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Ballard to Partner with Shanghai Powertrain to Develop Fuel-Cell Vehicles for China

A Ballard Mark 902 fuel-cell module

Ballard Power Systems has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and fuel cell supply agreement with Shanghai Fuel Cell Vehicle Powertrain Co., Ltd. (Powertrain) to cooperate on the development of fuel cell vehicles for demonstration and field trial programs planned in China in 2006 and 2007.

Under the terms of the agreements, Ballard will supply fuel cells and related services and Powertrain will integrate those fuel cells into vehicles.

As a first step in the relationship, Ballard and Powertrain have signed an agreement for the supply by Ballard to Powertrain of up to 20 Mark 902 automotive fuel cells. Ballard will ship two Mark 902 automotive fuel cells to Powertrain for integration into vehicles later this year.

Ballard will also provide related applications engineering and field service support. Upon successful integration of the fuel cells into vehicles, Powertrain will purchase up to an additional 18 Mark 902 fuel cells for the program in 2007.

We believe China could be a key market driving the commercialization of automotive fuel cell technology, and, as such, we are very pleased to announce this next step in our ongoing activities in China.

—Noordin Nanji, Ballard’s Vice President and Chief Customer Officer

The Mark 902 platform, the fourth generation of fuel-cell technology from Ballard, is scalable from 10 kW to 300 kW of output depending upon customer requirements and applications. Typical power output for transportation applications is 85 kW for passenger vehicles and 300 kW for transit bus applications.

Shanghai Fuel Cell Vehicle Powertrain is a fuel-cell vehicle research and development firm owned by Tongji University and SAIC Motor Corp. The company has developed several fuel cell prototypes, including a fuel-cell car based on a VW Santana, shown at the 2004 Challenge Bibendum in Shanghai.


Adrian Akau

I am for fuel cell development and application to cars if the costs can be brought down. I think the partnership between Ballard and Powertrain should prove of value in the development of fuel cell vehicles and I hope that the effect will be to promote this type of power system for cars in China as well as for other countries.

Rafael Seidl

A hydrogen economy in China will be powered by nuclear reactors. Mercifully, proliferation is not a major concern with China.

There are many who feel that enormous strides have been made wrt reactor safety since the near-accident at Three Mile Island and the Chernobyl desaster. This is claimed both in terms of design (e.g. modular pebble bed types) and in terms of reactor operations culture. However, Germany abandoned PBRs in 1986 precisely because some of the fuel pellets did break when they got wedged during removal - despite having been machined to tight tolerances at great expense. Also, the safety record of China's coal industry ought to give anyone pause for concern about how they actually run their reactors. In a communist economy, production of e.g. electricity is *everything* and human lives are more or less expendable.

The fuel pellets in PBR designs are also poorly suited to reprocessing, therefore you end up with a lot more radioactive waste by volume and a very limited useful life - primary uranium reserves are quite limited. China does not have a final repository, at least not one that has been studied as intensively as the US' Yucca Mountain (which is not yet operational due to NIMBYs in Nevada - I don't blame them).

While I accept the scientific consensus that net CO2 emissions from motor vehicles are a huge problem that must be addressed, I do not see hydrogen as the alternative. Yes, there are no harmful local emissions. Yes, fuel cells (if and when they become affordable) have high thermodynamic efficiency. But the cost (economic as well as ecological) of producing hydrogen using nuclear power is also very high. Renewable hydrogen is even more expensive. Plus, the safe transport and storage, especially in-vehicle storage, of hydrogen remain major unsolved problems.

Note that we've managed to reduce emissions from new vehicle with ICEs by 80-90% in 25 years and that we have not reached the end of that rope yet. It is very risky to try and change every link in the transportation energy chain at the same time.

Fwiw, I would much rather see the money currently being invested in the hydrogen economy in the US, Europe, Japan, China and elsewhere go toward next-generation biofuels such as biobutanol and BTL. Above all, that means increasing starch or lipid production per acre and, reducing agricultural and processing overheads. Industrial-scale processes that turn cellulose into sugar would be excellent but we've been waiting for those for many years now.

Producing fuels from hazardous waste streams (WTL processes such as thermal depolymerization) also deserve more investment, as they solve two problems in one stroke. One day, it may become economically feasible to apply these technologies to household waste. Perhaps it already is, it's all a matter of how you compute the true price of crude oil, including the externalities.

allen Z

"Mercifully, proliferation is not a major concern with China."
Are you joking? The PRC is the proliferator in chief. I don't know if it is PLA generals doing this or if it is govt sanctioned chinese version of military inductrial complex responsible, but the trail of WMD and missile tech oftenleads back to the PRC. For example, the instructions for equipment that the Libyans bought for their Nuke weapons program (that came from AQ Khan's network) was in chinese. We know this due to siezure of a under a PSI US-EU-NATO (Proliferation Security Initiative) operation. Then there are engine/missile designs in Iran/North Korea/Pakistan that are errily similar to ones designed/built/cancelled in the PRC.
___Back to the fuel cell; if you can use all sorts of fuels (anything with one or more of the following: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen) and not throw away any, then you got something. If it can run on gasoline, biodiesel, butanol, LNG, LPG, etc. then you got the ultimate flex fuel.

allen Z

That should be one of the aims of fuel cell technology. Not just H2, but all/most commmon gas/liquid fuels.


I am reading the book End of Oil where they recall how Ballard was doing so well in 2000 and by 2002 was struggling to find investors and customers. They made great improvements in PEM, so if the Chinese want the technology and are willing to pay for it, they will benefit from it.


When Hu Jintao visited Canada Ballard was the only company he wanted to visit. Looks like this visit paid off...

Roger Pham

Your doubt regarding the future of hydrogen as fuel is understandable, but, that is no reason for taking away funding into hydrogen research. Except for a few problems to resolve, hydrogen looks promising as a fuel produced locally anywhere and everwhere and by various means to be used locally for commuting and home heating, and local electrical-heat co-generation. This will avoid the problem of storing and transportating hydrogen in vast quantity. Long term storage of renewable energy may be in the form of renewable methane in pipeline, or metallic zinc (for generation of hydrogen) in trains or trucks.

There is an interesting article in Scientific American regarding the use of a liquid H2 pipeline for transporting LH2 thousands of miles TOGETHER with superconducting wires for near-zero loss DC current at high voltage, very efficiently. The pipeline must be burried underground for safety purpose, but well within current technology. Vacuum insulation layer will be needed, along with refrigeration stations along the line to maintain cryogenic temperature. Due to the high value of the very enormous electrical energy that can be carried by the superconducting wire, the cost of maintaining the line cryogenic by the flow of LH2 is justifiable. Solar electricity and hydrogen generated from sun-rich states can be transported thousands of miles to other regions via pipeline at reasonable cost. Likewise, a concentration of high-temp nuclear stations can be located far away from populous states and can be economically provided with maximum security due to their concentration in one region, and transporting their output of electricity and hydrogen nation-wide.

I doubt that this will change your mind away from xTL, but it may be interesting nevertheless.

I still think that the hydrogen-methane-capable ICE-electric hybrid automobile will be a more practical transition toward the hydrogen economy rather than the fuel cell that must use expensive and inefficient reformer for fuels other than hydrogen. Furthermore, PEM fuel cell is still too expensive, not durable enough, and requires hydrogen of 99.999% purity in order to function, and producing this type of hydrogen is expensive, and it is also hard for an on-board reformer to produce hydrogen of this purity. Hydrogen-ICE can use hydrogen of any purity.

shaun mann

Roger - thanks for sharing the article. do they mention how much their cable/LH2 pipe would cost and how this compares to traditional transmission? and how would maintenance costs compare? what percentage of the LH2 is lost per mile?

H2 positives: no local pollution

H2 neagatives: expensive production, expensive distribution, expensive storage, expensive fuel cells

at best, they will have no impact on GHG. at worst, they will significantly increase GHG while smug greenwashers convince themselves they are doing something helpful.

so, why invest in infrastructure to support it?

Rafael Seidl

Allen Z -

as I understood it, it is the North Koreans and the Pakistanis that have been doing a brisk trade in nuclear and missile proliferation. It may well be that there are element in the PLA that are dabbling in it on the side, which is scary enough. The limits of the central government's writ have been evident in other aspects, e.g. health and environmental safety - they are afraid to crack down on insiders who are lining their pockets or building their private fiefdoms. What I meant was that deliberate nuclear proliferation has afaik never been part of Chinese government policy (not even covert).

Direct methanol fuel cells do exist but they are very sensitive to catalyst fouling. Reforming a hydrocarbon (e.g. methane) into hydrogen and CO or CO2 is possible with high temperature fuel cells (molten carbonate or solid oxide type) but these are not deemed suitable as prime movers in automotive applications. In any case, any time you use a hydrocarbon to run a fuel cell you emit CO2. Given the cost, you'd be better off with a hybrid electric ICE-powered concept.

Roger -

my beef is mostly with the production of hydrogen from nuclear power. I consider that the ultimate greenwashing strategy.

However, since you bring it up: what happens if one of these refrigeration substations fails or a construction backhoe punctures the pipeline? It doesn't happen often, and e.g. oil and gas pipelines suffer accidents, too. But LH2 + superconducting cables seems a lot more dangerous somehow.

As for hydrogen storage, adsorption in metal hydrides has pretty much been abandoned as a dead end for mobile apps. Compression to 700 bar and liquefaction have both been proposed but rejected by the DOE as inadequate.

Renewable methane (i.e. thoroughly scrubbed biogas) requires steam for reformation into hydrogen, which is infeasible for on-board applications. Besides, if you've got already methane under pressure (aka CNG), just burn it in a spark ignition engine. The tank-to-wheels efficiency of a reformer + fuel cell + electric transmission is no better than that of a well-designed ICE-based powertrain.


These are grandiose ideas that imho don't fit with the trends in the world. It seems to me that distributed energy production makes more sense. Honda is on the right track with home fuel cells and reformers. Cars are better served with electricity as the carrier fuel. Let the fuel cells and other electric generators (or microturbines) remain in fixed positon. Better/cheaper batteries will take us a long way.

There are major security issues with trying to build large-scale hydrogen pipelines and super-sensitive superconducting grids, and not just from terrorists, as Rafael points out. Simple system failure at any point could shut down half our economy.

Harvey D.

You've got a very good point. Why spend so much effort to try to develop on-board hydrogen based energy carrier while we already have an excellent, high efficiency clean one (Electricity) in place.

Fuel cell vehicles will have to use electric propulsion power trains similar to PHEVs and EVs. Quick charge on-board EES devices seem to be more appropriate to store and supply the energy required.

Large stationnary Fuel cells may eventually play an important role to complement sun and wind intermittent power units and produce part of the electrical energy required for PHEVs and EVs.

Roger Pham

Wow, so many interested in LH2 pipeline.
Let me address each individual's concern.

Shaun mann,
this is still in conceptual stage, hence no cost figure. However, combining ultra-efficient electrical transmission with LH2 will make the project cost-effective in comparison to just petroleum pipeline.
Expensive H2 production is only for now. Expect several folds reduction in H2 production from solar and wind.

Have faith in solar thermal electricity. Look in for more details. Many projects were done decades ago and still functioning, thus proving the concept. More projects are being built worldwide or being planned. Spain is one example.

Fail-safe for LH2/superconductor pipeline is in redundancy. If 3 pipes is enough, then build 4, or 5 pipes, and use them at partial electrical load, connected in parallel. Failure of one pipe, and the rest will take up the slack. GPS technology will make marking and finding of burried pipes very easy. Keep the pipeline deep enough that common people can't get to it with just a hoe, or strong enough that they can't break it with simple tools.

Of course, DOE will reject 300-700 bars compressed H2 or LH2 as inadequate. H2 will not see the light of the day until near exhaustion of easily accessible petroleum, as long as Big Oil will still be in control of governments world-wide. But, that won't prevent Calif. CARB or Northern Europe from trying. The best way to use H2 is compressed it at 300 bars, good for a range of 120 miles, for local commute. For extended driving, fill the tank with methane and get 360-mile driving range.

BEV and PHEV is fine, as long as you can buy cheap and durable battery. But, your car will be several hundred pounds overweight, your trunk space will be gone, and you may have to replace the battery during the car's lifetime, to the tune of $5000-10,000 USD. In hot climates, you battery definitely will not make it even 1/3-1/2 the life of your car. In cold climates, your battery won't deliver the power nor the charge capacity. Why not just run it locally with H2 for a range of 120mi with a few minutes of fill up time, or a range of 360mi with CNG, your choice? Without excess weight and you still have your trunk space, and the fuel tank will last for the lifespan of your car?
Someday, solar H2-ICE-hybrid car will have comparable solar to wheel efficiency as a BEV or PHEV.

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