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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The Fuel Cell Expo and Japan’s Hydrogen Energy Future

It’s been a big year for fuel cells in Japan, with a lot happening in the automotive arena. First, Toyota made available all of their hydrogen fuel cell patents  to promote the development and commercialisation of fuel cell electric vehicles. Then, the Japanese government announced that they’re planning on spending $385 million on fuel-cell vehicle subsidies and hydrogen stations for the 2020 Olympics. Clearly, Japan is one of the pioneers of  a new alternative energy future with hydrogen at the forefront, which makes sense given their ongoing struggle with CO2 emissions(at the year end of March 2014, they reached a record high of 1.2 billion metric tons released) and the move away from nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster.

Fuel Cell Expo

Photo Credit: www.fcexpo.jp

As leaders in hydrogen fuel cell development, Intelligent Energy has had a strong presence in Japan for some time, particularly in the automotive market. We first partnered with Suzuki back in 2006, and together produced the Suzuki Fuel Cell Burgman scooter, the first fuel cell vehicle of any type to receive whole vehicle type approval. Further to this, in 2012, Suzuki and Intelligent Energy formed the joint venture company, Smile FC System Corporation, to develop and manufacture fuel cell systems.

So what’s the next big thing in Japan with hydrogen fuel cells? That’s what was discussed at the Fuel Cell Expo at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center that took place from February 25 through February 27. As the world’s leading hydrogen fuel cell exhibition and conference, it gathered together all the best products, technologies, information and leaders in the industry to share ideas about how best to improve technology and learn more efficient techniques.

Besides the push around fuel cell electric cars, there was other hydrogen technology that caught our eye: a portable hydrogen station mounted on the back of a truck, an infra-red sensing hydrogen dispenser and updates to existing models of hydrogen fuellers that will make them more efficient.

Were you at the Expo? What was your favorite exhibition and trend highlighted there?

Highlights from Mobile World Congress

Ikea Announces Charging Furniture, FCC Tells Telecom and Energy Providers to Unite, and Facebook Looks to Build a Connected World.

MWCPhoto Credit: Pepcom

We’ve been at Mobile World Congress all week showing off our Upp and catching the latest and greatest that the mobile industry has to offer. Historically a meeting of the major telecom providers, Mobile World Congress has morphed into a show-and-tell of wearables and smart consumer products with much of the conversation focused on how we will power this newly connected world. In case you missed the highlights, let us draw your attention to some of our favorite announcements from Barcelona.

Ikea and Samsung Announced Wireless Charging Furniture

Get ready to ditch tangled bedside chords and unsightly wires in the living room. Swedish furniture maker Ikea announced plans to begin selling furniture with built-in Qi wireless charging, available in April 2015. The new furniture will be compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 edge and covers will be available for incompatible iPhone and Samsung models. The idea is that you could place your smartphone on a piece of furniture embedded with the charging technology and it will power up wirelessly.

MWC 1

Photo Credit: Ikea

FCC Asked Telecom Providers To Work with Energy Companies

Aside from the obvious focus of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s talk on the commission’s move to regulate the Internet, he said telecom operators should be able to provide 5G specialized network services to a series of new industry partners, including those in the energy sectors. He noted, “the advanced 5G infrastructure is expected to become the nervous system of the digital society and digital economy.” And as we look to connect everything from cars and coffee mugs to hospitals and factories to the Internet, it will be critical to build a new and improved generation of communication networks.

Facebook Wants to Build a Connected World

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared an update on the company’s Internet.org project, which aims to bring Internet access to “over 90% of the global offline population who live in developing countries.” According to the company’s newsroom, “for the past year Facebook has worked with mobile operators to grow the number of people accessing the Internet. Through the Internet.org app, more than 500 million people in six countries can now access useful health, employment and local information services without data charges.”

As always, GSMA put on an insightful and forward thinking conference that left us excited for building an ever-connected world. Notably one of the biggest themes was the evolution of wireless technology.  As people continue to embrace ubiquitous wireless technology, and as our data consumption increases, we are rapidly approaching a point where battery limitations and the hassle of power sockets are limiting our ability to be truly mobile. Until next year, Barcelona!

Air Quality Today – The Cost of Doing Nothing

All around the world, our air is literally killing us. According to a report from the World Health Organization, polluted air accounted for seven million deaths globally during 2012. To put that in perspective, this is the entire population of Hong Kong.

air quality image

Not surprisingly, the developing regions were hardest hit, with 5.9 million air pollution-related deaths in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific alone. In India, a generally heightened reliance on oil has combined with increased coal consumption to trigger a 4.4 percent rise in CO2 emissions, leading to pollution that’s eating into crop yields. In China, cities such as Beijing, where air quality index (AQI) readings commonly exceed levels that the WHO considers unsafe, have at times been declared “almost uninhabitable.”

But dangerous levels of air pollution aren’t limited to the developing world. In London, nitrogen dioxide pollution in the Oxford Street shopping district reached its legal limit for the year just four days into 2015, and the London Mayor is under pressure to “reduce pollution a lot sooner than 2020 and cover a wider area,” said the London Assembly. In Japan, CO2 emissions reached a record high of 1.2 billion metric tons released during the year ended in March 2014. Even the tiny Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain, one of the world’s richest, was among the 10 countries with the most polluted air in the world during 2014, according to the WHO.

One of the greatest hopes for reversing this alarming trend rests with alternative energy sources, and that’s why we at Intelligent Energy believe we’ll be able to help take a bite out of this problem during 2015 and beyond.

Our business in India aims to bring reliable and cleaner energy solutions to more than 10,000 of the country’s diesel-reliant telecom towers. We believe we can help those partners reduce the diesel consumption of each tower while also increasing uptime, and we’re aiming to replicate this activity across more towers during the year.  Our own fuel cell initiatives are obviously a key part of this.  Such efforts dovetail with the Indian government’s commitment to alternative energy sources.

On the vehicle emissions front, governments in France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. are drawing up plans to introduce hydrogen refueling networks to support a new generation of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London has gone so far as to mandate that all new taxis must be zero-emission capable by 2018. In concert with efforts such as these, leading automotive manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have announced their intentions to make FCEVs available to global markets, and this has already begun, with Toyota’s Mirai FCEV for example, already being available to consumers in Japan and expected to hit the roads in the U.S. and the U.K this summer.

It’s clear that the world is waking up to this important issue, and Intelligent Energy is well positioned to make important contributions to the cause. Our fuel cell technologies for the consumer electronics, distributed power and generation and motive markets, are precisely what government and industry around the world need to reduce emissions to safe levels. Working with organizations in the private and public sectors around the globe, Intelligent Energy can help make our air safe to breathe again. If that isn’t important work, then we don’t know what is.

Intelligent Energy Commitment to Innovation Reflected in Standing as British Patent Leader

According to the UK government ‘Energy and storage’ is one of ‘eight great technologies’ that will underpin future economic growth. This reflects what David Cameron said at the International Festival of Business in June where he spoke about the need to balance the British economy across multiple sectors like engineering and manufacturing, not just finance.

For any technology business, particularly one working in the fast-moving energy sector, intellectual property is what sets you apart from the crowd; it’s the fuel of our business. As such it’s reassuring to know that a report compiled by the UK Intellectual property Office found Intelligent Energy to be the top British patent applicant for ‘energy and storage’ technologies in 2013.

We value innovation at Intelligent Energy and this is evidenced by the volume of patents granted and pending to our name. We have filed over 80 patents for ‘energy and storage technology’ in the UK alone, almost thirty more than the next company. Combine this with over 350 granted patents globally and more than 450 patents pending across 250 patent families and you can get a picture of our commitment to ensuring that the technology we produce is the best and most advanced it can be.

Top UK Applicants


Source: Eight Great Technologies, Energy Storage, A Patent Overview. Intellectual Property Office 2014.

While Intelligent Energy is well known for our power dense, proprietary fuel cell power technologies, it is perhaps less know quite how broad our technology portfolio is. We also develop the wider components necessary to turn those fuel cell technologies into systems and products as well as the software capabilities to manage and optimise their performance and functionality. Intelligent Energy’s IP goes deeper still, encompassing fuel cell related manufacture and the generation of hydrogen fuel.

We at Intelligent Energy understand that intellectual property is the lifeblood of our business. As such, we will continue to invest in R&D so as to develop market-leading fuel cell solutions for the automotive, consumer electronic and distributed power sectors. By doing this we will maintain our position as an industry pioneer, making hydrogen fuel cells a commercial reality.

Intelligent Energy Wins Most Successful Company at UKSPA Anniversary Awards

The UK Science Park Association (UKSPA) celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Over that period, the UKSPA has encouraged the growth of Science Parks, Innovation Centres and Incubators up and down the country, fostering an ecosystem to encourage innovation and the growth of businesses like Intelligent Energy.

As part of the celebrations the Association held the UKSPA 30th Anniversary Summit over two days in the International Conference Centre in Birmingham. This included a gala Awards Dinner on 10th July to recognise the achievements of all those who have been involved with Science Parks and contributed to the innovation movement in the UK over the past 30 years.

At Intelligent Energy we’re delighted not just to have been nominated for, but to win the most coveted award of the night: ‘Most Successful Company’. The companies shortlisted were judged on a number of criteria including: innovative thinking, creation of new employment opportunities, development of new technology, application of funding and exploitation of new markets.

From left, Lesley Evans, Chief Executive of award sponsor, Haseltine Lake; Andy Spooner (Intelligent Energy); host for the evening, the BBC’s Michael Mosley; Anna Leather (Loughborough University Enterprise Office) and Dr Jon Moore (Intelligent Energy).

Hydrogen – Fuelling the Zero Emission Drive in the Golden State

California has long been a global leader in the adoption of new zero-emission technology – the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) programme for example, requires vehicle manufacturers to offer specific numbers of the cleanest car technologies available for sale, specifically hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs)and has been designed to achieve long-term emission reduction goals.

 ZEV regulation was first adopted in California in 1990 and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Advanced Clean Cars Program requires that over 10% of new vehicle sales are electric drive by 2025.In March of 2012, Governor Jerry Brown, signed an executive order that established a goal of 1.5 million ZEVs on California’s roadways also by 2025.

Major automotive manufacturers such as Toyota and Hyundai have stated that they intend to make their FCEVs available to the motoring public from 2014/15. The car manufacturers are likely to first launch their fuel cell vehicles in geographies where plans to put in place hydrogen refuelling infrastructure are most advanced. These include Germany, Japan, Scandinavia, the UK, Korea and of course, California.

On the 1st of May, 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.The funding will progress the Governor’s executive order directing the state government to support and facilitate the rapid commercialisation of ZEVs in California, with a benchmark that the state’s zero-emission vehicle infrastructure will be able to support up to one million vehicles by 2020.The funding has been made to eight applicants through the Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP), and includes six 100% renewable hydrogen refueling stations. It will add a further 28 new refueling stations across the state: 13 in Northern California and 15 in Southern California, strategically situated to create a refueling network along major corridors and in regional centres. In addition, a mobile refueller will provide added reliability to the early hydrogen refueling network by providing refueling capability when stations are off-line.

These 28 new hydrogen refueling stations are in addition to the nine existing refueling locations and the 17 stations currently under development in California and will bring the total up to 54. This is a significant milestone for the initiative, which aims to establish a total 100-station network across the state to support the full commercialisation of fuel cell vehicles.

Interestingly, it also recently emerged that Toyota itself is not just involved in the manufacture and introduction of FCEVs, but is also directly contributing to the development of a hydrogen fuel infrastructure in California by injecting at least $7.2 million in First Element Fuel, a company planning to operate pumps and sell hydrogen for passenger cars.

As a further part of its drive towards increased numbers of ZEVs and to advance hydrogen transportation, the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board announced at the end of April that the state of California itself has joined H2 USA. This is a public–private partnership led by the U.S. Department of Energy focused on  establishing a hydrogen fueling infrastructure and accelerating the commercialization of FCEVs.

As the above recent developments demonstrate, the move towards zero-emission technology for transport is gathering pace in California with refuelling infrastructure to enable the commercialisation of fuel cell electric vehicles beginning to take shape. California is once again taking a leading role in making zero-emission vehicles a practical and large scale reality.

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.

UK Technology Strategy Board launches two competitions to support innovation in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies

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The UK (TSB) has added to the UK’s already increasing interest in alternative energy, by announcing plans to invest up to £5 million in funding, to advance research and development in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.

This investment comes at a great time to help raise the UK’s profile in fostering innovation and support for the use of alternative energy within industry. The automotive industry is already adopting hydrogen and fuel cell technology into their design and manufacturing process, making for a strong example of its potential.

TSB plans to kick-start its funding programme by launching two competitions aimed at business-led organisations, wanting to take their innovations to the next level.

Building fuel cell manufacturing and the supply chain competition

The first competition is aimed at enabling businesses to analyse and modify their production volumes and in the longer term reduce costs, by using innovative approaches and partnering with other business sectors and the academic community.

To make this happen, up to £1m will be made available for feasibility studies, which will help to explore the potential and viability for innovative ideas and new partnerships. A further £4 million will be made available for research and development into these areas, to take some of them forward to the second competition.

Supporting European collaboration in fuel cells and hydrogen competition

This second competition focuses on taking these successful feasibility projects to the next level by encouraging the businesses behind them, to explore partnerships with European organisations operating in the fuel cell and hydrogen market. This competition will also provide opportunities to identify European supply chains and to help lower the associated risks organisations sometimes face when forming new, cross sector partnerships.

 Interested in entering? Here are some key dates

The feasibility studies competition opens for entries on 26 November 2012 and the deadline for registration is at noon on 9 January 2013.

For more details about this competition and if you and your business are eligible to enter, visit the Innovate UK website

Drive ‘n’ Ride 2012

Last week, we took part in the Drive ‘n’ Ride zero emission vehicle event in Strasbourg, where members of the European Parliament and their advisors were able to test drive or be a passenger in the latest generation of fuel cell electric vehicles.

Brian Simpson, MEP for the North West of England and Chair of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee kicked off the event, with the aim of demonstrating the readiness of fuel cells and hydrogen as a viable route to zero emission transport in Europe

The cars on display included our hydrogen fuel cell powered electric taxi amongst others provided by automotive manufacturers including Daimler, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai. In addition to the vehicles, guests at the event received a demonstration of the hydrogen refuelling process at Strasbourg’s first fully mobile and compact hydrogen station, clearly demonstrating what a simple, safe and speedy process this is!

This Drive ‘n’ Ride event is aimed at highlighting the remaining challenges associated with building refuelling infrastructure and reducing costs with production scale. It was particularly timely too with work underway by the national governments in Germany, the UK and Scandinavian to support the introduction fuel cell electric vehicles and refuelling stations into the market.

This event follows a successful summer for Intelligent Energy, especially as one of the lead partners of the HyTEC project (Hydrogen Transport for European Cities). We were especially delighted to talk about the project in more detail and as an opportunity to demonstrate the readiness of fuel cell electric vehicles to help bring to market in Europe, practical zero emission transport in Europe.