Another hydrogen-powered Focus – what’s the difference between this and the FCV?
The H2 ICE stands for hydrogen internal combustion engine. It has the kind of engine you’d recognize - Ford’s global 2.3-litre four-pot, as used in the Mazda 6, among others - but modified to burn hydrogen. Fuel-cell vehicles like the Focus FCV also use hydrogen, but they use it to create electricity in a chemical reaction, which in turn powers an electric motor. It’s a far more efficient use of hydrogen, but fuel cells are delicate, expensive and we still haven’t found a way to mass-produce them. Hydrogen internal combustion engines like this C-Max's are closer to production reality and might help to encourage the hydrogen infrastructure we need to replace petrol stations.
Is it really as clean as a fuel cell?
Pretty much; there’s virtually no CO2 produced. The big problem is storage; the hydrogen has to be carried at high pressure to fit enough of it in for the car to have a decent range. High pressure means big tanks, which means weight, and even with three tanks the C-Max only carries enough H2 to travel around 125 miles, around a third the range of a conventional model. Hydrogen burns more efficiently than petrol in an internal combustion engine however; 2.75 litres of hydrogen has the energy equivalent to 10 litres of petrol, which would propel a standard car only around 80 miles.
What’s it like to drive?
Don’t get too excited when we say the engine has a supercharger and two intercoolers. Although the hydrogen engine makes more efficient use of its fuel’s energy than a petrol, hydrogen carries less energy in the first place, so it’s less powerful; just 110bhp to the Mazda 6’s 163bhp with the same engine. We drove an early prototype; throttle response was slow and the engine note and general refinement were much rougher than a standard petrol; we noticed the same effect even in BMW’s 6.0-litre V12 Hydrogen 7-series.
But you can drive the C-Max and fill it like a normal car?
Right. And work on improving the tanks is progressing rapidly. Holding the hydrogen at much higher pressures will give a much longer range for the same physical tank size, with carbonfibre providing the required strength at an acceptable weight. And you might get a ride in one of these sooner than you think; Ford is using this technology on V10-engined buses in America; fleets able to store their own hydrogen can get around the supply problem.
Sure, it’s another green concept car that can’t yet be built at an affordable cost, or made practical for everyday use. But this one is closer than most, and crucially it’s a ‘bridging’ technology that will help us get from our current dependence on fossil fuels to the hydrogen economy that some believe is our future.