Hydrogen Cars – How do Fuel Cells Really Work? Where do they fit into the Alternative Fuel Plan? Will they Prove to be the ‘Ultimate’ Renewable Fuel?


Many project hydrogen as the ultimate alternative fuel, but how does it stack up now and in the future?

In the conversation of sustainable motoring, there has long been a quiet alternative to electricity as a propulsion for our cars – hydrogen. Projected by many as a no-compromise alternative fuel that just needs more development, the reality is somewhat more complicated.

Manufacturers are persisting regardless, with Toyota, Honda and Hyundai all at the forefront of the technology in 2021.

Its future in locomotive and long-haul trucking will almost certainly drive its continued development, and as the technology matures further some have started thinking about its applications in future motorsport – an offshoot from the main technological drive that could make it viable, and crucially more entertaining than racing EVs.

What is hydrogen fuel, and how does it work?

As the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen is a great place to start when it comes to using it as fuel. Yet while sourcing it isn’t an issue, the process of turning it into useable fuel is where the complexity lies. For use in cars, hydrogen needs to be turned into its liquid form, which requires it to be compressed and kept at cryogenic temperatures.

This process is both energy intensive and expensive, which is where the practical realities of its commercial use come into question. As it stands, the production of compressed hydrogen is more energy and carbon intensive than what it gives back during the ‘burn’, but this process is being continually refined and improved. Soon, there will be a Europe-recognised certification of ‘Green Hydrogen’, which will guarantee the carbon neutrality of its production.

There are also many entirely different ways that hydrogen can create energy and thus drive cars, further complicating the technology. For the sake of simplicity let’s focus on the main two: hydrogen combustion and hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydrogen combustion

Hydrogen combustion works, as its name suggests, in exactly the same way as fossil fuel combustion engines, but without the carbon emissions. It sounds perfect, in theory, but the reality is quite different. In this process, liquid hydrogen is stored in an insulated and pressurised tank where it is injected directly into the cylinders at high pressure, burning in the same four-stroke cycle as a normal petrol engine.

Running fuel in a pressurised circuit is not the issue – cars that burn compressed natural gas are common in Australia and Brazil. Rather it lies in compressed hydrogen’s poor energy density, which makes it burn very inefficiently. BMW developed a limited-run version of a 7-seriesback in 2002 with a V12 engine converted to run on liquid hydrogen, but its fuel consumption was rated at around 50l/100kms or 4.7mpg, around four times higher than that of its petrol V12 counterpart.

From an emissions perspective, the carbon footprint of producing that much fuel is extremely high per kg, which more than counteracted its lack of a CO2 output at the exhaust pipe. And there is another long-standing issue associated with burning liquid hydrogen, as while it may not produce CO2, it does still produce large amounts of nitrogen oxide (NOx), or more specifically the nasty greenhouse gas associated with VW’s dieselgate emissions scandal.

Hydrogen cars – cutaway

Hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen fuel cells, by contrast, don’t burn liquid hydrogen, but create electricity from it by a completely different method.

Rather than using any form of combustion engine, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles use the process of electrolysis to create electricity, which feeds a battery and then an electric motor.

As well as being far more efficient per unit of liquid hydrogen than quite literally setting it on fire in a combustion process, a fuel cell also produces no harmful NOx emissions. This, in theory, combines the benefits of EVs and combustion engines, with the former’s lack of harmful emissions and the latter’s fast fill time come refuelling.

The drawbacks once again come from the process of creating the liquid hydrogen, before taking into account the relative complexity and expense of having what is essentially a tiny atom-splitting power station on your driveway.

As battery technology continues to grow in leaps and bounds, the benefits of a quick fill time will also become less of a drawcard.

This hasn’t stopped manufacturers such as Hyundai and Toyota from persisting with hydrogen fuel cells, exemplified by the all-new second-generation Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo. So while your next car is far more likely to be electric than hydrogen, it certainly will have its place in the wider ecosystem.

Hydrogen cars – mirai engine bay

Motorsport and combustion engines

For those of us skeptical about the reality of carbon-neutral motor racing, hydrogen does offer another alternative to traditional eFuels as a clean fuel source for the continuation of motorsport and combustion engines.

While widespread applications of hydrogen combustion engines make little commercial sense, the ability to run racing engines on liquid hydrogen could be a possibility in future.

Toyota is already experimenting with the technology, running a converted Corolla racing car in the Japanese Super Taikyu Series in 2021. As mentioned above, the lack of carbon emission is the obvious reason to apply this technology, although Toyota has not approached the issue of NOx.

Luckily, technology to remove nitrogen oxide from exhaust gases has been underpinned by advances in diesel technology of all places, utilising AdBlue technology, or a mixture of urea and deionised water, to remove NOx before it reaches the end of the exhaust pipe.

Hydrogen Powered Fuel Cell EV’s? Or Battery Powered EV’s? Toyota is Placing a Bet on the Green Future


While Toyota has seen success far and wide as an early pioneer of hybrid cars, it’s had much less luck with another technology it has invested heavily in: hydrogen-powered fuel cell EVs.

While the rest of the electric car market is going heavily battery-powered, Toyota is still banking on hydrogen power in many ways—even as competitors like Honda and BMW have seemingly dialed down their hydrogen ambitions. Now we know that Toyota’s conservative battery EV strategy and its big bet on hydrogen are closely related issues.

Toyota’s HFC Car

A recent report from the New York Times shows that the company’s hydrogen play has become further reaching than just internal development; it has also become political.

Toyota’s H2 Mirai

According to the report, a Toyota executive has been traveling to Washington on behalf of the automaker and has taken steps to slow the entire industry’s adoption of electric vehicles. Chris Reynolds, a high-ranking senior executive for Toyota, reportedly has held closed-door meetings with congressional staff members.

At least four people familiar with the matter told the New York Times that Reynolds argued against an aggressive rollout of fully electric vehicles, instead urging for a focus on hybrids (like the Prius) and other alternatively-fueled vehicles, like hydrogen-powered fuel-cell EVs.

This all comes at a time when multiple automakers are planning to go fully or mostly battery electric in the years to come, often driven by tightening emissions rules in China and Europe. Toyota, on the other hand, feels incredibly late to the EV game.

Despite Toyota’s recent ambitious plans to launch 15 fully electric cars by 2025, it has only shown the world a concept of its upcoming bZ4X while other manufacturers like Audi, Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar, Porsche, Volvo, and Volkswagen all have at least one BEV for sale today.

So if Toyota can persuade lawmakers of the importance of hybrids over EVs and successfully stymie funding for EV-related infrastructure and incentives, it could give the automaker more time to separate from its crutch on hybrids and catch up to other manufacturers.

The potential impact of lobbying against BEVs can be seen in the recently proposed infrastructure spending bill, which cuts the government funding for expanding the EV charging infrastructure in half of what was anticipated by President Joe Biden’s staffers to deploy 500,000 EV charging stations nationwide.

In addition to doing a potential disservice to American EV adopters, these actions could potentially impede the already full-speed efforts by other automakers pushing towards aggressive EV rollouts.

It is worth noting, Reynolds was recently named board chair for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. The alliance is a lobbying organization that represents the interests of many automakers and OEM suppliers, many of which aren’t as heavily invested in hydrogen power or hybrids as Toyota.

Bloom Energy unveils new Electrolyser with more efficiency than market alternatives


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Bloom Energy has unveiled its new “Bloom Electrolyser” today (July 14) that is said to be the most energy-efficient electrolyser to produce clean hydrogen to date with 15 to 45% more efficiency than other products on the market today.

The new electrolyser relies on the same commercially proven and proprietary solid oxide technology platform used by Bloom Energy Servers to provide on-site electricity at high fuel efficiency.

In being highly flexible, it offers unique advantages for deployment across a broad variety of hydrogen applications, using multiple energy sources including intermittent renewable energy and excess heat.

Read more: Bloom Energy reveals strategy for hydrogen market entry

Read more: 100kW of Bloom Energy SOFCs deployed in South Korea

 The Bloom electrolyser operates at high temperatures meaning that it requires less energy to break up water molecules and produce hydrogen.

As a result, Bloom Energy’s electrolyser consumes 15% less electricity than other electrolyser technologies to make hydrogen when electricity is the sole input source.

Unlike low-temperature PEM and alkaline electrolysers that predominantly require electricity to make hydrogen, the Bloom Electrolyser can leverage both electricity and heat to produce hydrogen.

Bloom Energy’s high-temperature electrolyser technology has the potential to use up to 45% less electricity when integrated with external heat sources than low-temperature PEM and alkaline electrolysers.

When the Bloom Electrolyser is paired with intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar, the resulting green hydrogen provides an important storage mechanism.

Hydrogen can be stored for long periods of time and transported over long distances.

Alternatively, Bloom Energy’s fuel cells can convert this hydrogen to electricity, thereby providing continuous, reliable power.

KR Sridhar, founder, Chairman, and CEO of Bloom Energy, said, “The launch of the Bloom Electrolyser is a big leap forward in our mission to enable and empower the global hydrogen economy and a decarbonised society.

“Hydrogen enables us to leverage abundant and inexpensive renewable energy to provide zero-carbon power, reliably—instead of intermittently.

“Given its efficiency and input options to make hydrogen, Bloom Energy’s electrolyser is expected to produce hydrogen at a lower price than any alternative on the market today.”

Is Automotive Ready for Hydrogen Fuel? Battery Powered Ev’s (BEV) vs Fuel Cell Powered (FCEV) Vehicles – The ‘Green Shift’ is On


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With global sustainability legislations shifting the automotive market away from combustion engines, you’ve probably heard somebody utter “my next car will be electric”. If you haven’t, it’s likely you will soon. However, one fuel source doesn’t fit all. Making the green shift in the automotive market will require other sustainable fuel sources. Here Mats W Lundberg, head of sustainability at Sandvik, maps out the road towards hydrogen fuel.

The move away from petrol, diesel and hybrid cars can seem like a shifting target. Despite deadlines for the ban on such vehicles varying by country, we can be sure that global change is happening — and soon. Automakers and drivers alike will need to adjust to a more sustainable future, but how can you decide which resource will power your vehicle?

BEVs versus FCEVs

TOYOTA-master1050Credit…Keith Tsuji/Getty Images

The automotive sector typically views battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) as competing technologies. While BEVs use electricity stored in a battery that powers the vehicle’s electric motor, FCEVs are powered by fuel cells. 

A fuel cell converts energy stored in molecules into electrical energy. Only oxygen and hydrogen are required to power the fuel cell — the former is readily available in the atmosphere, and the latter can be generated through electrolysis. 

FCEVs can offer better weight economy, effectively powering larger vehicles such as haulage that need to limit unnecessary weight gain. Vehicles that travel long distances or that need to refuel quickly are also more suited to hydrogen. Hydrogen is also a good choice for longer-term storage, since it is a gas that can be stored in tanks and containers, while battery lifetime can suffer if the batteries are not charged and discharged correctly.

However, hydrogen’s sustainable future relies on the production of green hydrogen — produced through electrolysis powered by renewable resources. Currently, around 96 per cent of hydrogen is generated from fossil fuels, so developments must still be made if FCEVs are going to match the feasibility of BEVs.

Despite green hydrogen’s slow development, across Europe many projects are already underway to test and deploy hydrogen buses, taxis and other large vehicles, spurring on investment in re-fueling stations and other infrastructure that will be critical to the roll-out of FCEVs.

Fuel cell Bus 1 F4

For instance, the Joint Initiative for Hydrogen Vehicles across Europe (JIVE) project seeks to deploy 139 new zero emission fuel cell buses and associated re-fueling infrastructure across five European countries. JIVE is co-funded by a 32 million euro grant from the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking under the European Union Horizon 2020 framework program for research and innovation. Planned operating sites include the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Denmark.

Elsewhere, British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover is working on a government-sponsored initiative, Project Zeus, that will develop fuel cell technologies for its larger vehicles. While the project remains in early development and the focus is on developing hydrogen powertrain technology, the first concept developed as a result of Project Zeus is likely to be an Evoque-sized SUV.

Getting Prepared

As sustainable and viable hydrogen solutions begin to take off, hydrogen infrastructure will also be key to delivering the fuel source to the automotive industry. Infrastructure doesn’t only involve producing the fuel itself, but also the pipework to transport it, and the development of the fuel cells. A key component in this infrastructure is steel.

High quality steel tubes will be an important requirement for gas companies, who will require flexible solutions to set up re-fueling stations. Sandvik is already working with leading gas and engineering company, Linde, and is supplying its portable Solution in a Container to help the company build re-fueling stations across Europe. The stainless steel alloy tubes transport hydrogen from a storage tank to a dispenser.

Linde’s hydrogen gas is transported under both low and high pressures of up to 900 bars, so Sandvik’s tubes meet strict safety guidelines. The long tubes eliminate the need for conventional fittings, such as cone and thread connections or welding, which normally connect shorter tubes. Removing these connections helps reduce the risk of leakage and station shutdowns.

In addition to hydrogen transport infrastructure, materials technology is also central to fuel cell development. The Sandvik Sanergy® product platform consists of a coated strip for a critical fuel cell stack component. The strip is ready to be pressed to bipolar fuel cell plates, eliminating the costly need for individual plate coating. Today Sandvik has a unique, large-scale production facility in Sandviken, Sweden, and is ready for fuel cell technology to take off.

As we move away from petrol and diesel, many automakers are entering new territory. While BEV technology is well underway, it’s important to recognize that other sustainable options may better suit certain automotive requirements. Hydrogen fuel cells remain a working progress, but ongoing investment and their clear potential make hydrogen a strong contender for the industry’s greener future.

Hydrogen truck player Hyzon is going public at $2.7 billion valuation


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Hyzon Motors, the hydrogen fuel cell truck and bus startup, is going public via reverse merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

Driving the news: Hyzon is merging with Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. in a deal that values the New York-based startup at $2.7 billion.

Why it matters: The 2020 craze of electric and hydrogen transportation startups going public is continuing in 2021.

  • And it’s the latest sign of investors betting on commercial fleet buyers to eventually buy lots and lots of electric and hydrogen-powered big trucks.

The details: The deal will provide the company with $626 million in proceeds to fuel its expansion, the announcement states.

  • New and existing investors include BlackRock, Federated, Fidelity, Wellington and Riverstone Energy Limited.
  • It comes after the multinational oil-and-gas giant Total SE invested in Hyzon last year.
  • Hyzon CEO Craig Knight said heavy truck deliveries to customers in Europe and North America will begin later this year.

Catch up fast: Hyzon said last fall that it plans to deliver several thousand fuel cell trucks and buses over the next three years from its facilities in North America, Europe and Asia.

  • The company, a spinoff out of Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, said at the time it had roughly 400 trucks and buses on the roads.

The big picture: Via Bloomberg, which reported a few days ago that the Hyzon SPAC deal was coming…

  • “According to Bloomberg NEF, fuel-cell vehicles could capture as much as 30% of bus-fleet volume globally by 2050 and as much as 75% of heavy-vehicle fleets, with growth driven primarily by demand from China and the European Union.”

More Reading: Trucking into the hydrogen era

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Hydrogen or electric vehicles? Why the answer is probably both


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The distinct virtues of the two main emerging types of greener transport mean both are likely to flourish, depending on the requirements of different types of user.

Battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) are gradually displacing the internal combustion engine in the move toward greener forms of transportation. An alternative is the hydrogen vehicle, or fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). Both are propelled by electric motors, but where the BEV is powered by a lithium ion battery, the FCEV uses a fuel cell to convert hydrogen into electricity.

It’s common to see the two technologies pitted against one another as alternatives. The major point of contention is whether hydrogen is as green as its supporters like to argue. That’s because while hydrogen vehicles emit no emissions, the process by which hydrogen is extracted and compressed into fuel tanks results in greater efficiency losses. Volkswagen has been quite public in asserting that this makes the BEV the clear winner.

However, there are other leading manufacturers, notably Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, who are clearly prioritising FCEVs. Companies investing in this technology are betting that hydrogen will likely play a much bigger role in our energy needs in general in the decades to come. There are also greener methods of extraction being developed, such as obtaining hydrogen from biomass.

Another key area of comparison is cost. Here, the BEV appears to have the upper hand for now. That’s partly because FCEVs are not being manufactured on a large enough scale yet. However, a recent report from Ballard and Deloitte China concludes that FCEVs will be cheaper to run than BEVs within a decade.

The FCEV boasts great benefits in areas where BEVs typically struggle. A major drawback of the battery-powered electric vehicle is range anxiety — fears the vehicle won’t travel far enough on a single charge. Because the energy in a fuel cell is much more densely packed, these vehicles can offer much better range without the need to refuel.

The FCEV also offers superior charging times. A major drawback for BEVs is the excessive charging time, with vehicles often taking hours to fully charge despite shorter ranges. In contrast, a hydrogen vehicle can be fuelled in roughly the same time it would take to add fuel to your traditional diesel or petrol vehicle.

These factors matter more for some vehicles than for others. At Pailton Engineering, we provide bespoke steering system solutions to a range of different vehicle manufacturers. Speaking from the perspective of someone who works closely with bus manufacturers and commercial vehicle manufacturers, the current debate between advocates of BEVs and FCEVs is too heavily skewed in favour of passenger cars.

Range anxiety and charging time are problematic for all of us, but if you have a fleet of heavy goods vehicles travelling long distances, the benefits of longer ranges are more apparent. To help alleviate range anxiety for these large vehicles, lightweighting is a big trend in zero-emission vehicle manufacturing, as less weight requires less energy to haul it.

Similarly, if you’re aiming to replace a fleet of diesel-powered buses with a green alternative, the fact that hydrogen-powered buses take so much less time to charge is an obvious selling point.

By asking which of these two technologies is superior, we risk falling into the trap of always seeing them in competition. That need not be the case. The answer will depend on which sector we’re talking about and the specific needs of any given vehicle manufacturer. If there was room for petrol and diesel, then why not electric and hydrogen?

It’s impossible to predict precisely what percentage of our transportation fleet will be accounted for by hydrogen vehicles by 2050. In the medium term, BEVs are likely to maintain their lead over their hydrogen equivalents in the automobile market. In other sectors, however, the picture is quite different. Both technologies are good bets. For manufacturers of buses, trucks and commercial vehicles, it will be important to recognise that both batteries and hydrogen fuel cells will probably play an important part in our greener future.

New catalyst material produces abundant Cheap Hydrogen – Using Renewable Energy (Wind, Solar) to Create and Store Cheap Clean Energy on Demand – Queensland University of Technology


new water splittinh 1 news-image New catalyst material produces abundant cheap hydrogen – QUT

QUT chemistry researchers have discovered cheaper and more efficient materials for producing hydrogen for the storage of renewable energy that could replace current water-splitting catalysts.

Professor Anthony O’Mullane said the potential for the chemical storage of renewable energy in the form of hydrogen was being investigated around the world.

“The Australian Government is interested in developing a hydrogen export industry to export our abundant renewable energy,” said Professor O’Mullane from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty.

Watch the Video

“In principle, hydrogen offers a way to store clean energy at a scale that is required to make the rollout of large-scale solar and wind farms as well as the export of green energy viable.

“However, current methods that use carbon sources to produce hydrogen emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that mitigates the benefits of using renewable energy from the sun and wind.

“Electrochemical water splitting driven by electricity sourced from renewable energy technology has been identified as one of the most sustainable methods of producing high-purity hydrogen.”

Professor O’Mullane said the new composite material he and PhD student Ummul Sultana had developed enabled electrochemical water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen using cheap and readily available elements as catalysts.

“Traditionally, catalysts for splitting water involve expensive precious metals such as iridium oxide, ruthenium oxide and platinum,” he said.

“An additional problem has been stability, especially for the oxygen evolution part of the process.

“What we have found is that we can use two earth-abundant cheaper alternatives – cobalt and nickel oxide with only a fraction of gold nanoparticles – to create a stable bi-functional catalyst to split water and produce hydrogen without emissions.

“From an industry point of view, it makes a lot of sense to use one catalyst material instead of two different catalysts to produce hydrogen from water.”

Professor O’Mullane said the stored hydrogen could then be used in fuel cells.

“Fuel cells are a mature technology, already being rolled out in many makes of vehicle. They use hydrogen and oxygen as fuels to generate electricity – essentially the opposite of water splitting.

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“With a lot of cheaply ‘made’ hydrogen we can feed fuel cell-generated electricity back into the grid when required during peak demand or power our transportation system and the only thing emitted is water.”

“Gold Doping in a Layered Co-Ni Hydroxide System via Galvanic Replacement for Overall Electrochemical” was published in Advanced Functional Materials.

Scientists find an effective way to obtain fuel for hydrogen engines


Credit: Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University

One of the most promising alternative energy sources is hydrogen, which can be extracted from water and air. A catalyst is needed for a chemical process that releases hydrogen from an H2O molecule.

It can be made, for example, from platinum or from molybdenum. But these are quite expensive materials. Therefore, the output energy is expensive too. The group of Russian scientists have invented a new approach to solving this problem and published the thesis on this topic in the Nanomaterials journal.

Director of the IKBFU “Functional Nanomaterials” Science and Education Center, Alexander Goykhman said: “We propose molybdenum  as a material for the catalysts which is, firstly, more effective than molybdenum, and, secondly, much cheaper since the total amount of expensive metal in catalysts is reduced, and the sulfur is not scarce and very cheap.”

According to Alexander Goykhman, the material was created in the Moscow National Nuclear Research University, and the IKBFU scientists were to study the sulfur and find out whether it has all necessary parameters or not.

Prof. Goykhman said: “Usually we grow the nanostructures and our colleagues in Moscow study them. But in this case, our roles are reversed. Nevertheless, the structures are fine and fully meet the expectations. We have managed to get the best materials suitable for the  process, molybdenum sulfur.”

The scientists that have found the more effective material for catalysts production also offered the most efficient way of using it. Alexander Goykhman continues:

“To make an effective hydrogen engine one must pay attention not only to the constitution of the catalyst but also to the shape of it. We suggest using thin films of molybdenum sulfide deposited on the surface of glassy carbon.

In this case, the material consumption will be minimal, and the surface area of the catalyst will be the same as if it was completely made from molybdenum sulfide. In the published work, a method for the deposition of such functional  sulfide films is proposed. It is also shown under what conditions of formation it is possible to achieve maximum catalyst efficiency.”

According to Alexander Goykhman, this research may give an impetus to the hydrogen-based energy sector.

More information: V. Fominski et al, Comparative Study of the Structure, Composition, and Electrocatalytic Performance of Hydrogen Evolution in MoSx~2+δ/Mo and MoSx~3+δ Films Obtained by Pulsed Laser Deposition, Nanomaterials (2020).  DOI: 10.3390/nano10020201

Provided by Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University

Irish Times – Plan for 80 Hydrogen Fuel Stations for Ireland by 2030


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Royal Dutch Shell’s first UK hydrogen refuelling station. Hydrogen’s big advantage, as a fuel, is that it’s quick and easy to use by a driver. File photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Currently only two hydrogen-fuelled Model cars available and neither is sold in Ireland

Plans for the introduction of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure for Ireland are accelerating, and a group representing those interested in using hydrogen as a fuel source is projecting that there will be 80 hydrogen filling stations by 2030.

Hydrogen Mobility Ireland is made up of industrial and governmental representatives, and includes, among others, BOC Gases, Bord Gáis EnergyToyota Ireland, CIÉ Group, Hyundai Ireland, and government departments from both north and south of the Border. The group wants to assess, and then push forward, ideas to bring hydrogen fuel for vehicles and public transport in Ireland.

The group’s initial report will be published on October 3rd, and one of its members, speaking to The Irish Times on background, confirmed that it will initially be aimed at “captive” fleets, whereby vehicles can be refuelled at a central depot. “It’s a central hub model, for now, rather than a distributed network. Our focus is on captive fleets, and Dublin Bus and CIÉ as a whole are both part of the group, and contributing to the discussions. Those early hydrogen fuelling stations would also be available for private users as well, to help encourage those who are interested in the technology.”

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Currently, only two hydrogen fuelled cars are available on the market – the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo – and neither is sold in Ireland, for the simple reason that there is currently nowhere to refuel them.

Rancorous

The debate over the potential of hydrogen power for cars is often a rancorous one, with Tesla’s Elon Musk describing the power source as “dumb” and apparent internal disagreements within the VW Group over whether to press ahead with hydrogen vehicle development (Audi says yes, VW says no).

That debate is acknowledged by the group. Dr Richard Riley, a senior consultant at Element Energy, says: “Our view is that just like today, where there are multiple fuels for transport, the future will see both battery electric and hydrogen vehicles on the market filling different needs.

It is more efficient just to put that electricity straight into a battery vehicle. However, some vehicle operating profiles especially large trucks, refuse collection vehicles, some bus routes, rural and commuter train routes, ferries, police and ambulance fleets etc are not well suited to batteries as the battery range and recharging are not flexible enough to meet operators needs.

“Refuelling takes no longer than a conventional petrol or diesel car, and the usable range of a fuel cell vehicle is about the same as an ordinary car”

“Initial stations need a captive fleet to ensure the demand for hydrogen which helps to bring the cost of hydrogen down. However, right from the start we plan for some of the stations to be open to the public so that the investments made by industry and fleets benefits the wider community. We have explored a few different options for early fleets including taxis, buses and refuse collection vehicles. Some interest has been expressed across all these fleets.”

An advantage

Hydrogen’s big advantage, as a fuel, is that it’s quick and easy to use by a driver. Refuelling takes no longer than a conventional petrol or diesel car, and the usable range of a fuel cell vehicle is about the same as an ordinary car. Given current battery and charger designs, that’s an advantage that hydrogen is unlikely to surrender to electric cars any time soon. There’s also the fact that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and is relatively easily extracted from water.

“The only emission from a vehicle fuelled by hydrogen is water vapour, as the hydrogen combines in the fuel cell with oxygen, forming water, and generating an electrical current.”

That, however, is a rose-tinted view of hydrogen. While there have, in the past, been plans for vast solar-powered operations to extract hydrogen from seawater, much commercial hydrogen currently available is a by-product of fossil fuel extraction. On top of which, compressing it, transporting it and storing it all have significant energy consumption issues. The fuel cells themselves also suffer from some of the same issues surrounding batteries such as the use of rare-earth metals, which have to be expensively and messily mined.

Dr Riley says the hydrogen supply being proposed for Ireland comes is extracted using renewable electricity, a fact which might alleviate some of those concerns. Each of those 80 proposed hydrogen filling stations will require investment in the region of €1.5 – €2million.

The Government has made no commitments as yet on any incentives for such investments, but has, according to Dr Riley, “agreed that hydrogen shows great potential for Ireland and that the policies set out by the group to deliver hydrogen mobility are within the cost and policy limits that they committed to, to bring electric vehicles to market.”

“What we’re aiming to do is reach a point where other actors can start to make a decision to invest in hydrogen technology,” the group’s spokesperson said. “We need to reduce the unknowns, and raise the certainty level so that we can move from this phase through to implementation.

What we want to do is to have a highly visible, public strategy so that people can feel comfortable coming on board. This is not just an industry looking to feed itself – we’re drawing in a very broad spectrum of opinion from car makers, fleet operators, academics and policymakers.”

Why Asia’s biggest economies are backing hydrogen fuel cell cars


 

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FILE PHOTO: An Air Liquide hydrogen station for hydrogen fuel cell cars is seen in Paris, France, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau. 

China, Japan and South Korea have set ambitious targets to put millions of hydrogen-powered vehicles on their roads by the end of the next decade at a cost of billions of dollars.

But to date, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have been upstaged by electric vehicles, which are increasingly becoming a mainstream option due to the success of Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O) luxury cars as well as sales and production quotas set by China.

Critics argue FCVs may never amount to more than a niche technology. But proponents counter hydrogen is the cleanest energy source for autos available and that with time and more refueling infrastructure, it will gain acceptance.

AMBITIOUS TARGETS

China, far and away the world’s biggest auto market with some 28 million vehicles sold annually, is aiming for more than 1 million FCVs in service by 2030. That compares with just 1,500 or so now, most of which are buses.

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Japan, a market of more than 5 million vehicles annually, wants to have 800,000 FCVs sold by that time from around 3,400 currently.

South Korea, which has a car market just one third the size of Japan, has set a target of 850,000 vehicles on the road by 2030. But as of end-2018, fewer than 900 have been sold.

 

WHY HYDROGEN?

 

Hydrogen’s proponents point to how clean it is as an energy source as water and heat are the only byproducts and how it can be made from a number of sources, including methane, coal, water, even garbage. Resource-poor Japan sees hydrogen as a way to greater energy security.

They also argue that driving ranges and refueling times for FCVs are comparable to gasoline cars, whereas EVs require hours to recharge and provide only a few hundred kilometers of range.

Many backers in China and Japan see FCVs as complementing EVs rather than replacing them. In general, hydrogen is seen as the more efficient choice for heavier vehicles that drive longer distances, hence the current emphasis on city buses.

THE MAIN PLAYERS

Only a handful of automakers have made fuel cell passenger cars commercially available.

Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) launched the Mirai sedan at the end of 2014, but has sold fewer than 10,000 globally. Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) has offered the Nexo crossover since March last year and has sold just under 2,900 worldwide. It had sales of around 900 for its previous FCV model, the Tucson.

Buses are seeing more demand. Both Toyota and Hyundai have offerings and have begun selling fuel cell components to bus makers, particularly in China.

Several Chinese manufacturers have developed their own buses, notably state-owned SAIC Motor (600104.SS), the nation’s biggest automaker, and Geely Auto Group, which also owns the Volvo Cars and Lotus brands.

WHY HAVEN’T FUEL CELL CARS CAUGHT ON YET?

A lack of refueling stations, which are costly to build, is usually cited as the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of FCVs. At the same time, the main reason cited for the lack of refueling infrastructure is that there are not enough FCVs to make them profitable.

Consumer worries about the risk of explosions are also a big hurdle and residents in Japan and South Korea have protested against the construction of hydrogen stations. This year, a hydrogen tank explosion in South Korea killed two people, which was followed by a blast at a Norway hydrogen station.

Then there’s the cost. Heavy subsidies are needed to bring prices down to levels of gasoline-powered cars. Toyota’s Mirai costs consumers just over 5 million yen ($46,200) after subsidies of 2.25 million yen. That’s still about 50% more than a Camry.

Automakers contend that once sales volumes increase, economies of scale will make subsidies unnecessary.

 

HOW FUEL CELLS WORK

(GRAPHIC: How fuel cell vehicles work: here)

Reuters Graphic

 

Reuters: Reporting by Kevin Buckland in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Yilei Sun in Beijing and Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul; Editing by Edwina Gibbs