Affordable zero-emission cars by 2017

Environmental campaigners have long dreamed of a future of vehicles with zero fossil fuel emissions.

That dream may now be one step closer to reality due to a new partnership between three of the world's largest car manufacturers.

Ford, Daimler and Renault-Nissan are collaborating on the development of a new fuel cell system, with the aim of bringing a hydrogen-powered vehicle to market by 2017.

The fuel cells in hydrogen-powered cars generate electricity from the chemical reaction between hydrogen, stored in special high-pressure tanks, and oxygen.

The vehicles' only emissions are water vapour and heat, meaning they can help to significantly reduce pollution and global dependence on foreign oil.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles have been in development for some time, but have so far proved prohibitively expensive and so have failed to make it to the mass market.

Ford and Renault-Nissan cancelled their previous hydrogen car research and development efforts in 2008 and 2009 respectively, but signed a letter of intent in 2009 committing themselves to the commercial introduction of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

The three firms now plan to pool their resources in order to slash development costs and hasten the arrival of a new generation of fuel cells.

"Working together will significantly help speed this technology to market at a more affordable cost to our customers," a Ford spokesman said.

"We will all benefit from this relationship, as the resulting solution will be better than any one company working alone."

Between them the three firms have more than half a century's experience working on fuel cell vehicles.

Engineering work on the fuel cells and the hydrogen system will be done in partnership at a variety of sites around the globe, including the site of a past fuel cell collaboration between Ford and Daimler in Vancouver.

Work will also take place at Daimler in Nabern, Germany, and a Nissan property in Oppama, Japan.

The auto giants also announced they are planning to work together on the development of other parts of hydrogen-powered vehicles in a bid to reduce overall costs.

The partnership is another example of global brands sharing the costs of developing expensive new technology, while still retaining their products' own unique identity.

While Nissan and Renault have worked collaboratively for a number of years, Toyota and BMW revealed this month that they are jointly producing next generation batteries for green vehicles known as "lithium-air".

The tie-up, first announced back in 2011, is working towards the creation of fuel cells with hopes of bringing a vehicle to market by the end of this decade.

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