The work of several University of Victoria engineering students could represent the
future of personal transportation — but you won't be seeing anything like the H2Drive on
Canadian roads any time soon.
The three-wheeled, fuel-cell-powered, single-person vehicle is an entry in the second
annual Shell Eco-marathon, which is a challenge to create a fuel-efficient vehicle with
minimal emissions. The UVic team expects the H2Drive to be go more than 10 times
farther on gallon of gas than today's most efficient vehicles.
The UVic entry will compete with 37 other teams for the $10,000 top prize. It will cost
about $20,000 to build the car and participate, using money raised through corporate and
institutional donations from backers like Shell Canada and the Natural Science and
Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Work on the 50-kilogram vehicle, which began last spring, is a chance for students to
learn more about engineering while exploring the concept of sustainability — a valuable
lesson these days. We need to know more about leading-edge ideas in automobiles,
especially ideas that challenge the basic beliefs that we have held since the days of the
Model T.
The internal combustion engine might soon face competition from fuel cells, which
convert hydrogen from an onboard tank and oxygen from outside into electricity. The
vehicle's exhaust is, in basic terms, a small amount of water.
Some of the discoveries being made in competitions such as this might someday appear
in passenger vehicles, although laws and consumer tastes would have to change before a
kayak-shaped vehicle like the H2Drive could be used on public roads.
That might be a tough sell. Just ask the people at Dynasty Electric Car Corp., which has
built more than 1,000 short-range urban vehicles in B.C. since 2001.
Dynasty tried to crack the California market, but when anti-pollution laws there were
eased, sales died. Dynasty regrouped and tried again, and ended up losing $4,000 on
every vehicle sold.
Dynasty has just been sold to a Pakistani company, and the factory will be moved there.
Dynasty's general manager says the major reason to abandon the project was the federal
government's regulation barring the electric cars from major highways.
If our government is serious about fighting climate change, it will need to rethink its
rules. The old road won't take us where we need to go.