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A new super lightweight fuel cell EV from the Welsh startup Riversimple could launch into Beta production soon, with full production to start in 2018.


This Featherweight Fuel Cell EV Is Not For Sale

A new super lightweight fuel cell EV from the Welsh startup Riversimple could launch into Beta production soon, with full production to start in 2018.

Everybody knows that a hydrogen fuel EV cannot compete with battery EVs because the technology is too expensive…right? Or wrong, as the case may be. The Welsh startup Riversimple Movement is pursuing one solution to the affordability angle, by not selling any cars. Instead, Riversimple is offering car buyers a lease-only deal that covers the whole shebang, including maintenance, insurance, and the fuel — starting with its first production model, the super lightweight Rasa.

fuel cell EV Rasa

Making A Fuel Cell EV Offer You Can’t Resist

Riversimple is convinced that it can offer lease terms for the Rasa fuel cell EV that are competitive with leasing a conventional “family sized hatchback.”

The company is banking on economies of scale to do some of the heavy lifting in terms of minimizing the cost of the lease. Materials recovery at the end of the car’s 15-20 year lifespan will also play a major role.

Apparently the lease offer would come with a mileage limit, so the company may also anticipate that high-mileage drivers would help offset overall costs.

Fuel efficiency is another important factor. Riversimple states that the combination of light weight (850 kilograms) and regenerative braking enables the Rasa to squeeze 300 miles out of 1.5 kilograms of hydrogen.

The company’s “network” approach to the car’s electrical systems also comes into play:

The reason we are calling it a Network Electric car is that the energy is networked around the car. It can flow in any direction on any path apart from back into the fuel cell.

Our innovative network design means that we only require a fuel cell big enough to provide cruising speed power, rather than acceleration. We are getting more than 50% of the braking energy back, which is used to boost acceleration…

fuel cell EV network

One catch is the car’s top speed of 60 miles per hour. That’s a little tame for freeway drivers, but it wouldn’t be a concern for urban drivers and other light uses, and that’s the market that Riversimple aims to please.

Another thing to keep in mind is Rasa’s business model. As with other startups, such as the US company Local Motors, production of the car is dependent on interest from prospective owners/leasers.

Rasa is counting on such interest to match €2m in funding from the European Union, which will enable the company to produce 20 Rasa prototypes for a 12-month Beta trial. If all goes well, the full production model will become available in 2018.

For the full production model, Riversimple is counting on a “strategic” rollout to coincide with the introduction of hydrogen fuel stations on a region by region basis, so its customers won’t get stuck with a cute car and nowhere to fill up.

In case you’re wondering, the name Rasa refers to Aristotle’s concept of tabula rasa, the clean or blank state of the human mind at birth, free from preconceived notions. We’re guessing that’s a subtle jab at the plethora of fuel cell EV doubters out there, so if you have any ideas about that drop us a note in the comment thread.

Long Road To An Affordable Fuel Cell EV

Our sister site first took note of Riversimple way back in 2009 when it introduced mk2, a trial prototype fuel cell EV developed in partnership with Oxford University and Cranfield University.

fuel cell EV mk2 Wales

Here’s another view of the Rasa pictured at the top of this article:

Rasa fuel cell EV full body

It looks like things have improved over the past seven years, most recently with the help of £2million in R&D funding from the Welsh government announced last summer. Other investors have kicked in for a total of £3.5 million.

The earlier version had a top speed of 55 mph and a range of 240 miles on a 6kW fuel cell. The Rasa fuel cell clocks in at 8.5kW, which Riversimple claims is comparable to a forklift truck.

Back in 2009 also noted that hydrogen for the prototype was sourced from natural gas, which can raise all kinds of issues from water contamination to earthquakes, depending on where you drill and what you do with your drilling wastewater.

That situation could be changing with the advent of renewable hydrogen sourced from water, using wind or solar energy as a power source for the operation.

Hydrogen Fuel Stations In Wales

Building and selling a hydrogen fuel cell EV is one thing, but finding a place to fuel it up is another. Until Wales ramps up its hydrogen program, that’s going to be a problem. However, Riversimple founder Hugo Spowers compares the situation to mobile phones in the 1980’s, when cell towers (or “masts” as he calls them) were few and far between.

Spowers envisions a network of hydrogen fuel stations in Wales where fuel cell EV drivers could share space with battery EV charging stations. Fuel cell stations could also piggyback on rural stores or farmstands, and other go-to locations such as coffee shops, supermarkets and train stations.

Riversimple is also exploring partnerships with city buses and other fleets that already have fuel depots.

Other partnership opportunities could also come about as the Welsh government ramps up its hydrogen production program, which includes hydrogen from renewable biogas among its efforts.

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All images via Riversimple website and blog.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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