Sustainable Energy

Meet the hydrogen-powered car trying to take on Tesla

Key Points
  • Riversimple has developed a hydrogen-powered car that it hopes will be a viable alternative to electric vehicles.
  • The car, called Rasa, runs on 1.5 kilograms of hydrogen and can go 300 miles.
  • Riversimple is currently producing a handful of cars with the aim of having mass production by 2020.
Riversimple hopes its hydrogen-powered Rasa car will hit mass production in 2020.

While automakers are fixated on developing the next generation of electric cars, one British firm has other ideas.

Riversimple is hoping that its hydrogen-powered two-seater car, which has a futuristic design crossed with retro traits, might be able to offer a viable alternative to electric vehicles.

The Wales-based company has created a car called Rasa. It says it runs on 1.5 kilograms of hydrogen and can go 300 miles. The vehicle's engineering is very different to other cars on the market. For example, it has a motor on each wheel.

It is powered by reverse electrolysis. Hydrogen and oxygen are combined to create electricity and water is a by-product that drips out of the exhaust.

"All the major auto manufacturers are building hydrogen cars but they are trying to retrofit the technology into the sort of cars they make. And they're all, effectively, built the same way as cars have … been for the last hundred years. The petrol engine taken out and a fuel cell put in place. We've started from a clean sheet of paper," Hugo Spowers, founder of Riversimple, told CNBC in an interview aired Friday.

Riversimple's car is taking on other hydrogen models like the Toyota Mirai, but also electric vehicles from the likes of Tesla and other major automakers.

It is hoping its business model might help it differentiate. Riversimple won't let anyone own one of its cars. Instead will allow people to pay monthly to drive the car. And that fee also includes a refill of hydrogen as well as insurance.

Hydrogen car market not impacted by low oil prices: Riversimple founder

"It's more like a mobile phone. It's a single direct debit that covers all the running costs. It includes insurance and it even includes fuel … But it completely changes the sort of car that we build, because it's an asset on our balance sheet, and the longer we can keep it generating revenue the better, the more efficient it is the better … and the lower maintenances the better," Spowers said.

A Rasa can travel 300 miles on full fuel versus 335 miles for a Tesla Model S on a single charge. But Spowers claims that the energy efficiency is better on a hydrogen car.

"Energy efficiency is probably the single metric we have really got to chase in the future. Batteries are very heavy and the efficiency of a car depends on the weight of the car hugely. So batteries are really good for short-range applications. But at about 100, or 120 miles, we believe we can make a more efficient hydrogen car than a battery car. And if you're talking a 300 mile range, 400 mile … it's chalk and cheese, it's so much more efficient," Spowers told CNBC.

Riversimple is currently producing a handful of cars with the aim of having mass production by 2020.

Interestingly, Spowers said the company will open source its technology designs meaning other carmakers could theoretically copy them. The Riversimple founder says this is not an issue because the market is big enough.

"What we want is those standards to become ubiquitous. We are using different fuel cells ... We want people to copy us because effectively, we are building different cars to the industry and we want to build volumes in (the) supply chain to reduce our costs," Spowers told CNBC.