Morgan breaks with tradition with plan for fuel-cell prototype

Morgan breaks with tradition with plan for fuel-cell prototype
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It’s showtime at Morgan and the factory of the icon of traditional motoring is abuzz as the show cars are all pushed onto the tarmac (pictured), ready for transportation to Geneva for the season's biggest motor show. It’s exciting but we warrant not as exciting as this time next year when this very same alley will see the Morgan Lifecar which has been promised for next year’s show. Many British specialist sports car makers have fallen by the wayside, but Morgan just keeps on going – and now it’s looking to the future with a plan to be one of the first car makers to commercialise a hydrogen fuel-cell car. The company is famous for its traditional production methods, but for next year’s Geneva show managing director Charles Morgan announced a plan to launch the Morgan Life Car - a hydrogen-fuelled, zero-emissions car – but built using Morgan’s wooden-framed body. The car is intended to demonstrate that a zero emission vehicle can also be fun to drive. Artist’s impressions of the car show a vehicle shaped like the Aero 8, but with aerodynamic fairings covering the wheel arches. It will be a very lightweight car with a fuel cell hybrid powertrain, which will give it a 200-mile range. We first wrote about the LifeCar back in 2005. It’s being developed in partnership with hi-tech specialists including Cranfield University, QinetiQ, Oxford University, Linde AG and the Open Source Car Project (OSCar).

Meanwhile Morgan is performing well. Almost all of the 100 limited run AeroMaxs have now been sold, and Morgan’s total sales last year reached 650. “We have a full order book for 2007 for both the traditional Morgan and the AeroMax, and we’ve just launched a new Aero 8 for the US” said Charles Morgan. The Aero 8 America has a 335bhp 4.4-litre BMW V8 engine and costs $115,000.

Morgan also announced it would run a full three-car works team in the FIA GT series this year, and fittingly for a maker of ‘living classics’, it has hired two classic racing drivers to head the team. Jacques Lafitte and Jean-Pierre Jabouille were both Grand Prix winners in the 1970s, and are still committed sports car racers.

LIFEcar - an efficient fuel cell sports car

Now less than 12 months from reality, the British consortium involved in the project, which includes the legendary sports car manufacturer Morgan, QinetiQ, Cranfield and Oxford universities, BOC and OSCar, is on target to unveil the completed and running prototype at the 2008 Geneva show.

The new vehicle, known as LIFECar will be ultra quiet, and its exhaust system will produce only water vapour thanks to its fuel cell converting hydrogen into electricity.

“The real challenge is to design and build a car that is fun to drive – a proper sports car” quoted Charles Morgan, the strategy director for the Morgan Motor Company. “The use of ultra capacitors to store the surplus energy and then use this for acceleration and braking does promise a dynamic ride, especially when combined with our ultra light chassis. The pairing of weight to a minimum is our strength, and allows a much smaller fuel cell than conventionally thought necessary. This gives energy and yet more weight savings”

Part funded by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), LIFECar has been a 2 1⁄2 year project. The consortium hopes that the LIFECar will produce a combination of performance, range and fuel economy that should alter our view of motoring for the future.

The key to delivering this step change in energy efficiency lies in a combination of factors, including weight reduction and a different design approach. Costing a total of £1.9m, with a mix of industry and DTI funding, the two and a half year project has been broken down into the following areas of responsibility.

BOC - Developing the hydrogen refuelling plant

Cranfield University - Systems simulation , on-board computing and control networks

Oxford University - Design and control of re-generative electric motors

QinetiQ - Developing the proton exchange membrane fuel cell

Morgan Motor Company - Building the finalised design using light weight technology

OSCar - Overall system design and architecture

Technical background

The car's fuel cell system operates by electrochemically combining on-board hydrogen with oxygen taken from the air outside.

Although in most respects fuel cells are more like engines than batteries, to the extent that they generate energy from fuel in a tank rather than store energy, like batteries, they use electrodes (solid electrical conductors) with an electrolyte (an electrically conductive medium). When the hydrogen molecules come into contact with the negative electrodes, the molecules split into protons and electrons.

The protons are then carried across the proton exchange membrane to the positive electrode of the fuel cell whilst the electrons travel around the external circuit as electricity. The molecules of the hydrogen and oxygen are combined chemically, with water as the only waste product.

The only emission from the QinetiQ fuel cell will be water vapour. The electric power generated by the fuel cells powers the electric motors and turns the wheels of the vehicle.

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