Riversimple’s Rasa is an upstart hydrogen-fuel vehicle set to hit the market in 2018. But is it viable given the limited number of hydrogen fueling stations in the UK? There were once very few cell phone towers, too, Riversimple would remind us.
The Rasa is not just a car: it is an instrument of a greater “mobility system that’s responsive to economic and environmental constraints.” It comes with an unusual but justifiable payment model: a monthly fee including “maintenance, insurance, and fuel.” The leasing model is a sign of the times: younger generations are, on average, valuing car ownership less and less, while non-ownership models such as Zipcar continue to see strong growth.
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Thus the Rasa is a low-commitment, alternative mode of transport with an emphasis on flexibility and utility, given its ~300-mile range on a filled 1.5kg tank of compressed hydrogen, equating to about 250 miles per gallon – not your ordinary efficiency. Riversimple claims that the Rasa is “meant to be driven on local roads for everyday journeys,” but with a range of ~300 miles, you could get from London to Manchester without stopping and still have ~100 miles left over.
As for strengthening the UK’s existing hydrogen refueling network of approximately four stations, it is only a matter of time. Riversimple’s approach is a combination of scattered pointillism and connect-the-dots: local factories produce small batches of the Rasa, while Riversimple installs hydrogen fueling stations in the vicinity of each factory and leasing office. Initially hydrogen fueling stations pop up as scattered points – but as their number and geographical spread increase, the points begin to coalesce into a synergistic network, exponentially expanding the utility of any individual Rasa.
Finally, it is worth acknowledging that hydrogen fuel is not totally clean – yet. While “converting hydrogen gas into electricity produces only water and heat as a byproduct,” much of the fuel itself is still produced through methods requiring use of unclean energy. Progress is being made, however, toward totally clean hydrogen fuel production. For example, researchers at Stanford University recently developed a “low-cost water splitter that uses a single catalyst to produce both hydrogen and oxygen gas 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” If this can be scaled, it would mean “a renewable source of clean-burning hydrogen fuel for transportation and industry” – a reality that may arrive more quickly than many expect.