Kia Sportage Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (2010 model)
Set to go on sale by 2012, the Kia Sportage Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) is the Korean manufacturer’s latest and closest to production-ready incarnation of hydrogen powered vehicles. With a variety of eco-friendly vehicles planned by Kia, with LPG-electric hybrids planned to go on sale this year, the FCEV wing of Kia’s green fleet is currently on demonstration in Korea and the US, with the Sportage FCEV offering the closest picture to what the final product will look like. Driven at Kia’s Namyang research and development centre, the Sportage FCEV prototype provided a glimpse into the future, with a high level of refinement and efficiency, and while it can’t be said that the Sportage FCEV is just ready for production, its performance, is, however, already comparable with entry-level versions of the well-established garden variety petrol Sportage crossover SUVs.
With the need for greener motoring no longer an issue to be disputed owing to the environmental damage caused by fossil fuels and the rate of depletion of the all-important black gold coupled with a hugely increasing number of vehicles as populations grow and motor vehicles become even more accessible, the only issue is what format green motoring will eventually take. While auto manufacturers have in recent years been intensifying their research and development of more economic and ecological technologies and vehicle, there are major issues that need to be surmounted, and it is my belief that no one technology will prove to be dominant in future, but instead numerous new technologies will be concurrently used to meet the various criteria, applications and styles that are required of different motor vehicles and by different people.
Contrary to popular speculation, petrol powered vehicles will not be going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon, owing to a combination of their low production cost, versatility, longevity and their even enhanced efficiency, not to mention that petrol is the favoured fuel for performance or enthusiast vehicles. However, ecologically friendlier cars soon start to feature far more on the automotive landscape, whether ultra-efficient Euro-style turbo-diesels or newer and more improved hybrids of electric power with diesel, petrol or LPG, in addition to fully electric and hydrogen powered vehicles, which are considered to potentially be the most environmentally friendly solutions. The biggest hurdle in the face of zero-emission fully electric plug-in and hydrogen fuelled cars is not the technology (which is quickly advancing), but is rather in finding less polluting and more efficient means to produce enough electricity or hydrogen.
Fuel cell future:
Being that it is the cleanest fuel possible at the point of use (as opposed to production), with water vapour the only by-product, the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen has been the favoured eco-friendly future fuel for both BMW and Kia, and while the Bavarian manufacturer sees its application as an alternative clean fuel for the internal combustion engine, Kia has since 1998 been committed to exploiting hydrogen for powering electric motor-driven vehicles. Under the Sportage FCEV’s familiar skin lies an impressive hydrogen powered set-up that starts with a 3.5kg capacity fuel tank with a 350 bar pressure, located behind the rear axle. Hydrogen is piped from the tank to a fuel cell stack, consisting of hundreds of individual cells, in front of the rear axle, where the cells are flooded with hydrogen, which is combusted with oxygen to generate power that is converted to electricity.
Stored in a battery pack next to the fuel stack, the electricity generated is used to drive a front mounted electric motor, which powers the Sportage FCEV, with nothing more than water vapour emanating from the exhaust pipes. The Sportage FCEV represents a great leap for Kia’s FCEV technology since their first 2000 prototype. The current Sportage FCEV prototype represents a big improvement on its predecessor, with a fuel cell stack that produces 136hp instead of 109hp, as well as 1kW/litre output density rather than 0.2kW/litre. For the 2012 fourth generation FCEV, Kia is working to improve the technology’s efficiency by 60 per cent, reducing the fuel cell stack size by half, as well as improving on the 400km range and improving cold-start ability from -20°C to -30°C. The Sportage FCEV’s refuelling time is three minutes.
Behind the wheel:
Were it not for the demo cars’ ‘FCEV’ decals, one wouldn’t be able to distinguish them from regular Sportages, with virtually the same cosmetics and interior, bar the absence of a tachometer and the fact that the auto transmission selector only has one drive forward setting. Once in drive, and one stomps on the accelerator, the Sportage FCEV is almost eerily quiet, displaying none of the traditional car noises but rather a sustained faint whining noise as one pushes on. With 136hp available, the Sportage FCEV is able to complete the benchmark 0-100km/h acceleration time in 12 seconds, with the first 80km/h arriving quicker than expected, and while it can theoretically push on to 152km/h, its rate of acceleration seems to drop as it speeds on, particularly so after around 130km/h. If not exactly stunning, the Sportage FCEV’s acceleration and performance are similar to the 2-litre petrol and Diesel versions with only the manual gearbox manual beating the FCEV to 100km/h.
On the straights the Sportage FCEV proved to be stable, planted and comfortable, with little noise finding its way into the cabin. Through the corners, the Sportage FCEV was, however, not in its best element, and with considerable body roll, not a vehicle to be hustled through bends. However, one ought keep in mind that the donor Sportage on which the FCEV is built is itself not an ideal cornering machine, but rather a compact family crossover with decent if not stunning handling, and a relatively high centre of gravity and soft sprung suspension. It is probable that the added weight and positioning of the FCEV hardware would throw the dynamics off, but the Sportage FCEV is still a prototype to be improved upon by its 2012 launch, including expected better dynamics owing to a lower position fuel cell stack. With its compact size, good interior space and ergonomics, stable and comfortable driving, not to mention affordable pricing, the Kia Sportage seems an ideal candidate to bring greener FCEV technology to the mass market.
And once Kia enhance the technology and improve some minor prototype issues like the body roll or a slight transmission jerk when suddenly decelerating and re-applying the accelerator as was evident at the R&D centre test drive, the Sportage FCEV stands to be one of the most accessible, convincing, practical and popular cars in the much-touted brave new world of cleaner motoring.
source: Jordan Local Daily News | Middle East Arab Breaking News | Jordan Times Amman-based Newspaper