Nevada Embraces Clean Vehicles of the Future

By Jim Crabtree

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, October 29, 2001 (ENS) - Traveling together for the first time, 10 fuel cell powered cars and 15 hybrid cars rolled down the road in the Michelin Challenge Bibendum event that began at the California Speedway and finished on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday night.

Almost silently, the vehicles rolled up in front of the Las Vegas Hilton where politicians and media greeted the vehicles of the future. They were some of the 49 alternative fueled cars that demonstrated their strengths in the first North American running of the Michelin Challenge Bibendum 2001 on the weekend.


The 2001 Honda FCX California Fuel Cell Partnership entry arrives at the Jean Airport stop on the trip from the California Speedway to Las Vegas Sunday. (Photo courtesy Michelin Bibendum Challenge)
Beginning at sunrise on Saturday, vehicles participated in tests at the speedway designed to evaluate their performance in acceleration, braking, handling on a slalom course, fuel economy or energy use, range and noise level. They were given letter grades from A to D based on established performance criteria.

Eduoard Michelin, CEO of the tire company that sponsored the rally, told ENS that the environment is "a strong commitment" for his company. Twenty percent of the fuel consumption of cars is used in the rolling resistance to the road, he explained, and to save fuel Michelin has been working to reduce that rolling resistance.

A fleet of small solar powered vehicles is already in use scooting up and down the Strip where glittering hotels and attractions vie for visitor attention.

Five electric-hybrid French made Civis buses will begin operating in Las Vegas in 2002. They will glide along an optical guide system painted on the street on wheels that are each powered by an independent electric motor built into the hubs of extra wide Michelin tires.

Speaking at the Hilton Sunday, Nevada Lieutenant Governor Lorraine Hunt welcomed the low and zero emission cars and buses to Las Vegas, saying the state is encouraging use of environmentally friendly transportation.

No matter how clean and efficient, fuel cell vehicles must be safe. Fuel cells run on hydrogen, burning the fuel cleanly with only water and oxygen as emissions. But hydrogen is an explosive gas that must be kept safely contained if fuel cell transport technology is to receive wide acceptance.

The first hydrogen/electric bus to be demonstrated in Las Vegas has been fitted with a hydrogen monitoring safety system, to ensure that no hydrogen leaks escape from the fuel supply system.

Dr. Robert Boehm, director of the Energy Research Center and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), heads the project to develop a modified bus into a test vehicle for advanced hybrid concepts under a contract with the Nevada Operations Office of the U.S. Department of Energy.

"Work is taking place related to control strategies for several systems ranging from batteries, safety sensors and their operation, hydrogen fueled engine development, and several other aspects," said Dr. Boehm.

One hydrogen monitoring system based on five sensors by DCH Technology, Inc. (DCHT) of Valencia, California is being tested.

"It is extremely important to obtain a reliable hydrogen monitoring system, and we felt that DCHT's monitoring system would more than meet our requirements at a cost reasonable to our overall project budget," he said. "We have also contracted with DCHT to perform a complete safety analysis of the entire bus.

UNLV's hydrogen engine was first exhibited at the Global Energy Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada last July.