014_EETE-VF

EETE SEPT 2013

Why hydrogen cars are suddenly back in vogue By Junko Yoshida Last July , GM and Honda announced that they will join forces to develop a common hydrogen powertrain - fuel cells and hydrogen tanks - for fuel cell vehicles. Their goal is to get those new fuel cell cars ready by 2020. Unlike electric vehicles (EVs) which use electric power stored in large lithium-ion packs, hydrogen cars use the electricity source generated by fuel cells in the electro-chemical reaction of hydrogen and air. A fuel-cell car’s only tailpipe emission is water vapour. Despite this technology’s obvious advantages over EVs (better range, faster fuelling time), the automotive industry has a history of on-again off-again love affairs with fuel cells. Car manufacturers and market analysts tend to blame the slow progress of fuel cell car development on the absence of a network of hydrogen refuelling stations, each estimated to cost $1 million to $2 million. But setting the infrastructure issue aside, why suddenly are we seeing a flurry of renewed hydrogen activity? Government regulations. In 2004, when the market research firm ABI Research made a radical downward revision in its forecast for fuel cell cars, the firm’s then director of energy research, Atakan Ozbek, predicted that the industry would not begin real growth without clearer government commitments at both national and local levels. The automotive companies today know that later this decade they must meet much stricter CO2 regulations set by governments in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Along with the fuel-cell revival, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery-powered vehicles are part of the push to meet the same regulations. Clearly, no company is putting all its eggs in one basket. Longer distance and faster refuelling time In revealing the alliance with GM, Honda president Takanobu Ito said, “Among all zero-CO2 emission technologies, fuel-cell electric vehicles have a definitive advantage with range and refuelling time that is as good as conventional gasoline cars.” Similarly, GM CEO Dan Akerson said in his statement, “We are convinced this is the best way to develop this important technology.” Akerson added that such vehicles can help curb petroleum dependence and underpin sustainable mobility. The two companies also made it clear that they will work together by jointly lobbying for an expanded network of hydrogen fuel stations. Those that exist in the United States are currently clustered mainly in California. Shared technologies with EVs Another key element encouraging auto companies to take a second look at fuel-cell cars is that some of the technologies already developed for their battery-electric cars can be shared with fuel-cell cars. Industry experts point out that fuel-cell vehicles share similar electric motors to power the wheels, brakes that capture power when stopping, software, and related electronics. GM and Honda are both considered pioneers in fuel-cell technology, armed with a large number of patents in the field. However, their competitors have already jumped on the fuel-cell bandwagon earlier this year. Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW AG in January set up a fuel-cell production alliance. Daimler AG, Ford Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co. also in January said they would jointly develop a line of affordable fuel-cell electric cars for sale as early as 2017. Flexible touch sensor system as thin as 2μm, feather light By Julien Happich Wit hin the framewor k of the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s (JST) Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) project, researchers have developed what they claim to be the world’s lightest and thinnest flexible touch sensor system. With a sheet density of only 3g/m2 and built on a 1.2μm thin plastic foil, the 48x48mm prototype features an array of 144 sensors and could well be suited for healthcare and medical applications where conformable sensor sheets could minimize patient discomfort. Professor Takao Someya, Associate Professor Tsuyoshi Sekitani, Dr. Martin Kaltenbrunner, University of Tokyo, and their coworkers also believe the sensors could find applications as a form of electronic skin in robotics or prosthetics. The international research team developed a novel technique to form a high-quality 19nm-thick insulating layer on the rough surface of a 1.2μm-thick polymeric film. In spite of being very thin, the organic transistor ICs exhibited extraordinary robustness. In fact, when deposited on a rugged substrate, the sensors could withstand 233% of tensile strain (stretched up to double their original size) while retaining full functionality. The bend radius of 5 micron means the sheet of sensors can also be squashed up into a ball while retaining its electrical properties. These extremely thin and practically imperceptible sensors could open up a wide range of new applications in fields ranging from healthcare and biomedicine to welfare. Source: University of Tokyo 14 Electronic Engineering Times Europe September 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE SEPT 2013
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