While automakers are focusing on electric vehicles (EV) that are powered by high capacity batteries, UK-based Riversimple is betting big on hydrogen as a clean and efficient fuel for future cars, whose efficiency and range is claimed to surpass that of EVs.
If all goes as per plan, the Riversimple Rasa hydrogen-powered car is expected to emerge as a practical alternative to electric vehicles.
Meet the Rasa Car
Rasa is a two seater car that is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Its prototype, which is currently being tested on the busy roads of London and on the county lanes of Powsy, Wales, UK, has successfully managed to achieve driving speeds of above 60 miles per hour and has been swiftly maneuvering and negotiating the traffic on the busy roads of the capital of England.
The major components of the car, like the chassis, are built using extremely strong and yet very lightweight carbon fiber composites, which neatly integrates with the vehicle body. In the monocoque structure model, where the chassis is integral with the car’s body structure, the Rasa chassis weighs less than 40 kilograms. The overall car weighs around 580 kilograms, which is almost half the weight of a present-day conventional car. Lower weight allows the vehicle to run for longer range.
The car consists of four electric motors, each one integrated into one of the car wheels allowing for a four wheel drive. The motors are used as brakes which helps to preserve more than 50 percent of the kinetic energy when the brakes are applied. The car is fitted with super capacitors that store this energy and make it available during car’s acceleration. In conventional cars, this energy is lost forever.
Unlike batteries, these super capacitors can’t store a large amount of energy but are capable of storing smaller amounts very quickly. It makes them ideal for use to quickly storing the energy available during braking, and for instantly providing it when the car accelerates.
The primary fuel source of the Rasa car is a hydrogen fuel cell. While many experiments have been performed on fitting the conventional vehicles with fuel cells, they have remained inefficient due to the large weight of the conventional vehicles. Rasa’s unique synthesis of various technologies - to keep the vehicle lightweight and to re-use braking energy for acceleration - helps to achieve high efficiency and longer driving range.
Riversimple call Rasa a “network electric car,” as it has been designed to network the available energy all around the car. Available energy can move in any direction on any path, in addition to the standard route of back into the fuel cell.
Image courtesy: Riversimple Website
Due to this mechanism, the Rasa efficiently runs on an 8.5kW hydrogen fuel cell. It can go 300 miles on 1.5 kilograms of hydrogen. The fuel efficiency is enhanced by its aerodynamic design, which also keeps the car stable despite its low weight.
Can Rasa Hit Tesla?
Tesla’s electric vehicles have gained traction on two major points – first is the use of clean fuel, and secondly, their low cost of use. However, these EVs need regular charging which means driving to charging stations and waiting for the vehicles to be fully charged. (See also, Tesla's Problem—Model 3 Batteries: Oppenheimer.)
Hydrogen can be generated by the process of electrolysis that can be performed at the point of distribution. It offers a significant advantage over electricity which suffers from the transport costs.
Riversimple provides a comparative chart for the energy efficiency of vehicles operated by various sources, indicating a clear advantage for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) over those with fossil fuel-based internal combustion engines. Though battery powered electric vehicles have higher efficiency, their range is much lower than HFCV.
Riversimple calls itself a sustainable car company, not a hydrogen car company. Rasa was conceptualized, designed and created based on the features of simplicity, efficiency, lightness, strength, affordability, safety and sustainability. The name “Rasa” was derived from the Latin term “Tabula Rasa” which means a “Clean slate”, and fits perfectly for the basis and the purpose for which it was created. Riversimple claims to have designed the Rasa car from scratch to deliver a significant change in fuel efficiency of the automobile and to keep the minimal impact on the environment.
The pricing model of the Rasa is different. The customers don’t purchase the car outright, rather they will pay a fixed monthly fee to own the car, and the fee will also cover all maintenance and insurance costs as well as the necessary fuel to run it. Riversimple calls it “product as a service,” or more specifically, “mobility as a service,” as a single monthly payment covers everything for the customer allowing them to use the car as a medium of mobility. A customer can return the car to Riversimple at the end of contract term, after which the company will offer it to the next customer. (See also, Will Tesla Cars Ever Be Affordable?)
Riversimple’s approach is to build cars at low prices at several local factories, then lease them and build fueling stations nearby. The company was founded in 2013 former motorsport engineer and racing driver Hugo Spowers. It is based in Powsy, United Kingdom.
With the company aiming to start mass production of Rasa by 2020, Elon Musk may better watch out for some stiff competition surging his way. (See also, The Future Of Tesla.)