Automotive

Daihatsu Kei concepts bet on hydrazine as future fuel

Daihatsu "shoCase" hybrid concept vehicle
Daihatsu "shoCase" hybrid concept vehicle
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It has been a tough couple of years for the Japanese motor car industry, not least for Daihatsu. On top of natural and man-made disasters, Japan’s oldest car manufacturer, now part-owned by Toyota, has struggled to sell its super-compact “Kei” class vehicles outside of the home market. The company clearly feels however that the future will come to it, predicting demand for compact, zero-emission, hybrid powered vehicles, and has been developing a unique fuel-cell power source for just such a future since 2007. Leading the company's typically cute concept car range is the FC ShoCase - a vehicle suitable for the new fuel-cell.

Here's a brief re-cap of the Daihatsu concept vehicles shown late last year in Tokyo. The D-X (“d-cross”) is a sporty two-seater, the appearance of which can be changed by swapping out the resin body-panels. Power comes from an extremely efficient but conventional two-cylinder turbo. The PICO is a tandem two-seater car/bike crossover designed for the local delivery function so prevalent in Japan and indeed the whole of Asia. Motivation is provided by a plug-in electric battery/motor combination.

The most interesting vehicle on show was the FC ShoCase, designed specifically to show-off the possibilities of the fuel-cell power plant. With the cell and motor under the flat floor, clever stowage of the seats allows for an extremely versatile interior; including, one suspects, use as a mobile “love hotel” by young privacy-starved Japanese couples! This is a great looking concept. Please build this Daihatsu.

Of course, fuel cells have been touted as a potential power source for charging batteries and/or driving electric motors for many years. There are serious problems however - the fuel can be dangerous, a large amount of platinum catalyst is required, and power output density (the amount of power produced for a given size of cell) is limited. The Daihatsu cell addresses these concerns in an innovative manner.

Since conventional fuel cells (proton-exchange type) use strongly acidic electrolyte membranes, platinum, which possesses excellent corrosion resistance, is the only material that can be used as the electrode catalyst. By reversing this conventional model and utilizing an alkaline anion exchange fuel cell Daihatsu succeeded in eliminating platinum from the electrode catalyst, replacing it with an inexpensive metal (cobalt, nickel, etc.), which could not be used before due to low corrosion resistance.

Daihatsu fuel cell chemistry
Daihatsu fuel cell chemistry

By using hydrazine hydrate, which consists of only hydrogen and nitrogen, as the fuel, and developing new materials for the electrode catalyst, Daihatsu achieved both an output density of 0.50 W/cm2, which is comparable to the output of a hydrogen fuel cell, and zero emissions, with water and nitrogen being the only substances emitted.

Hydrazine hydrate is a liquid fuel, easy to handle during filling and its energy density is high. Furthermore, as an environmentally friendly synthetic fuel, hydrazine hydrate results in no CO2 emissions at all. At the same time, high-concentration hydrazine hydrate is designated as a poisonous substance (over 30% concentration) and it must be handled under the same safety standards applicable to gasoline and most industrial chemicals.

With the objective of ensuring safe use, Daihatsu developed a technology that fixes the hydrazine hydrate inside the fuel tank through the use of a polymer, minimizing the adverse effects that any dispersed fuel could have on humans or the environment should the fuel tank be damaged during a collision, for example, but that makes the required amount of liquid hydrazine hydrate available in a timely manner for electricity generation in the fuel cell.

Daihatsu screen presentation
Daihatsu screen presentation

Concept cars don’t often translate into real-world production and that’s likely the case here. The Daihatsu fuel cell development however is very real. Clearly the company is showcasing the technology in a bid to attract further R&D partnerships and get a unit into volume production. Let’s hope it succeeds.

13 comments
BombR76
Hydrazine, . . . it's not just for rocket fuel any more !!!
MBadgero
Hydrazine is ridiculously toxic for anyone to believe it would ever work. "minimizing adverse effects that any dispersed fuel could have on humans or the environment should the fuel tank be damaged during a collision" means what? That pedestrians die due to a collision 50 feet away instead of 100?
Richard Unger
This is the most insane idea I've seen in ages, Hydrazine is probably mans worst enemy. Anyone coming into contact with this stuff is dead. I can not believe anyone is seriously considering using this stuff in a car. I'll not be getting one
Zukey Badtouch
"On February 21, 2008, the United States government destroyed the disabled spy satellite USA 193 with a sea-launched missile, reportedly due to the potential danger of a hydrazine release if it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere intact." Nothing to be concerned about, Citizen. We will nuke all accident sites from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
Jon A.
Dittos on the problems with hydrazine. It's toxic, and moreover it ignites on contact with air.
sascha.kremers
All the objections are correct. But don't forget, gasoline is already toxic and cancer-causing AND the exhaust fumes are toxic and carcinogenic too. We're just used to ignore it. Anyway, Hydrazine in vehicles just doesn't seems to be a sound idea.
Kwazai
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyromitra_esculenta wood scraps for fuel? ene,ane,yde,ol?
billybob222
I really don't understand some of these concept cars, it's almost like they don't want to make anything that actually works- I think the thing that makes the most sense is using SOFC and a lithium titanate battery 20-30 KWHs or something of similar properties - SOFCs can use most hydrocarbon fuels and they have made strides to substantially lower operating temperatures and increase power density and say they can make more- you have a car that can go 80 miles or so on battery power and if you have to go farther you have 30-40 KWs of SOFC generated electricity using gas, diesel, natural gas or it's bio-equivalent to take you farther - you can keep existing infrastructure and don't need a cable as big as your arm to recharge, you don't need some sci-fi battery with 10-20x the energy density of today's batteries- think of it as a super Volt, with better but obtainable batteries and without the inefficient ICE-generator combo.
Slowburn
re; billybob222 The ice-generator combination is no worse efficiency wise than any other combustion based generators once you throw in Transmission losses and where are you going to get the electricity sense the green fascists are death on any electrical source that looks like it could work. Also stored electricity is a bomb waiting to go off, unlike gasoline that needs both an oxidizer and an ignition source.
Charles Bosse
Slowburn, I think you are making sweeping judgements about electricity that don't actually apply across the board, while pointedly ignoring the equal or higher toxicity of petroleum fuels (and the danger of gasoline mixed with air in a closed space). I'm not saying batteries are "the" way, but ultimately we can and should be doing better than existing combustion engines. By definition, any method of storing -energy- that allows for a rapid enough release to get a ton of metal, flesh, and baggage moving at what we now consider "acceptable" speed, without using so much bulk as to negate it's own usefulness, is going to be dangerous. The solutions are to either go slower (walk, bike), travel in bulk to set destinations (public transit), or accept that minimizing harm still does not eliminate it. But we have proof of concept of vehicles more than twice as efficient as any consumer model out there - and efficiency usually means safety (less energy use = less stored energy to do bad things). We can certainly progress from where we are, and given the torque characteristics of electric motors, and the lack of waste when they are not in operation, electricity seems like a powerful way to move forward.