An ambitious U.S. Department of Energy-implemented project supported by USAID to introduce three-wheel hydrogen-powered vehicles into India could have important consequences on air pollution and transportation in developing countries and the United States.
"Hydrogen engine technology can have a dramatic impact in the developing world by improving air quality and energy security, and promoting sustainable economic growth," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said. "The positive impacts are far-reaching both in the United States and abroad."
DOE is interested in testing alternative fuel-efficient systems under congested traffic conditions where transportation pollution is severe.
The project exemplifies a new approach to development: Strategic public-private alliances forged with help from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID's US-Asia Environmental Partnership program and its Global Development Alliance program brought the American and Indian partners together and supported them with $500,000 to pursue the conversion of a three-wheeler internal combustion engine to power a hydrogen fueled vehicle.
"This project could ultimately hasten introduction of hydrogen-fueled transportation into the United States by building upon lessons learned in widescale deployment of small vehicles in India," Abraham said.
Energy Conversion Devices (ECD), on behalf of Texaco Ovonic Hydrogen Systems, is undertaking conversion in the United States in a 50-50 joint venture with the unit of ChevronTexaco Corp. of San Ramon, Calififornia. ECD will carry out the project in cooperation with one of India's largest automobile manufacturers, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.
The project could encourage conversion of vast emerging economies to less-polluting hydrogen fuels, introduce key American technology to the immense Asian market, and hasten introduction of hydrogen-fueled transportation into the United States.
One attractive factor in this test is the amount of fuel that needs to be stored on an average Indian three-wheeler is one-tenth that needed for automobiles favored by U.S. consumers. The smaller storage capacity significantly reduces technological challenges in introducing the vehicles into the Asian market. In this project, Mahindra and Mahindra selects two vehicles for conversation and ships them to ECD. ECD has extensive experience in solid-state hydrogen storage systems and has done cutting-edge work in converting gasoline-powered vehicles to hydrogen.
ECD will convert the engine to run on hydrogen, design an appropriate metal hydride storage system, integrate the storage system into the vehicle, and perform vehicle testing. ECD will use its proprietary Ovonic metal hydrides, which are alloys that act like a sponge, to absorb hydrogen gas. Waste heat from the engine is delivered to the metal hydride bed to release the hydrogen fuel.
One converted vehicle will be returned to India, a country where three-wheelers powered by smaller two- and four-stroke engines are a common form of transportation in densely populated, low-income areas. These smaller engines are a major source of air pollution in developing nations.
The second hydrogen fueled vehicle will remain at ECD for tests and demonstrations in the United States.
The project supports research, development and demonstration activities under the DOE's hydrogen program to develop improved metal hydride materials and for hydrogen-based transportation options. It will also complement a broader strategic initiative by USAID/India working with Indian government agencies and the private sector, with the support of NETL, to develop a vision and a road-map for India's hydrogen future.