The car, which drove in to the launch event, is capable of a 50mph top speed, 0-30mph acceleration in 5.5 seconds, and has a 240 mile range. The car’s backers say it has greenhouse gas emissions of 30g/km CO2, less than a third of the latest hybrid petrol cars such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.
The lightweight Smart car-size vehicle uses hydrogen in a modest 6kW fuel cell, and – in the case of this prototype – uses hydrogen converted from natural gas. Hydrogen can also be created from water using electrolysis and potentially even from biofuels.
The open-source decision was made to speed the car’s commercialisation, with the company hoping entrepreneurs globally will adapt it to local conditions. Hugo Spowers, a motorsport engineer and the founder of Riversimple, said: “We want competitors, even if they’re in the UK. We believe that open source is commercially the best thing for us to do, as it will help grow the market for hydrogen technology, from parts to repairs and the refuelling infrastructure.”
Sebastian Piëch, the finanical backer for Riversimple, added: “Now that we have the basic vehicle in place with practical technology, the challenge is to begin the development of a fuelling infrastructure to accompany it.”
The car, which cost nearly £500,000 to develop in partnership with Oxford University and Cranfield University, is expected to cost £200 a month to lease when it is launched as a production vehicle. The date for UK availability is yet to be announced, but Riversimple is in talks with UK cities including Oxford and Worcester for pilots.
Hydrogen cars have so far enjoyed little real-world success, due in part to a lack of charging infrastructure, cost and – more recently – a political swing towards electric cars.
Gordon Brown has publicly backed electric cars as a way to reduce UK carbon emissions, and in April the government announced plans to offer £5,000 grants towards anyone buying an electric car in 2011.
In the US, the Obama administration recently cut research budgets for hydrogen vehicles. Steven Chu, the US energy secretary, last month said: “We asked ourselves: ‘Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy?’ The answer, we felt, was ‘no’.”
Spowers disputed the notion that widespread hydrogen technology was a long way off. “I agree the passion is swinging away from hydrogen, but the reason is people are sceptical of the near-term possibilities of hydrogen vehicles – people are still clear that hydrogen is the end-game.”
The Riversimple urban car, he said, proved the technology was available now.