Outlook for 2013 (Part 2): Automotive – Alternative Power

ImageIn the second part of our outlook series, we take a look at the emergence of the fuel cell electric alternative for the automotive industry.

Tailpipe emissions are responsible for numerous environmental and public health issues. As such, European Union legislation sets mandatory emission reduction targets for new cars. This legislation is the cornerstone of the EU’s strategy to improve the fuel economy of new cars sold on the European market.

The European Commission’s Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050 has agreed to cut emissions to 80% below 1990 levels through domestic reductions alone. The roadmap set outs various milestones, which form a pathway towards reaching this goal – reductions of 40% by 2030 and 60% by 2040. However, the move towards to low carbon society by 2050 will require a 95% decarbonisation of the road transport sector.

As it stands, the number of passenger cars is set to rise to 273 million in Europe – and to 2.5 billion worldwide by 2050. As such, full decarbonisation will not be achievable through improvements in the traditional internal combustion engine or the use of alternative fuels alone.

To date, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have been the more popular of the alternative power solutions. However, ultra low-carbon electric power-trains featuring hydrogen fuel cells provide one of the most promising, practical and efficient options..

In recent months, a number of carmakers have bolstered their commitment to develop a commercially available fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). Pike predicts that about 3,500 units will be shipped from the likes of Toyota, Daimler, Hyundai and Honda – primarily to companies that manage public and private fleets. Beyond 2013, Nissan has announced the TeRRA concept, a hydrogen fuel cell powered SUV; Mercedes is planning its fuel cell debut for 2014 with the B-Class F-CELL compact; Toyota and Hyundai have revealed they will release their fuel cell cars in 2015 with the FCV-R and ix35 respectively.

The advantage of fuel cell cars is shorter fuelling times and greater range. A battery-powered car will tend to have a limited real-world range and can take many hours to charge. In contrast a fuel cell car be driven for hundreds of miles and refuelled in minutes at the pump – much like conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. In short, FCEVs provide practical zero tail-pipe emission electric vehicles, with performances similar to existing vehicles, which do not require significant changes to consumers’ motoring behaviour, routine and performance expectations.

In a survey of carmaker executives conducted by KPMG, respondents expected that among electric vehicles, hybrids will have the highest customer demand by 2025, followed by FCEVs, outdoing the demand of battery only-powered cars.

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