13.02.2006 The Panda Hydrogen, a car prototype driven by a hydrogen Fuel Cell, was designed with the aim of safeguarding the environment: one of Fiat’s basic priorities during the development of new models

The Panda Hydrogen, a car prototype driven by a hydrogen Fuel Cell, was designed with the aim of safeguarding the environment: one of Fiat’s basic priorities during the development of new models.

The Panda Hydrogen is a true hydrogen prototype with a sturdy, reliable drive system. Most importantly, its vehicle performance and roominess are on a par with those offered by its conventional counterpart. It is the result of a joint venture between Fiat Auto, the Fiat Research Centre and Fiat Powertrain Research & Technology with the support of the Research and Environment Ministries. It was also developed in co-operation with top-quality component suppliers, almost all of them Italian.

Unlike other Fuel Cell prototypes introduced in the past, the Panda Hydrogen incorporates a full power system, i.e. it lacks a drive battery for the accumulation of electrical energy. The new Fuel Cell System (electrical power generator) is able to deliver all the power required by the electric engine to ensure great vehicle handling. This new generation Fuel Cell System offers very high generating efficiencies. The system consists mainly of three fuel cells manufactured by Nuvera (an Italo-American company and a leader in the fuel cell field), an innovative turbo-blower to supply the cells with air, a humidification and cooling system for correct management of reagent gases and a set of auxiliary components, all developed within the Fiat Group.

On the Panda Hydrogen, the Fuel Cell System is housed beneath the floorpan. The fuel cells are made up of several cells connected in series. Inside, the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are forced to react with the aid of a catalyst to produce water and heat. Electrical energy is generated with very high efficiency and zero emissions from the vehicle itself. The electrical power generation system is supplied with hydrogen at a pressure of 1.5 bars and oxygen contained in the air. It produces electrical energy so efficiently that 60% is available at just 20% of maximum power.

Fiat Panda Hydrogen

Fiat Panda Hydrogen

Fiat Panda Hydrogen

The Fuel Cell System installed on the Panda Hydrogen also features excellent performance at low temperatures and a relatively simple construction that makes it particularly suitable for the production of light, sturdy and reliable generators for use on vehicles. The alternating current three-phase asynchronous electric engine and the transmission are located in the engine compartment together with the various accessories required to operate the system as a whole. The hydrogen that feeds the Fuel Cell is contained at a pressure of 350 bars in a tank made out of composite material installed beneath the car’s rear floor pan. All the distinguishing features of the New Panda passenger compartment are therefore maintained, including outstanding roominess for four people.

At full power, the Fuel Cell engine on the Panda Hydrogen delivers 60 kW that allows the car to reach a top speed of more than 130 km/h, with acceleration from 0 to 50 km/h in 5 seconds. The car can also easily climb a gradient of 23% at take-off. The hydrogen tank capacity guarantees the Panda Hydrogen a range of more than 200 km over an urban cycle. Refuelling time is very quick at less than 5 minutes, i.e. comparable to the time taken to refuel a methane car.

The Panda Hydrogen is the latest outcome of a technological development line that has seen Fiat Group companies playing a leading role in the field of alternative minimum environmental impact power units. Though Fuel Cell propulsion systems will not be widely available before the end of the next decade, Fiat has already been active in their development and application for a few years – as we saw in 2001 with the debut of the Seicento “Elettra H2 Fuel Cell, and then the Seicento Hydrogen. The Panda Hydrogen has now taken up the baton to move research forward from the laboratory prototype stage to that of a field research vehicle.

2006 will see the beginning of the demonstration stage of small Panda Hydrogen fleets, as a forerunner to wide-ranging demonstration programmes promoted and supported by the European Union and by the Italian Ministries and Regions. The ultimate aim is for such vehicles to be marketed within 15 – 20 years.

Related articles

Minimum environmental impact vehicles bearing the Fiat 'Natural Power' logo are on show in a special area where visitors can see the Punto, Multipla and Doblò as well as the Punto Van, Doblò Cargo and Ducato commercial vehicles

Report & Photos: Fiat Auto / © 2006 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed