Debunking the myths—Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) can work for the mass market

by Dr. Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy.

In 2014 the fuel cell market expanded rapidly across the globe. The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan all saw significant growth. Several forces have combined to ensure ongoing adoption of fuel cell technology: public-private investment initiatives, government funding for infrastructure and consumer subsidies and falling production costs included. Most notable, however, is the commitment to future OEM launches of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

Toyota, Honda and Hyundai all recently announced plans to make FCEVs available to consumers. A hydrogen-powered version of Hyundai’s Tucson sport utility vehicle has already appeared in Southern California showrooms. In August 2014, Hyundai’s ix35 fuel cell model was driven a record distance for a hydrogen-powered production car on a single tank, covering 435 miles across three Scandinavian countries. Honda next year will offer Californians futuristic sedans that can travel 300 miles or more on a tank of hydrogen gas while emitting nothing but pure water vapor. And, Toyota’s FCEV the Mirai, already available in Japan, will become available in the U.S., UK, Germany and Denmark in summer 2015.

These FCEV developments have all occurred in the midst of the lowest oil prices in years. Questions have lingered has to how the drop in oil prices will affect natural gas and hydrogen, and there aren’t clear answers. But one thing does remain certain: oil prices will always be volatile (and are perhaps bouncing back already), and having alternative fuels available is necessary for energy security, economic and environmental purposes.

Despite progress on FCEVs, their environmental advantage of zero tailpipe emissions, and their ability to run without dependence on oil, misconceptions about fuel cells’ power, efficiency and cost persist.

It’s time to debunk some myths.

Myth #1: Hydrogen power isn’t efficient

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but accessing it for use requires extracting it from water or organic compounds. We produce diesel fuel and gasoline similarly, by refining and cleaning crude oil, a process we know harms the environment. While hydrogen comes in large part from natural gas, we can also extract it from renewable resources—making it not only efficient but also sustainable. Hydrogen can come from solar power, wind turbines and biogas without using any fossil fuels. As the energy market shifts more and more toward renewables, hydrogen remains a viable, “green” resource.

Also highlighting hydrogen’s efficiency, FCEVs emit zero carbon from their tailpipes. According to a report by the California Fuel Cell Partnership, even FCEVs that run on hydrogen derived from natural gas outshine gasoline-powered vehicles in efficiency and environmental impact, emitting 55 to 65 percent less carbon. Fuel cells also perform more efficiently than internal combustion engines, whether or not the hydrogen for the fuel cells comes from natural gas or renewables.

Myth #2: Hydrogen gas is dangerous

Hydrogen is just another fuel, it is no more dangerous or safer than other fuels such as gasoline, propane or natural gas, like all fuels it has a particular hazard set which must be respected.

Hydrogen in fact has a rapid diffusivity (3.8 times faster than natural gas), which means that when released, it dilutes quickly into a non-flammable concentration. The gasoline currently used poses an ignitable hazard for long after it’s been released, and when it catches fire the heat it generates can cause secondary fires. Conversely, hydrogen, because of its low emissivity, burns cooler—a person can put his/her hand next to a hydrogen flame and not get burned.

And, to assure the safety of using hydrogen on board vehicles using storage tanks, Toyota reported that they fired bullets at their carbon-fiber fuel tanks, and the bullets did little more than bounce off or make small dents.

Myth #3: FCEVs are too expensive to build so they aren’t a mass-market solution

Advances in fuel cell manufacturing and catalyst performance recently decreased the cost of fuel cell production dramatically. Gil Castillo, senior group manager of advanced vehicles for Hyundai in California, said costs have dropped 70% since the company began working on fuel cells in the late 1990s. Production has become so much less expensive that Hyundai has also announced it is leasing its hydrogen SUV for $499 a month, with fuel thrown in for free.

Manufacturers are working hard to further reduce the cost of FCEVs, and as they scale production for mass market, standard volume manufacturing and product engineering forces will help. In fact, Toyota recently mentioned that it has been able to streamline its FCEV manufacturing process by gaining Japanese government approval to build and inspect hydrogen tanks, which is expected to help reduce the enabling costs of installing fuel cells into electric vehicles.

Government funding initiatives and subsidies help too. On May 1, 2014, the California Energy Commission announced that it will invest $46.6 million to accelerate the development of publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations in California in order to promote a consumer market for zero-emission fuel cell vehicles. Furthermore, in 2013, the Obama administration had already launched the U.S.’s hydrogen strategy nationwide through the launch of H2USA—a public-private partnership focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure to support more transportation energy options for US consumers, including fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

Myth #4: Filling FCEV tanks with hydrogen will be difficult and slow

Drivers don’t have to make significant changes to their refueling behaviors to fill up their FCEV with hydrogen. A similar ‘nozzle-to-car’ method is the norm and unlike many other alternative fuel vehicles, standards already exist. The fuel cell electric vehicles manufactured by Toyota, Hyundai and Honda already allow an ‘at-pump’ refuel that will take only a few minutes, and drivers do not have to fill up again for several hundred miles.

Myth #5: FCEVs can’t handle long journeys

FCEVs offer zero tailpipe emission motoring without compromising on performance and range. The ability to carry more energy on-board the fuel cell vehicle in comparison to a battery powered car means that the fuel cell vehicles have greater range. And performance has improved over time. An FCEV can now achieve a much longer range with an on-board hydrogen gas tank, making it competitive with conventional and hybrid vehicles. In a real-world test on California roads, National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers demonstrated that a fuel cell-powered Toyota Highlander SUV can travel more than 400 miles and achieve a fuel economy of 69 miles per gallon equivalent. In fact, hydrogen cars now coming onto the market have triple the range of most battery-powered electric cars.

With the advancement of fuel cell technology, the adoption of FCEVs becomes easier and more advantageous. Ever tightening global policies on carbon emissions will make their adoption necessary. Industry partners from OEMs to governments and fuel cell technology providers need to continue to work together to deliver hydrogen as a highly scalable and viable emission-free, mass-market energy alternative.

We’re excited about the opportunity that fuel cell technology offers to the automotive industry and beyond, and we look forward to welcoming further market advancements in the next few years as the technology and the vehicles enter the mainstream.

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EU makes major headway towards a hydrogen fuelled future

The hydrogen fuel cell sector has recently seen two milestone wins. Firstly, the European Council recently agreed a second wave of funding for the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 (FCH2) Joint Technology Initiative (JTI), a decision that was subsequently formally adopted by the EU Member States on the 6th May.  Following its successful first phase set up in 2008, the initiative will continue to develop a portfolio of clean, efficient and affordable fuel cells and hydrogen technologies up to the point of market introduction. Under the EU’s new funding programme – Horizon 2020 – the programme will be fitted with an increased budget of €1.33bn.

This news is confirmation that the European Commission sees a very positive future for hydrogen and fuel cells. This public private partnership will leverage private investments in the technologies up to at least the same amount as the public funds. This encourages market opportunities to be realised due to supported investment as it seeks “to develop commercially viable, clean solutions that use hydrogen as an energy carrier and fuel cells as energy converters”.

Secondly, the Clean Power for Transport Package (CPTP) adopted by the EU Parliament on April 15th proposes measures that ensure the build-up of alternative fuel stations across Europe with common standards for their design and use including EU wide standardisation of recharging plugs for electric vehicles. Member states will have to provide a minimum infrastructure for alternative fuels, including hydrogen.

Siim Kallas, Vice President of Transport for the European Commission commented that this was “a clear signal that Europe is putting clean fuels at the heart of its transport policy, and the drive to develop a transport system fit for the 21st century.”

These two exciting milestones make for a powerful combination. They demonstrate a high level of confidence, both from government and industry, in the prospects for hydrogen fuel cell technologies, offer a major opportunity for Europe to establish a leading position in a fast growing global market, and help to build Europe’s international competitiveness.

 

Note:

Intelligent Energy is an active member of the New Energy World Industry Grouping (NEW-IG), the leading industrial association representing a major grouping of companies, both large and SMEs, working in the fuel cell and hydrogen sector. NEW-IG partners work with the European Commission and the research community to accelerate the market introduction of these clean technologies in the energy and transport sectors.

Fuel cells: is there enough platinum? Yes!

In late March, Bloomberg posted an article – ‘Fuel-Cell Boom Hampered by Need for Platinum, GE Says’ – debating the future of fuel cells in the context of a limited supply of platinum. While the article was of interest, some of the information presented was inaccurate. This blog post seeks to provide a more balanced and informed view of the requirement for platinum in fuel cells.

Platinum is indeed highly important in the production of fuel cells, it serves as a catalyst that facilitates the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen producing electricity with only water as a by-product.

However, unlike many other metals, platinum is almost always recycled. As a result, most of the platinum mined is still available for use and primary platinum is only part of the total resource. A report from a US Geological Survey revealed that the world platinum production capacity, an approximation of maximum supply, could increase by as much as 69,000 kg from primary capacity and 22,000 kg from recycling. Recycling rates are likely to be significant as platinum can be efficiently recycled from fuel cells.

It has been suggested in the past that with the mass commercialisation of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), the world’s annual platinum production will fail significantly to meet demand. However, a report presented to the DoE shows that the platinum industry has the potential to meet a scenario where FCEVs achieve 50% market penetration by 2050. Also, there is very little to suggest that platinum supply is dwindling. Studies have concluded that there are sufficient accessible reserves to increase supply by up to 5% per year for each of the next 50 years which will allow for the build-up of a fleet of 1.7 billion FCEVS. Thus, detailed studies of platinum availability suggest that this should not be a limiting factor in the commercialisation of fuel cells.

Companies in the fuel cell space continue to improve performance while lowering platinum loading. According to the US DoE, the amount of platinum in PEM fuel cells has decreased by around 80% during the past decade. This trend is expected to continue, albeit at a reduced rate with smaller incremental improvements.

Furthermore, Toyota recently announced that the latest iteration of its fuel cell has reduced platinum loadings to around 30 g. With a target sale price of $50,000 for its fuel cell vehicle, the metal would contribute less than 3% of the total vehicle cost. A significant component, but by no means prohibitive or a showstopper.

To conclude, while the demand for platinum will undoubtedly increase as fuel cell technology becomes mainstream, there will continue to be a ready supply of the metal to support the on-going commercialisation of this exciting technology.

India’s economic success story raises energy and environmental challenges

India is emerging as a key economic powerhouse driving global growth: according to a United Nations’ report, Brazil, China and India will account for a staggering 40 percent of global output by 2050.

India’s massive economy, coupled with a rising population, will need huge amounts of energy in the years ahead. BP, in its influential ‘Energy Outlook’ for world energy markets, recently forecast that India’s demand for energy will grow faster even than China’s over the next 20 years.

Between them, these two countries will drive global demand for energy even as greater energy efficiency, technological improvements and slowing economies result in plateauing demand in the West. And the vast bulk of their demand needs will be met by traditional, polluting fossil fuels.

An important part of India’s economic success story is a growing, affluent and technologically savvy middle class. India’s telecommunications market, the world’s second-largest after China, is forecast to be worth $100 billion by 2015, and the country is among the top five nations worldwide for Facebook users – convincing proof that India’s middle class is increasingly ‘wired’.

This impressive position, however, has been achieved despite India’s creaking infrastructure and its unenviable record for having the most blackouts in the world.

At the same time, India’s success has bypassed many of its poorest citizens living in rural areas and the country’s thirst for energy has come at a price, even for the wealthy middle classes in its cities. Air pollution in India’s cities is a significant and worsening problem, and is only now being addressed by the country’s powerful Supreme Court. Rapid growth has also put other resources under strain. According to Ernst & Young, India is already a water-stressed country and the situation is set to worsen, with demand for water forecast to rise between 40-50 per cent over the next 20 years.

In order to generate the electricity needed to power such fast-paced growth, BP and NGOs such as Greenpeace agree that India will need to import ever larger volumes of oil-related products, particularly diesel, and fork out significant state subsidies to mitigate rising fuel costs, in turn putting pressure on government finances.

At the developmental level, close to 300 million people in India live without electricity – a commodity that, according to the United Nations Development Programme, is essential to raise them out of poverty and provide them with lighting, proper cooking facilities and clean water. In addition, even as wealthy Indians are adapting to the benefits of the Information Age, around 60 per cent of rural India has no connection to telephony, either wireless or fixed-line, and thus is denied the benefits of communications.

Indian cell tower

Managing power more efficiently is reducing the cost of operating telecoms in India

Indeed, India’s telecoms infrastructure crystallises several of these issues. Phone companies have ambitious plans to build more telecom towers across India, both so they reach rural customers and in order to deliver the capacity for more advanced data services. However, because of daily power outages, the phone companies have to rely on expensive and polluting diesel – most of it imported – to run the towers when the grid is down. An estimated 3.2 billion litres of diesel was consumed by the telecoms industry last year and the figure is forecast to reach 6 billion litres by 2020.

Hydrogen is gaining popularity as a more efficient and cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. It is available from a wide range of sources, whether directly manufactured or as a by-product from industrial processes. And by means of its use in a fuel cell, hydrogen gas can be combined with oxygen from the air to generate electricity, with water the only emission.

Intelligent Energy has recently signed agreements with two Indian companies to manage the power requirements of standalone telecom towers and telecom equipment mounted on electricity towers in India. Over time, diesel generators will be replaced by our proprietary, cost effective, highly efficient and environmentally friendly fuel cells. The company is also partnering with a Welsh water purification firm, Hydro Industries, so that excess energy generated by Intelligent Energy’s power management systems in India can be deployed to run rural water purification units – helping address another of the region’s pressing problems.

New ULEV strategy to stimulate the UK economy

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Last week, we attended the Low Carbon Vehicle (LCV) 2013 event, the highlight of which was the attendance of the Transport Minister, Norman Baker, who arrived in our very own fuel cell taxi. He used the event as a platform to launch the government’s strategy to drive forward the ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) industry.

Baker announced that an extra £500M in new funding will be made available for the introduction of ULEVs, and amongst the main aims of the government set out in the strategy, is an exploration of the options for a new network of hydrogen refuelling stations to support introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles in the UK

“The new strategy signals a major change in the way vehicles will be powered in the future and demonstrates a strong commitment and investment support from the government towards reducing carbon emissions and air pollution on our roads. Our vision is that by 2050 almost every car and van will be an ultra-low emission vehicle with the UK at the forefront of their design, development and manufacture,” said Baker.

This investment is significant for the British transport industry. Many automotive manufacturers have already committed to the production of clean emission vehicles from 2014 and the extra funding injected into this project will accelerate the deployment of these vehicles and ensure there is an existing infrastructure for it to thrive. This will guarantee that the UK is on track to becoming a low carbon economy as well as further strengthening the UK automotive industry.

The strategy sets out government’s five main aims:

  • Supporting the early market for ULEVs:
    • through plug in grants or other consumer incentives – providing certainty for investors and consumers
    • by raising awareness of the benefits with a government and manufacturer-run campaign
    • by encouraging higher uptake in the public sector
  • Shaping the necessary infrastructure:
    • by providing investment for the installation of charge-points in homes, railway stations and public sector car parks and rapid charge points for longer journeys
    • exploring options for a new network of hydrogen refuelling stations to support introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles in the UK
  • Securing the right regulatory and fiscal measures:
    • by maintaining tax incentives for the purchase of ULEVs until at least 2020
    • clarifying the tax position on ULEVs and providing more information for fleet managers on costs
    • working to secure ambitious but realistic EU emissions targets
  • Investing in UK automotive capability:
    • by working with the Automotive Council to develop and strengthen the ULEV supply chain and discussions with the industry on where to target research and development funding
    • by working with partners to maximise the benefits of the UK’s move to ULEVs
    • by offering £10 million prize to develop a new long-life battery for next generation ULEVs
  • Preparing the energy sector:
    • by ensuring the forthcoming national household roll-out of smart meters will support plug-in vehicle charging

For more information on the strategy, please see the press release on Gov.UK.

Hydrogen for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Gains Momentum in France

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Following on from the success of the H2Mobility initiatives in Germany and Great Britain (the latter has already published its first full report), to support the commercial introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), July saw the launch of the ‘Mobilité Hydrogène France’ initiative.  The consortium, which currently consists of twenty partner members, plans to combine forces and expertise to produce an economically competitive and supported deployment plan for a private and public hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in France between 2015 and 2030.

Work is already well underway, with regional, national and international private and public stakeholders collaborating with the French Association for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (“AFHyPaC”) with a view to publishing initial results in late 2013.  Supported by the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, the group will work to share knowledge and expertise in order to develop coordinated deployment scenarios for vehicles and hydrogen stations, and to emphasise the clear benefits and costs of this transition.

Hydrogen and fuel cells offer great potential for the deployment of electric vehicles in Europe against a backdrop of growing urbanisation, whether Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) or Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV).  With global pressures to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality in our cities, the high efficiency and zero CO2 vehicles offer clear benefits both for the automotive sector as well as society as a whole.

Intelligent Energy along with all of the initiative’s partners is proud to be contributing to improving the energy landscape for future generations.

Introducing – New Energy World Industry Grouping

ImageThere have been several innovative steps taken by public and private organisations in order to meet the EU’s 80% carbon reduction target by 2050. Fuel cells and hydrogen continue to play a major role in this effort but further investment in these technologies is needed if the EU is to have a sustainable carbon-neutral future.

One of the organisations leading the charge in this area is the New Energy World Industry Grouping (NEW-IG). NEW-IG is a leading European industrial association dedicated to the market deployment of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies. It brings together more than 60 innovative companies with a joint ambition to contribute to a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous life-environment for European citizens. Intelligent Energy has been part of the NEW-IG since its inception in 2008. Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy, is currently serving his second term as Treasurer of the Grouping.

As its core activity, NEW-IG acts as the private partner in the European programme for Fuel Cells and Hydrogen, the so called “Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking”. This public-private scheme provides a unique platform for cooperation, much-needed long-term stability for investment and concrete support for a portfolio of circa 150 projects. The continuation of the programme under Horizon 2020, the new European innovation framework, is currently being discussed. To ensure Europe has a strong and efficient programme until 2020, NEW-IG has worked closely with the European Commission to collect necessary data and provide expert input on this proposal.

NEW-IG is also actively engaged with policymakers to shape legislation for the adoption of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. It organises high-level meetings with key European decision-makers, such as the EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in 2012, or events that help Members of the European Parliament understand what innovative technologies can do for the European economy. The “Drive ‘n’ Ride” projects are prime examples. Since 2008, it has been offering opportunities to experience hydrogen and fuel cell technology first-hand, through test-drives of fuel cell powered electric vehicles (FCEVs).

The drastic carbon reduction of the energy and transport sectors will require tremendous effort, substantial investment and close cooperation between the public and the private sectors, and all at a time of high economic and environmental uncertainty in Europe. Organisations such as NEW-IG are leading the way to secure a clean energy future.

More about the Drive ‘n’ Ride project & images: http://www.new-ig.eu/newsroom/103/82/MEPs-test-the-latest-generation-of-zero-emission-vehicles-in-Strasbourg

More about NEW-IG: www.new-ig.eu

Now Arriving: Hybrid fuel cell airport infrastructure

Airports are notoriously large polluters – a by-product of the large number of planes that takeoff and land on their runways and the many ground vehicles that are used to support them. Unfortunately, while we are still some way off from realising a viable solution to emissions-free commercial airliners, the opportunity does exist today, for airports to decarbonise their supporting infrastructure as much as they can.

In a recent article, Fuel Cell Today presents a market view of how fuel cells are being used to displace emissions from airside and landside vehicles, through ground support equipment (GSE) and elsewhere.  Forklift fuel cell specialist Plug Power recently received $2.5 million from the US Department of Health to retrofit fifteen electric tow tractors with hydrogen-powered fuel cells.

This kind of investment is timely – the introduction of hydrogen powered GSE and resulting hydrogen refuelling stations will open doors elsewhere. This may include the introduction of hydrogen powered shuttle buses, which ferry passengers between terminals or car parks, especially once FCEVs have widely commercialised.

This concept can be easily achieved when constructing new airports. As part of the construction of Germany’s Berlin Brandenberg airport (BER), a wind-hydrogen hybrid power plant was built near the town of Prenzlau Uckermark. During periods of excess wind, the three 2 MW wind plants generate carbon-dioxide-free hydrogen via electrolysis, which can be stored and used on site. To take advantage of this, TOTAL has constructed a hydrogen refuelling station on a forecourt that includes CNG refuelling, conventional refuelling, and battery vehicle charging points – see below.

ImageIntelligent Energy’s own technology powered a fleet of fuel cell electric cabs which transported visiting dignitaries around London during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This was supported by the introduction of the city’s second hydrogen fuelling station at Heathrow airport.

Whatever the starting point (reducing carbon emissions, using cleaner fuels, less dependence on fossils, or another), such investments are encouraging innovative approaches to energy management.  The seeds of a better, more efficient intelligent energy grid are being sowed.