Why do some technologies endure beyond their sell-by-date while others yield to progress?
The internal combustion engine has done an admirable job at resisting obsolescence – even in the face of climate breakdown, an air pollution crisis and widespread cheating of emissions testing. Part of the reason is that car makers seem reluctant to start with a blank sheet of paper. If they did, they might find bicycles provided the most rational form of personal transport in urban areas, but even attempts at electric cars by the large manufacturers have been half-hearted – limited to retrofitting existing internal combustion engine models with batteries and electric motors.
There are signs the death knell is tolling for the internal combustion with the announcement by various countries including France that petrol and diesel vehicles are to banned by 2040.
Car makers have long been aware that time is running out for fossil fuels, but perhaps it took the VW emissions scandal for the world to see their true colours. In fact, with an estimated 40,000 premature deaths caused every year by polluted air in Britain alone, it is shocking that we have put up with dirty exhaust gases for so long.
The decision by France to ban petrol and diesel cars is part of its plan to be carbon neutral by 2050 – a pledge that includes no longer using coal to produce electricity by 2022.
New technology can establish itself extremely quickly – think of mobile phones. The good news for French drivers – and the rest of us when our own governments eventually play catch up, is that forward thinking car makers have already made plans for this sea change. As well as established companies like Renault and its range of electric cars, tech companies like Apple and Google are developing zero emission vehicles. Here in Britain, entrepreneurs are busy developing disruptive technology to step in once petrol and diesel vehicles are banned.
The Riversimple Rasa is a hydrogen car that aims to radically change the way we think of personal transport; an affordable, hassle free, fun-to-drive eco car. Under the French plan, those without the means to buy a clean vehicle will receive a grant, but the Rasa is never owned outright. Instead, it is leased like a mobile phone.
Tabula Rasa means ‘clean slate’ in Latin. It’s an apt name for the new Riversimple car, a vehicle that redefines personal transport in our age of increasing population and diminishing natural resources.
Every aspect of the Rasa has been created for simplicity, efficiency, lightness, strength, affordability, safety and sustainability.
In some respects, the Rasa can be likened to the Citroen 2CV, the iconic workhorse of post-war France. The two cars share a purpose of design, top speed of 60 mph and a weight of around 580 kg, but the Rasa is very much a car for today. Its chassis is a monocoque made from very stiff carbon fibre composites and yet weighs less than 40kg.
Weight distribution is even thanks to four electric motors, one in each wheel. The motors double up as brakes – recovering over 50% of kinetic energy when braking. Super-capacitors store this energy and provide most of the power for acceleration.
The production prototype should do the equivalent of 250 mpg with a range of 300 miles. Emissions are zero at tailpipe and around 40 gCO2/km if the hydrogen comes from natural gas.
Very few mobile phone users buy their handset upfront. Most of us spread the cost over the term of the contract. It’s a model that the makers of the Rasa aim to apply to motorists wanting to use a hydrogen car; they will retain ownership of the cars and sell mobility as a service.
Rather than buying the hydrogen car outright or having to set up a hire purchase agreement, a simple pricing structure enables customers to pay a single monthly fee that covers everything – the car, the maintenance, the insurance, the fuel. The rationale is that customers have all the pleasure but none of the hassle of ownership. From the manufacturer’s perspective, it pays to make a car that lasts as long, and runs as well, as possible.
More at riversimple.com
How does a hydrogen car work?
Hydrogen can be used as a fuel for electric cars thereby doing away with the need for a battery – the car does not have an engine in the conventional sense as it uses instead a fuel cell stack, a device that uses an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity to power a motor. These so-called fuel cell vehicles can travel longer distances than electric vehicles that need to be re-charged directly from a mains supply.
At an early stage, the Riversimple venture was backed by Sebastian Piech, a great-grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who in 1898 worked on the Lohner Electric Chaise – one of the world’s earliest electric cars. The Lohner car had a top speed of 31 mph and a maximum range of 30 miles.
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