Fuel-Cell Cars and More at CES and the Detroit Show

Events  /   /  By Jim Motavalli
‘Tis the season for major events, including two of the biggest of the year, the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit (January 11-24) and the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas (January 6-9). Both will showcase fuel-cell and hydrogen technology.

2016 Detroit Auto Show

Let’s start with the Detroit show, because Audi is rumored to be bringing its Q6 h-tron there. It’s a fuel-cell version of the exciting Audi e-tron Quattro concept electric car that the company unveiled at the recent Frankfurt show.

Like the electric e-tron, the Q6 h-tron would have around 300 miles of range (311 to be precise), and could go into production. The electric car is slated for 2018, but there’s no date for the hydrogen alternative yet.

Audi has already shown the A7 Sportback h-tron quattro sedan at the 2014 Los Angeles show, and it’s likely that they’d share technology. Range is the same, at 310.7 miles. The A7 has its fuel cell up front, connected to an 8.8 kilowatt-hour lithium battery under the trunk floor. The electric motor is also rear-mounted. There are four hydrogen tanks—in the center tunnel, and both in front of and behind the rear axle. Total system power is 170 kilowatts, powering both the front and rear wheels.

2016 Consumer Electronics Show

CES isn’t a car show, but it increasingly looks like one, with seven automakers making presentations next year—Audi, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru. The turnout highlights the growing importance of electronics and infotainment in today’s automobiles.

That said, the fuel cell and hydrogen news from CES isn’t about cars, but a newer form of transportation—drones. Intelligent Energy (IE) is showing off a hydrogen-fueled “range extender” for drones that functions somewhat like the gasoline engine in the BMW i3.

IE’s technology is an example of the superior range fuel cells offer over batteries. The range extender also offers the prospect of quick hydrogen refueling, rather than long recharging. In a conventional drone, a flight lasts 20 minutes, followed by two hours of recharging. Refueling with IE’s range extender takes two minutes, and the flight time extends to several hours.

Intelligent Energy drone

Intelligent Energy’s drone is hydrogen-powered. (Intelligent Energy photo)

According to Julian Hughes, a spokesman for IE’s Intelligent Energy’s Consumer Electronics Division, “A longer flight time coupled with a quick re-fuel opens a wide range of new commercial possibilities for businesses such as drones for inspection of offshore platforms, search and rescue, high-quality aerial photography, precision agriculture and parcel delivery and more.”

Also at CES, myFC AB, a Swedish company, will be showcasing its fuel-cell JAQ, a range extender for cellphones. Able to recharge Android and Apple phones via USB, JAQ is a portable and lightweight charger that uses replaceable PowerCards (for one-time use, available in multi-packs) holding 1,800 milliamp-hours—each one enough for a single smartphone charge.

Obviously, there are battery equivalents of this charger, but again they require long plug-in times. The JAQ never needs to be plugged in. myFC bills it as “the world’s smallest pocket fuel-cell charger.” The device should cost about $100 when commercially available, plus $2 for the PowerCards.

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