Fuel cell cars, powered by clean hydrogen fuel, have come a long way since they were first invented back in the 1980’s.

Early prototypes were bulky and inefficient and there were many stumbling blocks. The technology was expensive and intricate and the fuel was not widely available.

Fast forward to 2019 and all but a very few of these obstacles have been overcome but fuel cell cars have still not been widely adopted.

That is because they’re not normally very efficient. It’s extremely costly to produce the gas, compress it, and then finally transport it. However, a special little fuel cell car called the “Rasa” promises to be drastically more economical and its inventor has also come up with a more efficient hydrogen distribution system.

The car and the system is the work of a company called Riversimple, founded by Hugo Spowers, former motor car racer and mechanical engineer.

The Rasa with creator Hugo Spowers

Spowers quit his day job working with internal combustion engines 15 years ago and set out to pursue his dream of building a hydrogen-powered vehicle.

Hugo was determined to solve the problems associated with co2 emissions so set up the company to hand-build an aerodynamic car weighing only 580 kilos, only 40 kilos more than the battery of a Tesla Model S car!

Credit: Riversimple

The Rasa is as beautifully sophisticated as it looks. It packs a whole load of engineering innovation under the hood.

Electrical energy is provided by a fuel cell during a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. That electrical energy then powers individual motors in each wheel while emitting only water.

The wheel motors wheels provide acceleration and braking and the car uses ltra-capacitors are used to store any leftover energy from braking. A carbon shell keeps the total weight down, while an aerodynamically honed design cuts drag.

Credit: Riversimple

The car has a range of around 300 miles on a full tank – a full tank is just 1.5kg of hydrogen! The most innovative part of the car is that hydrogen is further compressed to 350bar, instead of the industry standard of 700bar. This halves energy use but maintans power allowing for cheaper filling stations and a far more economical system.

Whats-more, the Rasa is super green! So green in fact, that in production, its CO2 emissions are about 40g/km. That’s a lot greener than any electric car on the market today and uses the UK’s mix of electricity generation.

Spowers and Riversimple and doing everything they can to change the traditional system and argue that time is pressing for real change.

Photography: Simon Thompson
Photography: Simon Thompson

“Dinosaurs weren’t replaced by better dinosaurs, and you can’t cross a canyon in two jumps.” he told Topgear, referring to the fact that change has to be absolute, not a trickling of change, but a big change to happen all once.

So what does this mean?

Riversimple say they will never sell any of their cars. Instead, drivers will be asked to pay a monthly rental fee which includes depreciation, maintenance and, importantly, fuel. Spowers hopes that if done this way, everything points to a car that pollutes less and depletes fewer resources.

Photography: Simon Thompson
Photography: Simon Thompson
Credit: Riversimple

So what is the next step? The next goal is to build charging stations for users and to increase the access to market, making the product more attractive to potential consumers. There is definite potential for hydrogen cars to seamlessly work alongside battery-powered electric vehicles in the future and this gives us hope for a more sustainable, greener world.