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Car firms join for hydrogen project

Car makers have joined together in an attempt to speed development of hydrogen-powered vehicles hoping to have one ready for sale in just four years.

Ford, Daimler and Renault-Nissan are to invest equally in the technology. They plan to develop a common fuel cell system that the companies will use to power their own vehicles. The companies also plan to take advantage of their combined size to reduce costs.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles generate electricity after a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is stored in special high-pressure tanks, and the only emissions are water vapour and heat.

Many car makers have been testing the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for years, but so far have not been able to bring costs down enough to sell in mass markets. The zero-emissions cars have great potential to cut pollution and reduce the world's reliance on oil for transportation.

"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."

The companies said that engineering work on the individual fuel cells and the overall hydrogen system will be done jointly by the companies at several locations around the world. They also are studying joint development of other parts for fuel-cell vehicles in an effort to bring down costs.

Work will be done at the site of a previous fuel cell joint venture between Ford and Daimler in Vancouver, as well as at Daimler in Nabern, Germany, and a Nissan operation in Oppama, Japan.

The companies together have 60 years of experience developing fuel cell vehicles.

The alliance is another example of global firms combining forces to develop engines and other new technology. The companies are trying to share expensive development costs, yet keep their products different.

Nissan and Renault have had combined operations for years. Toyota and BMW said earlier this month that they are working together on next-generation batteries for green vehicles called "lithium-air." Their collaboration, first announced in late 2011, also is working on fuel cells with hopes of completing a vehicle by 2020.

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