowStuffWorks.com and EVWorld have referenced Wand’s thoroughly researched, plainly written articles. True to his slogan “On the inventive past the ingenious future will thrive”, Wand is passionate about sustainable mobility in a future without pollution. He has driven a variety of FCVs at Hydrogenics in his Toronto ’backyard’. An article about that will arrive here soon.

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