At the end of last month, Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies began shipments of its latest hydrogen fuel cell-powered remote-control toy car, the i-H2GO. Like its predecessor, the H2GO, it runs on hydrogen obtained from user-supplied water. The main thing that's new about the i-H2GO, however, is the fact that it is now controlled using a free app on the user's existing smartphone. I got my hands on an early production model, mainly just so that I could truthfully say "I've driven a fuel cell car."
Like the H2GO, the new car comes with an included Refueling Station. The user pours purified water into that device, and it proceeds to electrolyze the H2O, separating it into H and O – hydrogen and oxygen. A plunger on the station rises as hydrogen fills its temporary holding compartment.
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The user then connects the car to the station using a built-in hose, and manually pumps the hydrogen from the station into the car. The car's fuel cell subsequently combines the hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen, producing a flow of electrons that powers its motor.
A photovoltaic panel is also included, to provide power to the Refueling Station's battery. If the Sun isn't shining or the user just doesn't want to be bothered, however, the station can also be charged from a computer via an included USB cable.
My first order of business was to use that panel to charge the station. The instructions state that at least 10 hours in the sunlight will be necessary, and that 16 would be even better. Just to be on the safe side, I left mine out in direct sunlight all day for two full sunny days in a row. Unfortunately, that still wasn't enough.
This didn't come as a huge surprise, given my recent experiences trying to charge the Waka Waka Power solar lamp and device charger. The fact is that if you live in high-latitude places such as Scandinavia, Russia or (in my case) Canada, solar-powered devices are likely to take longer to charge than their makers claim.
Given that the Refueling Station indicates its charge level simply via an LED that's either red or green, I had no way of knowing how close it was to a full charge. That being the case, I just took it inside and charged it the rest of the way from my computer. A full USB charge, starting from an empty battery, takes five to six hours.
Once the station was ready to go, I added filtered water to its water tank, turned it on, and watched it set about separating the hydrogen and oxygen. The electrolyzer itself could be seen furiously fizzing away, while the oxygen escaped as a stream of bubbles at the water's surface. The hydrogen, meanwhile, accumulated in the holding compartment – the plunger rose steadily as it was displaced by the gas, providing an indication of how full the compartment was getting.
Within just a couple of minutes the compartment was full, as indicated both by the plunger being all the way up and the illumination of a green LED. I then hooked the station up to the car, and slowly and steadily pushed the plunger down, transferring the hydrogen from the compartment and into a "balloon" within the car. That balloon could actually be seen inflating as it filled with hydrogen gas. After disconnecting the car and allowing it warm up, it was time to try it out.
Although an Android version of the control app is on the way, presently just an iOS version is available. Not being an iPhone-owner, I took the car over to be test-driven by my Apple-enabled friend Jason.
Pairing the car with his iPhone was quick and easy. The dedicated app allows users to control the car either via touchscreen controls, or by going into Gyro mode and turning the phone itself to steer. Both methods worked fine for us, and the car zipped around just like you'd expect it to. Given its low ground clearance, however, it became pretty obvious that the i-H2GO is designed for smooth surfaces such as floors. When we first tried it out on a relatively rough asphalt road surface, it did a lot of bumping around and spinning out.
We were surprised at how quickly it went through its onboard store of hydrogen – after just a few minutes, it konked out. It turns out that that's normal, given hydrogen's relatively low energy density. Fortunately, one charge/water fill of the Refueling Station is good for several fillings of the car. Just keep the station close at hand, and expect to take the car out for a few back-to-back short runs instead of a single long one.
Overall, I liked the i-H2GO, and would recommend it for people with science-nerdy kids ... or who are science-nerdy kids at heart, themselves. It may not offer the run time or simplicity of a regular battery-powered RC car, but it transforms fuel cell cars from being some concept that exists "out there," to something that you use and understand yourself.
The i-H2Go is available now, for US$180.
Product page: i-H2GOView gallery - 12 images