This Featherweight Fuel Cell EV Is Not For Sale

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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 Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3152 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

26 thoughts on “This Featherweight Fuel Cell EV Is Not For Sale

  • When cellphones were rolled out, they were not competing with a perfectly functional and cheaper existing alternative using say meshed WiFi hotspots.

    • Lets everybody goes their own ways. Time and market will tell.

  • The dark grey coupe looks great. 200 miles per kilogram is awesome.

  • Reducing weight, hopefully, is the future of transportation.

    I once owned a 1965 Rambler American, which had a 6-cylinder engine, and a manual 3-speed on the steering column. It held 6 people comfortably with a large trunk, cruised comfortably on the highway at 70 mph, got 40 MPG on the highway, and weighed around 2500 pounds. And it was made of steel.

    Today, an ICE Camry weighs 800 pounds more than that 1965 Rambler. A Tesla S weighs more than 2100 pounds more than the Rambler.

    Reducing weight not only increases efficiency dramatically, it reduces auto accident energies, and makes vehicles more maneuverable. We don’t need Star Trekkian transparent aluminum, we need an injectable plastic that is both strong and flexible.

    • 1965 Ramble weighed around 2500 pounds. Today, an ICE Camry weighs 800 pounds more than that 1965 Rambler! How come 800 pounds is more than 2500 pounds ?

      • That makes no sense Omar, he stated it correctly 2500 + 800 for the Camry. BTW the 1965 VW Beetle weighed only 1800 pounds.

      • You’ve added an invisible comma to the sentence.

        The Camry’s mass is 800 pounds more than that of the Rambler.
        3300 vs 2500.
        If the Camry really weighed only 800 pounds it would be an engineering marvel costing millions.

    • Incentives to reduced weight and size could be built into our licensing, tags, and insurance. An exponential rate could be applied to the weight and size, making big, heavy cars pay more for the wear, obstruction, and menace in them. Not only would smaller, lighter cars pay less for these things, we could further facilitate their use by charging insurance only when a car is being used, making the choice to take the small, light car instead of the big, heavy and expensive one.

      The SUV craze was largely built around providing protection to the riders in it while being all that more of a menace to all others. It’s a car version of the arms race, with consumers having to go big just to protect themselves from other big cars. Heavy cars should pay for being the menace, obstacle to other’s vision, and polluter they inherently are. We don’t need three thousand pound easy chairs to go get a few groceries.

      • I share your thinking.

      • Smaller, lighter, cheaper! A, 50 mile range, town car is perfectly feasible for many if they can also own, or easily rent, a separate highway car.

    • Our entire plastics industry will also need to move off of petroleum.
      Is bamboo resin for plastics a viable alternative?

    • China is already making BEVs of the type you propose here.

  • “Everybody knows that a hydrogen fuel EV cannot compete with battery EVs because the technology is too expensive…right?”

    Nah Tina. Hydrogen fuel EV cannot compete with battery because the efficiency of the hydrogen fuel cycle sucks.

    A good and interesting article though.

    • Then I have this statement: PV can not compete with gas power stations, because PV efficiency sucks (only 20%).

      • Ah, but the efficiency of converting solar energy to gasoline is about 1%.

      • Ahh, but PV raw feed costs $0/kJ. Gas power stations raw feed costs $LOTs and getting more expensive. (I believe PV efficiency is less than 15%, but I could be wrong.)

        Wait. You were arguing about hydrogen fuel. I have been successfully trolled.

        Troll points awarded to Embrace hydrogen, fools.
        Logic and intelligence points subtracted though.

      • Except, sunlight is free. And essentially infinite. There is no “cost” for the fuel. You’re dividing by zero.
        Fossil fuels have significant costs for extraction, processing and distribution.
        The downstream efficiency of (battery) electric mobility is substantially better than that of hydrogen.

        Does this help you to understand the situation a little better?

  • It is a good thing it is not for sale because no one would be foolish enough to buy it.

    • Agreed that it has limited appeal now, but it has potential, which is what matters!

      • Plus, it looks cool. That’s all that matters in California.

  • Good explanation of the infrastructure changes needed although using the Hindenburg at the beginning was kinda cheesy and underhanded IMO (I hate fear-mongering).

  • “…. Riversimple is counting on a “strategic” rollout to coincide with the
    introduction of hydrogen fuel stations on a region by region basis… ”

    And I’m counting on Kate Mara showing up naked at my door.

  • Okay, so if we have a cool, small, lightweight electric city car, why would we want to go and make it inconvenient and unaffordable by shoehorning a fuel cell into it?

    How about…. let’s do some market research, in the meantime, while you’re sorting out the fuel cell tech. Just to see whether people enjoy the concept of an electrified city car, and the styling of that vehicle…. The design looks pretty catchy, to be sure. Does it resonate with people? Does it meet their needs?
    Let’s get some prototypes out there, so that we can get user feedback. To simulate the final product, just expand the size of the batteries a bit. For now, simply get some off-the-shelf batteries from one of the big Asian manufacturers. Generic stuff, because it’s just an experiment. Give it perhaps a 100 – 150 km range. Basically, just concentrate on making the whole thing really really cheap, but still safe and fun to drive. Just to see if potential customers like the basic idea, and to give you an opportunity to identify (and start fixing) all the little bugs that are involved with mass producing a car.
    At the same time you can do the important work of refining the Fuel Cell technology and your innovative customer financing model, getting venture capital etc etc.

    If your research DOES reveal that there is a very large market for the vehicle, here’s what you need to do:
    Step 1) Sell me the exclusive rights to manufacture the battery-electric version. For maybe a 2% royalty. It would be a nice extra income stream for you, and it doesn’t cost you anything.
    Step 2) Actually, I really don’t care what else you do next. You could use all that money to do even more fuel-cell research, if you really wanted to. Or manufacture some really expensive FCEV prototypes to lease at an ongoing loss. Or buy an island in the Caribbean and hire some bikini girls to bring you boat drinks. Or whatever.

    • Sorry to be late to the party but only just seen this on Fully Charged. Just like you, I thought why not just use a small battery to provide the limited power equating to the fuel cell? If this concept were adopted, such a low demand could conceivably be provided by surface mounted PV cells?
      It looks as though this type of vehicle would really be limited to urban use, however, due to the effect of long drags on cruising speed.

  • My kind of firefighting job.
    Get everybody the hell out of the way, and then just stand there watching and chuckling.

  • To me, the attraction of a hydrogen economy is that it may best solve a problem we will have in future – too much electricity being generated during sunny a/or windy stretches. Renewables must/could be/should be substantially overbuilt to provide enough juice even during lousy weather stretches.

    Ah – but surely we we only need to build more storage, ie, battery or hydro backup? But a good question is- what will cost more – to overbuild a lot and then turn surplus into hydrogen, or to not overbuild so much but build a lot of static storage?

    Remember that the static storage is finite – it can only hold so much. And hydrogen can be stored and moved, and can be used for almost any purpose – heating, cooling, cooking, transportation. Putting up more PV panels (with a 80 year lifespan) may cost a lot less than the equivalent cost of battery, hydro storage. So, that excess hydrogen is free to squander, ie, increase everyone’s quality of life.

    It’s an interesting equation with a lot of unknowns. Philosophically, though, I am very unaligned with planning that is parsimonious with regard to power usage and generation when the sun, wind , and tide are free and in infinite supply.

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