Plans have been announced for a fleet of classic London taxis powered by zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell power systems to be functional in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

The traditional black cabs are to be given a ‘greener’ makeover as a result of collaboration by hydrogen fuel cell developer Intelligent Energy, Lotus Engineering Limited, London Taxis International (LTI) and TRW Conekt.

The programme is part of the UK government’s funding allocation of £23m for sixteen low-carbon vehicle development programs, under its Technology Strategy Board. The taxis will be powered by fuel cells and batteries configured into an electric hybrid, capable of operating for a full day without refuelling and will be capable of speeds of up to 120 kmh. Vehicles can be topped up with hydrogen at central depots, in a refuelling process that will take only a few minutes.

The project is intended to initiate and accelerate introduction of commercial fleets of zero-emission fuel cell hybrid taxis, primarily for London by 2012, and for other cities by 2014.

Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy, commented, “With the price of oil continuing to rise and CO2 emissions increasing, we need to introduce alternatives to the petrol and diesel engine.”

“Fuel cell vehicles offer considerable well-to-wheel emissions savings, and produce no pollution at the tailpipe. The black cab is an internationally recognised and iconic symbol of London, and this partnership is an important part of making low-carbon transport a practical and near-term reality,” he added enthusiastically.

The fuel cell system will be able to function at temperatures as low as -20°C and will fit into the space allotted to the engine in the current LTI taxi design. Such a move is likely to have concurrent development benefits too, as the arduous duty cycle of the London taxi will be utilised to provide a platform for accelerated fuel cell vehicle lifecycle testing.