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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Hydrogen safety – a matter of design

For anyone who visited Hall 27 at Hannover Messe this year it was clear that hydrogen is becoming widely accepted as a viable, sustainable energy carrier. Over 150 exhibitors from 25 countries displayed  hydrogen related products 8  ranging from automotive fuel cell power applications, residential generation (micro-CHP), distributed power generation to a wide array of grid scale ‘power-to-gas’ energy storage solutions.

Making hydrogen fuel safe for consumer use has ultimately been achieved through manufacturers’ rigorous product safety testing and third party design validation programs   to provide the same safety standards in hydrogen fuel delivery, storage and use that are achieved with fossil fuels today  23

The result of these efforts can be seen in the automotive sector by the release of the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell CUV in 2013 13   and both Toyota14  and Honda 15 announcing series production of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) in the 2015 – 2020 timeframe which will  have undergone rigorous crash test and hydrogen storage tank safety testing to ensure vehicle and passenger safety 12.


Fig 1: Toyota at CES 2014 – Source: Toyota website http://www.toyota.com/fuelcell/

Toyota executive Bob Carter was widely reported at the Automotive News World Congress in January 2014 as saying that bullets from a small-calibre gun bounced off their carbon-fibre hydrogen fuel tank, and that a 0.50-caliber bullet barely made dents.2

Directive 2007/46/EC 24 establishes a framework for the approval of motor vehicles as laid down by the European Parliament and the Council. In January 2009 type-approval of hydrogen-powered motor vehicles was included in the directive with the addition of regulation EC No 79/200916. Hydrogen vehicle tank testing described in EC 79/2009 includes the requirements for impact damage testing, to provide evidence the tank can withstand specified mechanical impacts, and penetration testing to provide evidence that the container does not rupture when penetrated by a bullet. 7

The following excerpt from the Honda Clarity FCX website1 also provides a reassuring overview of other FCEV hydrogen safety features:

Hydrogen Safety 1

Sensors are located throughout the vehicle to provide a warning in the unlikely event of a hydrogen leak. Should such a leak occur, the ventilation system is activated and an automatic system closes the main cut-off valves on the hydrogen tank or supply lines as necessary. The high-voltage lines are electrically isolated. In the event of a collision, the system controller automatically shuts off the flow of hydrogen and electric current. Repeated flood and fire testing have confirmed a very high level of safety and reliability.

Refuelling Safety 1

Honda has taken safety precautions with regard to refuelling safety. To prevent reverse flow from the tank, the hydrogen filler inlet has an integrated check valve. The fuel intake mechanism is also designed to prevent contamination by other gases or the connection of nozzles designed for hydrogen stored at incompatible pressure levels.

Source 1 : Honda Clarity website: http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/hydrogen-safety.aspx

Hydrogen filling stations

To support FCEV introduction a growing number of hydrogen filling stations have opened globally to serve the early adopters of fuel cell technology. According to TÜV SÜD consulting services there are now 516 operational hydrogen filling stations safely operating worldwide today 6, with ramp-up plans to develop further stations in most global regions. The safety requirements for the transportation, storage and handling of compressed and liquid hydrogen for these stations is well understood and governed by established codes, standards and practices 17 18, since hydrogen has been used extensively in industrial applications and international space programs for the last forty years.

These well established and proven best practices, together with the continued development of global harmonized safety standards should ensure that consumers have confidence to switch from traditional fossil fuels to hydrogen, without concerns over refuelling or vehicle safety.

Portable hydrogen safety

In the consumer electronics sector, the successful third party safety validation of the Intelligent Energy Upp™ portable fuel cell charging system in 2014 was the culmination of considerable development to ensure that the product was safe for global shipment and sale. 22

(1)   ISO 16111: 2008 – (transportable gas storage devices), which defines the material, design, construction and testing requirements for hydrogen in metal hydride storage systems.

(2)   IEC 62282-6-100 – (Micro fuel cell power systems – Safety 2010) which covers the basic safety requirements for all micro fuel cell systems (fuel cell + cartridge).

International third party validation test houses, such as UL (www.ul.com), CSA (www.csagroup.org), TÜV (www.tuv.com) and Kiwa (www.kiwa-eup.com ), have worked with industry OEMs to provide bespoke test facilities to support the product certification of portable fuel cell systems for public use.21

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)and Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) have also issued guidelines that allow passengers to carry certified portable fuel cell devices and two spare hydrogen fuel cartridges on passenger aircraft in carry-on baggage 19   . This decision was a pivotal safety endorsement by the aviation industry for portable consumer fuel cell systems.

Fig 2: The Upp fuel cell charging system from Intelligent Energy
http://www.beupp.com

Know your fuel (H2)

Hydrogen is no more or less dangerous than any existing fossil fuels used today, it just has a different set of usage requirements based on its inherent characteristics as a gas. Compared to petroleum and natural gas fuels, hydrogen actually has two key properties that can provide safety benefits in its utilisation:

Dispersal

Hydrogen rapidly disperses into the atmosphere upon its release (up to 2.8 times faster than natural gas through the same size exit hole 11), quickly diluting to non-flammable concentrations 9.  Heavier gasses such as petroleum fumes and propane tend to concentrate at ground level posing a greater ignition risk. Hydrogen has a wide flammability range, 4% to 74% in air, but its natural dispersal tendency as the lightest element makes it difficult to contain outside of its designed containment device. Ventilation is a key design criterion in FCEV and all hydrogen systems to ensure the unrestricted dispersal of any released gas.

Low radiant flame heat

A hydrogen flame burns with low levels of radiated heat near the flame compared to a hydrocarbon flame, significantly reducing the risk of secondary fire. Tests performed on automotive hydrogen fuel tanks simulating the ignition of a hydrogen leak, burned for less than two minutes with no damage to the interior of the vehicle, due to the low radiant heat of the flame 10.

Hydrogen is non-toxic and a release does not cause atmospheric pollution. It is a highly versatile natural energy carrier which if properly handled within defined guidelines can be safely integrated into widespread consumer use under existing, well established codes and practices.

 

End

 

Sources:

Source 1 : Honda Clarity website: http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/hydrogen-safety.aspx

Source 2:Tech Investor News http://www.techinvestornews.com/Green/Latest-Green-Tech-News/official-toyota-fires-bullets-into-hydrogen-fuel-tanks-shoots-down-ev-suppo

Source 3: Roads2Hycom –compressed hydrogen storage. Doc ID 8262.March 2014

Source 4: BP website – filling stations http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/about-bp/our-history/history-of-bp/special-subject-histories/service-stations.html

Source 5: Highbeam gasoline service station business report http://business.highbeam.com/industry-reports/retail/gasoline-service-stations

Source 6: TUV website: global listing of active hydrogen filling stations http://www.netinform.net/h2/H2Stations/Default.aspx

Source 7: EC79/2009 hydrogen safety directive

Source 8 – Hannover Messe website: exhibitor statistics: http://www.hannovermesse.de/search

Source 9 – The Hydrogen Association: hydrogen safety fact sheet: http://www.fchea.org/index.php?id=50

Source 10  – Fuel Leak Simulation. Dr Michael R. Swain – University of Miami. Doc Link: Ref: http://evworld.com/article.cfm?storyid=482

Source 11   Safety issues of hydrogen in vehicles Frano Barbir / Energy Partners: http://courses.engr.illinois.edu/npre470/web/readings/Hydrogen%20safety%20issues.pdf

Source 12   US Department of Transport: FEDERAL MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS
AND REGULATIONS http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/import/FMVSS/

Source 13  Hyundai news room:http://www.hyundainews.com/us/en-us/FuelCell/PressReleases.aspx

Source 14  Toyota news room:http://www.toyota-global.com/innovation/environmental_technology/fuelcell_vehicle/

Source 15  Honda news room:http://world.honda.com/news/2013/4131120FCEV-Concept-Los-Angeles-Auto-Show/index.html

Source 16 : TRL Hydrogen-powered vehicles: review of type-approval legislation on vehicle safety http://www.pedz.uni-mannheim.de/daten/edz-h/gdb/10/report-hydrogen-powered-vehicles_en.pdf

Source 17 : Hydrogen Codes and Standards Technical Report prepared by the Partnership for Advancing the Transition to Hydrogen, Washington DC: http://www.hpath.org/resources/TechnicalReport.pdf

Source 18 : CALIFORNIA HYDROGEN FUELING STATION GUIDELINES: September 2004. REF:600-04-002V1 http://www.energy.ca.gov/reports/2004-10-14_600-04-002V1.PDF

Source 19   FAA hazardous materials regulations: http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/

Source 20  Air Products: Hydrogen safety website statement: http://www.airproducts.co.uk/industries/Energy/Power/Power-Generation/hydrogen-fuel-safety.aspx

Source 21   KIWA: Testing and Certification of Hydrogen & Fuel Cells: http://www.kiwaenergyusingproducts.com/uploadedFiles/Expert_Center/EuP/News_and_Publications/Hydrogen2_brochure_v2.pdf

Source 22   Intelligent Energy News Room: http://www.intelligent-energy.com/about-us/media-room/news/company-news/2014/04/29/upp-portable-fuel-cell-the-clean-energy-alternative-for-powering-usb-devices-receives-industry-certification

Source 23 Hydrogen / Fuel Cell Codes and Standards Overview: http://www.fuelcellstandards.com/

Source 24European Commission Directive 2007/46/EC (Framework Directive): http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/automotive/documents/directives/directive-2007-46-ec_en.htm

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.