GENEVA – OAO AvtoVAZ, the Russian maker of Lada cars, enters the high-tech arena at the international auto show here by displaying a compact car powered by a fuel cell in which the packaging is on a par with Western auto makers.

Chevy Niva

The Antel-2, based on the Lada 111 station wagon, uses all-Russian technology, says Sergei Ivlev, deputy chief-vehicle development at the AvtoVAZ Technical Development Dept., says through a translator.

AvtoVAZ is Russia’s largest auto maker and has an assembly joint venture with General Motors Corp. in Togliatti, Russia, to produce the Lada Niva 2123-based Chevrolet Niva small SUV and will add the Opel Astra this fall. Fiat-GM Powertain will provide the engine for the Chevy Niva when serial production begins in April. Additionally, PSA Peugeot Citroen supplies engines for some AvtoVAZ vehicles.

Nevertheless, Ivlev says no other auto makers have proposed working with AvtoVAZ on fuel cells, so the company handled everything in-house. "This is the first time we have exposed the vehicle (outside Russia)," he says, noting AvtoVAZ developed the fuel cell using Russian space-agency technology.

Ivlev says the Russian alkaline fuel cell is more efficient than the proton exchange membrane technology being developed by Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG and General Motors. Corp.

"We plan to have a pilot fleet on the road in 2010," he says. "We will try to lower the price of the fuel cell to compete with gasoline engines in the next six years."

The alkaline fuel cell operates in a temperature range of 176º-212º F (80º-100º C), he says. A nickel-metal hydride battery (NiHM) provides the energy to heat the fuel cell to operating temperature, provides extra acceleration and recovers energy during braking.

The fuel cell also works at temperatures as low as -40º F (-40° C), says Ivlev, but more time is required for the NiMH battery to reach operating temperature.

Water resulting from the production of electricity in the fuel cell is evacuated during operation and is not left within the mechanisms to cause a problem when the vehicle is turned off in cold weather.

The Antel-2 is a 5-passenger car weighing 2,822 lbs. (1,280 kg), with a 60kW electric motor and 24 gallons (90L) of hydrogen stored at 5,802 psi (400 bar) of pressure. The 240-volt fuel cell is rated at 25kW.

AvtoVAZ says 60% of the latent electrochemical energy is transformed into electricity, and the 71-lb. (32-kg) motor is 90% efficient.

The Antel-2 can travel 218 miles (350 km) on the highway and about 186 miles (300 km) in the city, says Ivlev. Top speed is 62 mph (100 km/h).

The Russian fuel-cell design first filters the air, then removes carbon dioxide using a purification process as the air is compressed to 478 psi (3.3 bar). Impurities in the air or the hydrogen would damage the alkaline electrolyte. The now oxygen-dense air enters the fuel cell to react with the hydrogen to form electricity and water.

Transistorized electronic controls direct electricity to the AC motor on the front wheels or to the NiMH battery, and controls the ebb and flow of electricity from the brakes to the battery. A separate 14-volt circuit and

12-volt battery handle the normal automotive electrical chores.

The fuel cell, motor and hydrogen tanks all are fitted under the hood or under the floor, permitting full interior and trunk space.