Nissan has declared that the wet weather didn’t stop it from taking its X-Trail fuel cell vehicle (FCV) for a spin on the Nürburgring Nordschleife course in Germany’s Eifel region recently, making the company the first automaker to record an FCV lap on the famous race track.

The five-seater X-Trail FCV is a zero-emission electric vehicle that runs in near silence, powered by electricity produced on board the vehicle in a hydrogen fuel cell stack. This electricity is generated following an electro-chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.

Frank Eickholt, member of the Nissan 24 Hours Nürburgring race team and Nordschleife aficionado, skillfully steered the €1.3m prototype through ‘The Green Hell’ as the course is often referred to.

Although the 20.8km course was consistently wet, making it difficult to drive aggressively, Eickholt noted that he was thoroughly impressed with the X-Trail FCV.

“I was very surprised at just how comfortable it is to drive a fuel cell car. You get in, turn the key and off you go, just like with a normal car,” said Eickholt.

“Although some of the uphill sections were challenging, the speed was still very impressive. If the course hadn’t been so wet, I could have got more momentum out of the curves.”

Harnessing hydrogen technology
There are still some that feel hydrogen technology as a fuel of the future, particularly in the transport sector, is not a viable alternative and may not get off the ground in terms of implementation and even public perception. Positive press could go a long way to changing this however, as could trials such as that of Nissan in Germany.

The X-Trail FCV, which has been undergoing real-world trials in Japan and California since 2006, has an official top speed of 150 km/h and a range of 500km.

The vehicle also features the latest in battery technology: a Nissan-designed compact lithium-ion battery with thin laminated cells. The Li-Ion battery is used to start the vehicle and to boost power under acceleration. Kinetic energy created under deceleration is captured and stored in the battery for future use.

Still in the early stages of development, Nissan is currently working to improve durability of the FCV componentry; to find a breakthrough in hydrogen storage systems; and to reduce the cost of the technology. The company hopes to see fuel cell vehicles in series production by 2015.

Meanwhile, Air Liquide has revealed it is to be the official technical partner for the Nissan Pan European Tour, through Europe from June to September 2008. As such, Air Liquide will install the service stations and supply the hydrogen necessary for the demonstrations, organised by Nissan for its fuel cell-powered XTrail vehicle.