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Plug Power to develop H2 fuel cell range extenders for FedEx Express electric delivery trucks

Plug Power Inc., the leading provider of hydrogen fuel cell technology to the materials handling market, will develop hydrogen fuel cell range extenders for 20 FedEx Express electric delivery trucks, allowing FedEx Express to nearly double the amount of territory the vehicles can cover with one charge. (Earlier post.)

This $3-million project is funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and includes project partners FedEx Express, Plug Power and Smith Electric Vehicles. The resulting hybrid vehicles will be powered by lithium-ion batteries and a 10 kW Plug Power hydrogen fuel cell system. The fuel cell solution is based on Plug Power’s GenDrive Series 1000 product architecture.

The GenDrive product series normally targets 3-wheel and 4-wheel sit-down counterbalanced materials-handling trucks. (Sit-down counterbalanced trucks are most commonly used in high-volume manufacturing and high-throughput warehousing and distribution operations. Counterbalanced trucks serve general purpose and carry the heaviest loads.) GenDrive has accumulated more than five million operating hours at customer sites across North America.

Currently, electric delivery trucks are limited to traveling about 80 miles per charge. By doubling the vehicle range, Plug Power’s range extender makes battery-based electric vehicles feasible for nearly all delivery routes. It is an enabling technology that makes electric-powered delivery vehicles a viable solution for a wide range of applications, including parcel delivery trucks, taxis, post office trucks and port vehicles, the company suggested.

Through the trials with FedEx Express, Plug Power expects to display how its range extender solution increases delivery fleet efficiency to more than 50% coupled with an approximately 35 to 40% decrease in fuel expenses, when compared to diesel trucks.

Customer interest in this technology provides Plug Power with a market expansion opportunity that leverages its existing technology-set and hydrogen fuel cell experience with development funds provided by the DOE, the company noted.

Early customer experiences with electric delivery vehicles have been overwhelmingly positive. But only 1% of these vehicles are electric today; we think that this range extender provides the added distance and quick refueling capabilities needed to really grow this market. Plug Power’s expertise in the materials handling market—where we have more than 90% market share—is an ideal base on which to build this technology.

—Andy Marsh, Plug Power CEO

In his December 2013 business update, Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh noted that, in addition to the range extender opportunity, the company was also eyeing Transportation Refrigeration Units (TRUs) as well as airport ground support equipment (GSE) as potential areas for expansion. Plug Power is working with Sysco Long Island on the TRUs, and with FedEx Express on GSEs. The latter project also has support from the DOE, with $2.5 million in funding.

As of October 2013, Plug Power has delivered more than 4,000 fuel cell units to 44 total site deployments with 24 different customers. Daily hydrogen dispensing is more than 4,600 kg.

Marsh also noted that the company has been averaging approximately 10% year-over year cost reductions ($/unit) in its products from 2010 to 2014.

Comments

Davemart

Electric car whatever:
Perhaps you imagine that petrol pumps and stations last forever.
They don't, and need replacing.

That used to be cheap, but regulations now make them take reasonable care to avoid leaks and pollution, so they are ball park the same as hydrogen stations.

Fuel cell cars get around 3 times the mileage per gallon equivalent as petrol cars.

That means less pumps, not more, so the net cost is less than simply maintaining the present system.

I'd be interested to see your figures for wiring up every roadside so that the ~50% of cars that are not parked in garages can be charged.
Clue:Its not cheap.

With universal battery electric cars, Labour day should be interesting, as millions try to charge up simultaneously on route for longer drives.

I have never knocked battery electric cars on the grounds of the expense of the infrastructure, but there are much more solid grounds to do so than fuel cell cars.

You sound exactly like the ICE loyalists did about battery electric cars, proclaiming that no change is ever possible, and inventing poorly researched and innumerate rationales against progress.

I support both fuel cells and batteries, and both will have their place, the proportions to be determined on the ground, and not by nuts on blogs with their handy calculations on the backs of envelopes.

But you would know this if you were not arguing from prejudice, and took the trouble to read some of the reams of studies from the likes of the DOE written by properly qualified people who don't have a bee in their bonnets.

Calgarygary

Davemart

I have no clue what you are talking about in your response to me. Perhaps you need to re-program your auto-response mechanism.

I was only saying that as the house of stark adopted the motto "Winter is coming" to remind themselves that times may not always be so good; it might be wise for the oil industry to create a similar motto; such as "hydrogen is coming". How your program interpreted that as some sort of conspiracy theory is beyond me.

Personally I'm not that interested in theoretical arguments over which technology is better or will succeed. It reminds me too much of 8 year old debates over whether superman could beat up spiderman. I do believe that it will be interesting to watch how the competing technologies progress and in the end I expect ICEV will be a loser but I don't think there are any certainties.

Davemart

Calgarygary:
In that case I have no idea what was the point of your first post.

electric-car-insider.com

@davemart, I don't mind the barbs, they're kind of funny and serve to underscore the fact that you haven't offered a single argument on the merits.

But when you say "proclaiming that no change is ever possible" you're just making stuff up and attributing it to me.

I haven't ever said that no change is ever possible, only pointed out that by Toyota's own reckoning, H2 won't be cost competitive as a transportation fuel until 2030. Although that's a very long time, it's a lot closer than never.

Davemart

electric car would be insider:
Neat evasion of any substantive response.

How is hydrogen infrastructure going to cost the fortune you say when it will replace petrol infrastructure which would need replacing anyway?

You alleged worse costs for hydrogen infrastructure than electric, so presumably you are either working from cost estimates, or talking through your hat.

So what is your estimate for wiring up all the cars at the roadside in the US?

A.C. R.

Sorry to say it Davemart but the electric car guy has a point. You have this ugly tendency of auto responding based on twisting certain keywords in other respondants like "grid", "efficiency" and such, then you bring up sideshows and miss-the-point arguments to suit the line of argument you've just made up yourself.

Don't you understand this isn't an effective persuasion technique? It just makes you look arrogant and devoid of fair comparison and reasoning.

A.C. R.

Re infra cost. Petrol infra is cheap because of low pressure liquid that is easily transportable. High pressure low energy density gas is much tougher so it translates into higher cost in capital and energy for transport.

Re Toyota spending a billion. This doesn't tell us much. GM spent a billion or so in the EV1 in the 1990s, it was an economic failure even though somewhat reasonable performance was achieved. The time just wasn't ripe yet, and GM lost a lot of money. These things happen, in a commercial environment risks must be taken, there are no guarantees, but no guts no glory, no investment no return.

Re efficiency, natural gas - battery hybrids with ICEs use slightly less natural gas per mile than hydrogen FCV-battery hybrids. Currently it makes no sense, because almost all hydrogen comes from natural gas, and in the future it makes no sense either, as electricity for electrolysis will be in competition with battery electrics.

Batteries suck badly in terms of long trips, fuel cells are good for long trips but suck in all other performance compartments where batteries do better.

This laptop is powered by batteries. Not fuel cells. My cellphone is powered by batteries. Not fuel cells. Electric bicycles are powered by batteries. Not fuel cells. Space sattelites are powered by batteries and solar panels, not fuel cells. The Mars Rovers are powered by nuclear and battery/solar panels, not fuel cells. For both high end (even price isn't an issue there) and low end applications, batteries are used, not fuel cells.

Fuel cells have been around for about 180 years.

A.C. R.

Davemart: "Fuel cell cars get around 3 times the mileage per gallon equivalent as petrol cars."

This is not true. Hybrid battery-ICE cars get 47 MPG (typical real fleet average of prius). A 68 MPG hydrogen-battery hybrid vehicle with 12% compressive (hydrogen) loss and 25% loss in the steam reforming gets 45 MPG of natural gas. The same mileage as the natural gas put in a converted hybrid ICE car.

A.C. R.

Davemart: "That means less pumps, not more, so the net cost is less than simply maintaining the present system."

This is also not true, as it was based on the false 3x mileage argument, plus hydrogen requires a lot of pump power in compressors compared to gasoline stations (more than two orders of magnitude in fact). So you literally need a lot more pump power with hydrogen than with gasoline.

Not saying gasoline is great and we should keep it, but that doesn't justify apples to oranges or even plain out false comparisons.

A.C. R.

Davemart: "But you would know this if you were not arguing from prejudice, and took the trouble to read some of the reams of studies from the likes of the DOE written by properly qualified people who don't have a bee in their bonnets."

I'm sorry davemart but you're very prejudiced yourself and you read a lot more into the DOE studies than is actually in there.

for one thing the DOE studies showed low fuel cell system cost with 100,000+ vehicles. Make 100,000 of anything and its really cheap, obviously. The question is how do you get the first 10,000 vehicles to market which will cost a lot more. And before than the 1000 vehicles that cost even more.

The DOE studies also warn against excessive extrapolation down to very low cost figures due to the uncertanties in the models. The models they use are macro models that will endlessly predict cost reductions, when in reality various cost floors are in order.

The studies also show that a smaller version would have a much higher cost per kWe so using a smaller range extender capacity is not a major economic upside as it seems. That's too bad, it likely means people won't pay for the extra money for the fuel cell and rather just have the gasoline range extender (that they only need 10-20% of the time so only 20% of the gasoline savings are there).

HarveyD

@ electric-car-insider.....Sorry but I did not underestimate of the average H2 station. Your $1M estimate may be too low but since you suggest it I accept it as a starter.

One or 2 or even 3 billion $/yr for 1000 H2 stations/year would be pocket money for USA.

A small country like Canada is spending $50B to buy 60 American made fighter jets over the next 10 years or so. That's $5B/year down the drain. The same small country is spending another $5B/year the build war ships.

Wouldn't all those $$B (and many others) be better spent installing Ultra quick charge EV and H2 stations?

Another alternative to batteries and FCs would be Hybrids with compressed Air range extender. Citroen-Peugeot will demo such a vehicle this spring.

Air is free and a small electric compressor (on-board or at home) or very low cost public compressed air stations could refill such vehicle within 3 minutes or so. A small high pressure tank at home would not cost that much.

Engineer-Poet
I'd be interested to see your figures for wiring up every roadside so that the ~50% of cars that are not parked in garages can be charged. Clue:Its not cheap.

What are the figures for charging the 50% of cars that ARE parked in garages?  How long is it going to take for FCEVs to achieve 50% penetration... or even 50% proximity to hydrogen stations?  I haven't spent a cent on charging infrastructure, and I'm doing more than 2/3 of my mileage on grid power.  Advantage:  plug-ins.

With universal battery electric cars, Labour day should be interesting, as millions try to charge up simultaneously on route for longer drives.

It's an American holiday, so the limp-wristed superfluous "u" is inappropriate.  And the answer is "the emergency peaking generators will get one of their seasonal tests that weekend."  They'll fire up Thursday night and not cut the pace until early Monday morning, giving them a good solid workout.  This is in addition to the generator trailers and other devices, with fuel purchased weeks or months in advance.

electric-car-insider.com

I agree that in the context of almost 700 billion in US military spending, 1 billion for H2 stations seems like chump change. But it's enormously more than what it would cost to field an equivalent EV charging infrastructure.

As EP just pointed out, most of the EV charging infrastructure is already in place or nearly so - in garages overnight. People with short commutes can even get by with the 120v EVSE supplied with their car. Those who need 240v can usually get it for $500 -$1,500. Even really fast 240v can be had for less than $2,500 generally.

Workplace charging, with the ability to roughly double commute range in current EVs could be installed for just a few hundred dollars per parking spot if a few dozen are done at one time.

Even 20-50kW fast chargers are only $20-$50k each.

So where's the equivalent head start for hydrogen?

electric-car-insider.com

@davemart, your question about the cost and grid impact of a public charge infrastructure is fair. Are you willing to spend an equivalent amount of effort producing a financial model for nationwide H2 infrastructure? I'd be willing to produce one for EVs if you can show one for H2.

My model would start with a few notable advantages:

There is currently no hydrogen pipeline network, H2 is delivered in tanker trucks.
The electricity grid needs only a safety cord - EVSE - and a car can be fueled at any building that has electric service. The distribution network already exists.

There are numerous zoning and regulatory limitations on the siting of hydrogen stations.
There are none for EVSE. Just a simple $10-$100 over the counter building permit.

There are only a few expensive ways to produce hydrogen. Currently it is much more expensive than gasoline. There's no demonstrable path to producing cheap hydrogen in the near term.
Electricity can be produced locally with solar and sourced from the grid. Wind, solar, hydro and other renewables are quickly reaching price parity with fossil fuels.

You commented on peak demand, like popular travel days. But ignored the fact that Tesla has already demonstrated the solution - storage prior to travel in the vehicle, and also at the refueling station. Supercharger stations have large battery systems to level out peak demand. And this is just the beginning demo from one small startup company. It can and will be done at a much larger scale.

Where are the equivalent advantages for hydrogen?

The only "advantage" I can think of is that Toyota is claiming a 300 mile range for their $50k-$100k car. Hmmm, kind of like a Tesla!

HarveyD

If 5-5-5 batteries were here, there would be no need for light duty FCEVs. We would all have 800+ Km BEVs and would recharge overnight ONLY, at home or at roadside hotels/motels.

That may very well progressively happen by 2020+.

However, future long range intercity large buses and heavy cargo trucks will still need appropriate size FCs and reduced H2 station network, specially alone major highways and at truck/bus depots.

That could very well start to happen by 2020+

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