Seeking signs of the hydrogen economy? Carmakers may have promised to have fuel-cell powered vehicles in the showroom by 2010, but in the meantime plan to check out the local dealer handling scooters made by Vectrix Corp., Newport, R.I. At the November Fuel Cell Seminar in Miami Beach, Fla., that maker of battery-powered scooters displayed a fuel-cell-equipped prototype it plans to bring to market by 2006. The major partner in the project, Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin Corp. is involving engineering collaboration from 10 of its plant locations. Parker recently launched its Fuel Cell Systems Business Unit. The goal is to become a one-stop supplier to technology partners and those that see the future in fuel cells, says Craig Maxwell, Parker's vice president of technology and innovation. The prototype integrates a methanol-powered fuel cell in a hybrid system with a battery pack to drive an electric motor. The combination performs as a self-charging configuration. During normal scooter operation, battery charge levels are maintained by electrical energy from the fuel cell and from regenerative braking. The regenerative technology allows battery recharging whenever the scooter is decelerating. The throttle-induced regenerative braking system captures and redirects energy conventionally dissipated as heat. The throttle system (patent pending) combines with the continuous power generation by the fuel cell to minimize deep discharge cycles and extend battery pack life. Using a Parker high-torque electric motor, the scooter is designed to accelerate from 0 to 50 km/hr in 3.6 seconds, a rate competitive with gas-powered units. Vectrix says top speed is above 100 km/hr. In the unlikely event the battery pack is completely discharged, the hybrid scooter will still achieve speeds up to 30 km/hr using energy supplied by the fuel cell alone, says Peter Hughes, vice president of technology at Vectrix. In addition to Parker, Vectrix's development partners include Giner Electrochemical Systems LLC, GP Batteries International Ltd., Methanex Corp. and ROBRADY design. Cost of ownership over a period of four years is estimated to be 26% less than a conventional scooter with a 400 cc gasoline engine, the maker claims. Scooters are expected to be commercially available in major metropolitan areas in Europe, Asia and the U.S. in 2006. The marketing target is seen as white-collar executive commuters, private fleets and municipalities. Parker says in Europe alone, the current executive commuter market totals US$3 billion. Vectrix expects the concept to appeal to technology conscious customers who do not have ready access to a fixed power supply and require extended range, ultra low emissions and reduced operating costs.