Ford Motor Company will begin producing the world’s first fleet of commercial hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine (H2ICE) vehicles this month.

Eight E-450 shuttle busses will go to tourist destinations in Florida, where they will be highly visible to the public.

"Because these buses will be in continuous service in very public places, we’ll be able to communicate to hundreds of thousands of consumers that Ford is developing innovative products to meet future transportation needs," said Vance Zanardelli, chief engineer of Ford’s H2ICE program.

The potential benefits of hydrogen are huge. Hydrogen could decrease dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality. But it faces significant challenges; there are very few hydrogen fueling stations And current storage tanks hold only enough fuel to travel 150 to 200 miles.

"We’ve demonstrated that hydrogen can be clean and efficient and reliable, but the biggest issue remains how to store enough hydrogen on the vehicle in a given space. The tanks are also still too expensive." said Bob Natkin, technical leader for H2 IC Engine Applications Research and Advanced Engineering.

The 12-passenger shuttle, first introduced at the 2005 North American International Auto Show, is equipped with a 30-gallon equivalent, 5,000 pounds-per-square-inch hydrogen fuel tank. It’s propelled by a re-engineered version of Ford’s 6.8-liter V-10 engine, which produces near-zero emissions.

Speaking at the Handelsblatt conference on automotive technologies in Munich, Gerhard Schmidt, Ford’s vice president for Research and Development, said the hydrogen internal combustion engine program helps pave the way to other applications.

"The development and refinement of H2ICE and H2ICE hybrids can provide one stepping stone to the widespread use of hydrogen fuel and the introduction to fuel-cell technology," Schmidt said.

Bringing the H2ICE busses to market required extensive testing that positioned Ford ahead of its competitors, according to John Lapetz, manager, Ford Hydrogen Vehicle Program.

"By putting ourselves through the trials of coming up with a production-ready vehicle, we have learned what would have never learned by simply doing research," said Lapetz. "We’ve solved some durability and extreme weather issues that have given us a real head start on those that are still doing small one-off programs."

Putting H2ICE busses on the road is only part of the picture, according to Zanardelli. Ford’s H2ICE research is drawing attention from universities and national laboratories in the U.S. and Europe, he added.

"They perceive Ford as clearly in a leadership role," he said. "It’s a good position to be in, and we intend to keep it that way."

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