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A small California company charts a unique course on the road to fuel cell commercialization.

While automotive industry giants are spending millions of dollars in the push to commercialize fuel cell vehicles, a small company in Sacremento, Calif, has already put one on the market. Anuvu Inc., founded by CEO Rex Hodge in 1994, develops small fuel cell stacks for stationary and mobile applications as well as smaller systems for university research. Anuvu’s “Clean Urban Vehicle,” essentially a fuel-cell powered Suzuki Esteem wagon, placed third in the 2003 Challenge Bibendum and Anuvu fuel cells are on board the first hydrogen-powered water taxi currently cruising the San Francisco Bay area.

 Four 1.5kW fuel cell stacks (below) are packaged under the hood of the Bibendum Challenge Suzuki Esteem wagon (above) producing 6kW of fuel cell power.
The company’s first commercially available Clean Urban Vehicle (CUV), marketed to fleet customers, retails for $99,995 plus tax and license. The Nissan Frontier pickup, available in 2-door and 4-door models, is powered by two Anuvu 6kW PEM fuel cell stacks plumbed in parallel, producing 12 kW of power to the rear wheels.

“We like to do modular systems,” says Hodge, “that way if something were to happen to a given fuel cell the vehicle can keep going. You can design the electronics to do that.” The CUV’s modular system is part of Anuvu’s mass production plan. Rather than making different size power modules for every vehicle, Hodge envisions mass producing smaller stacks and linking them together to create the power needed. Packaging may pose problems, due to the extra plumbing needed, but Hodge says that a bigger vehicle, needing more energy, would have more packaging space.

“Equating to the ICE (internal combustion engine) is not the way to go,” Hodge says. “Generally speaking,” says Hodge, “it takes about 12 to 15 hp to keep a vehicle moving at 65 mph. A 24 kW fuel cell (made up of four 6kW stacks) equals 32 horsepower which, in theory, is more than enough power.” The basic philosophy behind Anuvu’s system is to let the electric motor handle launch and the fuel cell provide the average energy needed to keep the vehicle moving at speed. Anything above that is the responsibility of the peaking system, which in the case of the CUV is a lead acid battery. The CUV has a peak power of 100 kW.

“Getting power from a battery is easy and cheap,” Hodge says, “and energy is expensive and bulky. A fuel cell is just the opposite, so you marry the two and you get the right product.” The same principle is used to develop a fullrange highway vehicle, sizing the fuel cell to meet the necessary requirements. Range, then becomes the responsibility of the hydrogen storage system.

The CUV is designed for fleet usage and differs from a mass-produced system because it’s restricted on highway range. The truck has a range of 250 miles of in-city driving. In designing the truck, Anuvu looked at the duty cycle needed for fleet work and designed the CUV to match those duty cycles. Hodge says that the Nissan Frontier was chosen because it was the easiest vehicle to adapt the fuel cell system to in terms of packaging. “We have a tendency to spread our systems out so they are easy to work on,” Hodge says “One of the important things is to make it very mechanic friendly in terms of how the electrical and plumbing is done.”

Hodge says that each of the two 6kW fuel cells can be balanced in one hand. The CUV has no transmission. The powertrain is tied directly to the differential and forward or reverse are selected via a switch on the dash.

“There should be no reason to switch gears,” Hodge says, “because the highest efficiency electric motors have broad torque curves.” The CUV uses a Solectria AC-90-C brushless electric motor and DMOC 645 motor controller. Hodge says that the current lead acid batteries are four times larger than the nickelmetal hydride batteries that will go into the 24kW-powered truck.

Gaseous hydrogen is stored in a 5,000 psi carbon epoxy tank that’s bought off the shelf. “We do a variety of projects other than the fuel cell car,” Hodge says, “We need off the shelf tanks so we buy the sizes that’s needed.” Anuvu lists the trucks performance as 0 to 60 in 10 seconds with a top speed of 75 mph, though Hodge says that it’s more like 85. The vehicle is equipped with regenerative braking and comes with an electrically-powered air conditioning system.

Anuvu’s fuel cell-powered fleet vehicles are based on the Nissan Frontier twodoor and four-door.
Anuvu offers a one year warranty on the fuel cell and a 3 year warranty on the rest of the vehicle.

Hodge makes the point that although Anuvu is selling a commercial vehicle, there are no plans to be a competitor to the auto companies.

“Our message to the auto industry is that we’re not a competitor,” says Hodge. “We may seem like it, but in the long run they’re our customer.” “By having our own car program we can gain experience to pass on to the car companies,” he adds. “We’re doing the car companies a major service by taking the risks early.”

Hodge won’t reveal the exact production numbers or potential customers for the CUV but says that Anuvu appears to have a backlog.

“The number of vehicles we are doing are modest in the terms of automakers.” But Hodge adds optimistically, “The number will be growing over a period of time.”

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