Plugging into tomorrow

This week's World Future Energy Summit offered plenty of challenges to the assumption that the only vehicles of the future will be electric.

Goupil Industrie, a French company, is looking for a distributor in the UAE for its electric utility vehicles. The manufacturer produces two tip-trucks as well as delivery vans. They run on a bank of 24 two-volt batteries and cost approximately ?18,000 (Dh95,168).
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It seems the focus lately in the car world has been on electric vehicles, and though Lexus brought its LS600h hybrid to the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, other stands proved there is more to the future of motoring than just a plug.

Some car makers brought cars and even motorcycles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Hyundai and Kia had the most production-ready fuel cell vehicle of the show in the form of its Hyundai Tucson. The crossovers are already being tested on roads in Korea, and the car maker plans to bring the fleet up to 100 cars this year. "This is the second-generation vehicle for us," says Jung Dae-Sup, research engineer for fuel cell vehicles at Hyundai/Kia, as he points to the Tucson. "Our third-generation vehicle, a Kia Borrego, will be larger, with more power and a greater range."

The Tucson on display has a range of 350km; the third-generation Borrego travels about 750km on a full tank. The car company has been getting about 100km per every kilogram of hydrogen on board. Jung says that, while the testing is going well, the company doesn't foresee fuel cell vehicles in showrooms before 2015, mainly due to the cost of the power supplies. Hyundai/Kia are working at finding new materials for the fuel cell to bring the cost down.

Nissan had a cutaway example of a fuel cell-powered car on display, which showed the hydrogen tank, the power supply under the bonnet and the fuelling nozzle. The company has vehicles undergoing tests in both Japan and the US. "Currently, this car is very expensive," says Tatsuro Kibe of Nissan's fuel cell laboratory. "But from 2015, we and other car makers will start mass-producing fuel cells, which will hopefully bring the prices down.

"But we need hydrogen stations. Currently, very few countries have hydrogen fuel stations. We wanted to show this vehicle to people in the Middle East," says Tatsuro, "because electric vehicles may not be sufficient for this area (due to heat and travel distances)." At the Siemens booth, Ruf, the tuning house for Porsche, had its eRuf Greenster drawing crowds. Basically, it's a Porsche 911 Targa with an electric motor and batteries supplied by Siemens. Being based on a Porsche means Ruf couldn't squander the car's performance, and it didn't: the two-seat sports car goes from 0-to-100kph in five seconds.

There were two fuel cell concept motorcycles on display: a radically designed Scoophin from Korea and a more conventional example from Yamaha. But what sets the Yamaha two-wheeler apart is that it's powered by a methanol fuel cell instead of hydrogen. Sitting on the floor of Al Masaood's display was an electric dirt bike. The Quantya looks very similar to a 150cc petrol-powered bike, apart from the black box of the battery located where the engine should be. Zaki Ben Yahya, sales manager with Enviromotion in Abu Dhabi, says the bike can get between one to three hours of use on a single charge, depending on its use. It can be yours for Dh42,000.

But alternative power wasn't constrained to the street. In Dubai, the famous abras of the Dubai Creek are getting an ecological makeover by an Austrian company based in Ras al Khaimah. Michael Themel, the managing director of Salzburg AG Utilities UAE, says his company is in the process of not only retrofitting the traditional, diesel-powered boats with CNG engines, but actually making them modern vessels while still keeping their ancient facades.

"These are heavy, old boats; there is a lot of room for improvement. We took the boat out of the water and dried it, because it soaks up a lot of water, and treated its hull to waterproof it. "In fact, when we took the boat out of the water it weighed 9.2 tons, and when it was fully dried three months later it weighed 6.9 tons. We were shocked, we thought it would be about 500kg of water. "We used another Austrian company that works with carbon fibre sandwich hulls, which are installed in the boat. Everything inside is modern, but we keep the heritage of the old boats."

The RTA had a Salzburg CNG-powered abra testing in the creek but it was damaged when a rope got caught in the propeller. Themel expects to have the repaired abra back in the Creek in about four weeks. Eventually, the plan is to replace 40 of the 150 abras currently running on the creek. Apart from passenger cars, green commercial vehicles were also on display at the energy summit including small electric trucks and a hydrogen fuel cell baggage truck for airports. Tristan Durivault, export manager for France-based Goupil Industrie, attended the summit looking for a UAE distributor for the company's electric utility vehicles. "It has to be the right distributor," he says.

Goupil produces two tip-trucks of different heights as well as box vans which are commonly used in France by delivery companies. They run on a bank of 24 two- volt batteries located behind the driver cabin and have an approximate retail price of ?18,000 (Dh95,168). "You charge them overnight for eight to 10 hours and that should be enough for all day, around 80km, up to 100km with the long charge vehicles," Durivault explains.

For now, Europe is Goupil's main market with 65 per cent of their stocks sold in France and the remaining 35 per cent across other European countries, but the company is keen to expand into the Middle East and North Africa. "We mostly sell them to local councils, universities [in Europe] but who knows - out here, maybe palaces," says Durivault with a smile. The Silent Motor Company, based in the Netherlands, did not have any prototypes on their stand at the summit because their hydrogen fuel cell-powered airport baggage truck is currently being tested at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

Joris H. Mulder, marketing manager for The Silent Motor Company, says the baggage trucks could help reduce noise and air pollution. "Airports cause a lot of pollution with the planes and noise pollution but these vehicles solve both problems as they are silent and the only emissions are water vapour," says Mulder. "It should go into production next year." Unlike electric vehicles, the baggage truck has a range comparable to that of a petrol or diesel engine vehicle and does not have the inconvenience of requiring a lengthy charging time.

"It has a range of 300-400km and can be filled as easily as a car," says Mulder. A hydrogen filling station has been installed at Schiphol Airport for the trial. The truck costs up to ?30,000 (Dh158,312). "We would like these to be at airports all over the world." * With additional reporting by Georgia Lewis