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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.


A.C. R.

Roger Pham, sadly you still can't grasp the point, simple as it is.

The point is not so much about distances, it is about number of vehicles fuellable by a single station.

The US situation is 250 million vehicles with 120,000 stations, so some 2000 vehicles per station.

With your 300 stations you can service 6000 HFCVs. That's being generous, since it takes 2-3x as long to fuel hydrogen as it does to fuel gasoline, and the range is smaller too so people will have to go to the fuelling station more often than with gasoline tanks (especially in the USA, large tanks are common).

Furthermore, a 2200 kWh/kWp home solar installation DOES NOT EXIST. The best performing home solar installations are well below 1900 kWh/kWp, and most of the USA would get below 1500 kWh/kWp.

You can't get 3 cents/kWh from this. More like 9 cents/kWh, and you still have to buy the electrolyser - high pressure electrolysers are very expensive. Plus the operating cost of the systems, especially the electrolyser, which won't last 30 years by the way, are significant.

All costs must be considered. Energy usage for the electrolyser is just one cost. The IEA has a handy PDF with cost estimates for distributed production.

Over $10/kg, that is for a quite large distributed installation and cheap power. A home version would be a multiple of that, quite possibly over $30/kg H2.

A.C. R.

Oops typo, that'd be 60,000 vehicles for 3000 stations.

A.C. R.

Uh, 60,000 for 300. where's the edit button when you need it.


Speaking of Hawaii and other areas where PV subsidies have pushed lots onto the grid, I suspect that net metering will go the way of the dodo soon.  PV owners will still be allowed to sell power to the grid, but they will be

  1. Paying for grid access,
  2. Paid wholesale price rather than retail, and
  3. Made to buffer their own power production and conform to maximum total output and ramp rates.

This is going to make the PV owners "eat their own dog food".  They will be able to sell what they make, but they'll have to store a lot of it in batteries and trickle it out into the evening.  They'll have to store or use their noon-time peak, such as running their A/C to make ice instead of just dumping juice onto the grid and buying it back late at night.


Regarding hydrogen, esp. home-made:  Roger, fire up a spreadsheet and run some cost numbers to see if those ideas work at all.  There are a lot of physical possibilities that are financially prohibitive for wide-scale use, and you've got to rule that out to have a serious suggestion.

Roger Pham

Thanks for the info, E-P.

Perhaps SolarCity can lend some helping hand to make it workable for solar PV in Hawaii. SolarCity offers complete turn-key solution to home solar PV by requiring NO upfront payment by homeowners, only monthly payment in utility bill. SolarCity monitor electronically their system performance and also do maintenance and repair as needed. SolarCity has excellent battery panel for storing excess solar output. Their battery probably costs ~$170/kWh and can be charged 5-8000x, so will last for years.

Indeed, home-made H2 may not make much economical sense, perhaps more for survivalists and hobbyists. Economy of scale is what'll make it affordable.

Roger Pham

So, under SolarCity plan, homeowners will not have to sell any power to the grid. The battery will absorb excess daytime energy to be used at nite. However, grid's power may rarely be needed on cloudy days.

Once amassing further growth and asset, perhaps SolarCity will devise a plan for a new "Solar-powered City" complete with H2 storage, piping, and FC for nite use, with waste heat utilization, that will never need a grid connection. This is because it cost ~$20,000 to bring grid power to a new house. This money can be used to buy solar PV and local H2 production and storage and FC, and be completely independent from fossil fuel. For an entire Solar City community usage, NG can be brought in and reformed into H2 for use when not enough of stored H2 will be available. However, experience with community town-gas system in Germany have shown that a city-wide piping system can store enough gas for an entire season. Excess H2 production over what the community H2 storage can hold can be piped back to the NG pipeline system up to 20% by volume and get credit for it. Perhaps the name "SolarCity" is prophetic of what soon to come.

experience with community town-gas system in Germany have shown that a city-wide piping system can store enough gas for an entire season.

Documentation for this claim?

Roger Pham

Per Wikipedia, the last paragraph of this page:

"Pipeline storage of hydrogen where a natural gas network is used for the storage of hydrogen. Before switching to natural gas, the German gas networks were operated using towngas, which for the most part (60-65%) consisted of hydrogen. The storage capacity of the German natural gas network is more than 200,000 GW·h which is enough for several months of energy requirement. By comparison, the capacity of all German pumped storage power plants amounts to only about 40 GW·h. The transport of energy through a gas network is done with much less loss (<0.1%) than in a power network (8%). The use of the existing natural gas pipelines for hydrogen was studied by NaturalHy[59]"

Roger Pham

fixing html


Ahem.  Italics, begone!

That's not the pipes in a city, Roger (which only hold gas sufficient for a few hours of heavy load at most).  That's the network as a whole, which includes underground storage reservoirs like spent gas and oil wells.  Further, hydrogen has about 1/3 the volumetric energy density of methane, so cramming that storage full of H2 would slash its energy content.

A.C. R.

Roger Pham, you do realize the town gas comes from fossil fuels?

This is an issue with hydrogen. 95% of it is made from fossil fuels. Electrolysers are far too expensive and inefficient, so you end up with using natural gas or coal for your hydrogen in economic realities.

Battery electric vehicles don't care where the electricity comes from, unlike fuel cell vehicles which prefer cheap reformed natural gas or coal over expensive electrolysers.

The IEA reference I gave earlier is pretty devastating on the cost case for electrolysers, especially small electrolysers (>$50/GJ for the electrolyser alone).

0.1% pipeline loss may be accurate for short distances, but the compression losses to get to those low losses (ie efficient high pressure piping) requires around 4 kWh of electricity per kg of hydrogen (numbers vary with size of the compressors, small home compressors are far worse). Coming from a 45% efficient fuel cell it requires 8.9 kWh of hydrogen to compress 33.3 kWh of hydrogen (33.3 kWh per kg). This is guzzling 21% of your hydrogen (8.9/(33.3+8.9)). Then there's the electrolyser loss (40% for a small installation, 30% for a large, 20% for a future large installation).

If we look at a home electrolyser situation, we get very poor efficiency from thermodynamic reasons in small equipment, a 40% loss in electrolyser, and a 6 kWh/kg electricity consumption for a small inefficient compressor, with 45% efficient fuel cells, thus needing 13.3 kWh to compress 33.3 kWh. We get the following.

33.3 kWh of hydrogen/0.6/0.4 = 139 kWh of electricity needed to generate 33.3 kWh of hydrogen in your tank. Only 24% of the electricity from your home solar panels has made it as hydrogen in your tank.

Worse, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will only have a 42% overall effciency (FC + electric motor loss). We're down to a measly 10% efficiency. Only 1 in 10 kWhs from your precious solar panels got converted to traction.

Consider now a plugin hybrid with those same solar panels or whatever you fancy, it will have a total efficiency between chargers, batteries and electric motors of at least 80%. That makes it 8x more efficient. You need only 1/8th the solar panels to do your car travelling miles.

A.C. R.

I made a calculation mistake, the losses are 0.6/0.7, giving 79 kWh of electricity needed for 33.3 kWh (1 kg) of hydrogen. So about 17-18% efficiency in electricity, giving a factor of 4-5 advantage for the plugin hybrid.

Now to see what that means: in stead of a 20,000 dollar solar installation, you only need a 5000 dollar solar installation. Make the 6000 to consider economy of scale for the larger system. We get a 14,000 dollar penalty for the hydrogen car just because it needs a bigger solar PV installation for the same driving miles.

So your hydrogen fuel cell vehicle instantly has a 14 thousand dollar penalty over the plugin hybrid. That is more than the cost of a battery pack for a plugin hybrid.

I think that's the biggest problem for HFCVs: they are a poor value proposition in just about every aspect compared to plugin hybrids.

Roger Pham

Well, it serves the point that it is possible to store a large amount of gaseous fuel for many months at a time.

Even though H2 is only 1/3 as energy dense as NG, it can be utilized 2-3x more efficiently via FC, waste heat utilization, and via a combination of FC and heat pump + waste heat, so in the end, the volume required will still be comparable to NG.

I'm sorry but the numbers that you're using for H2 & FC are not keeping up with the latest advancements in H2&FC technology. For example, it takes only ~50 kWh/kg of H2 using the latest in electrolyzer technology. H2-PEM FC's can now achieve 70% efficiency in automobile use. The cost for solar PV energy is going down steadily. It is predicted that by 2017, solar PV panels will only cost $0.36 USD/W. Now imagine that! In Germany and Australia, it now only costs $2/W installed. In the USA, the cost is still $3.5/W, but that is due to "soft cost" including permitting, design, inefficient installation, etc that will come way down on par with Germany with increasing installation volume. The labor cost is higher in Germany, however, the Germans are very efficient at solar panel installation.

Be prepared for a shocking awakening as to the economics of solar energy in the near future, especially when it comes to the local production of H2 that does not require a grid connection nor AC inverter nor grid utility energy storage.


Much of the debate setting fuel cell cars and battery ones against each other seems artificial to me.

If indeed the cost of hydrogen remain relatively high, then PHEV FCEVs would work fine, so every day running around could be done on the grid.

Meanwhile fuel cell cars or battery cars with fuel cell REs would solve not inconsiderable problems for pure battery cars.

Range would not be an issue, and cold weather range and comfort issues would be solved.

The 50% of cars without a garage would not have to have expensive roadside power provided, and no-one would have to lug around hundreds of pounds of batteries for long range.

There would not be massive queues for fast chargers on labour day, and hydrogen could be provided with far less than the present number of petrol filling stations at less cost than their gradual replacement as they wear out.

Taken together fuel cells and batteries are more than the sum of their parts.

A.C. R.

Davemart, the problem is in marginal value/performance. For most people a battery plugin hybrid gets them 80 to 90% of the miles driven. The added cost of hydrogen tanks, fuel cells, and any infrastructure issues doesn't appear to be worth it. Cold weather range is solved because in the occasional cold day you run more on the gasoline generator. If we wanted to have more efficiency it could be a diesel generator, this would be more attractive for taxis and delivery trucks.

This competition isn't artifical. I'm not going to spend 10000 more to get rid of the last 10% of gasoline consumption. We already see this with most plugin hybrids on the market today, they cost more than regular hybrids even though they can save more than 50% on gasoline, the regular hybrids are still winning out in sales, just better value/dollar proposition.


A.C.R. said it for me.  I own a PHEV mostly for the energy security (gas-free operation is a huge plus in a shortage) than fuel savings.

Roger Pham

Thanks, Davemart for summing up the issue.

A.C.R., just wait until Tesla will offer a FC-PHEV with such a fabulous design and styling, and ergonomics that Tesla is famous for...and then YOU would want to own one...if for no other reason than to impress your next hot girl at your workplace as to how cool you're and how eco-conscious you can be...and loaded, at the same time. When it comes to impress the lady, cost concern will be tossed out the window! I'm sure you'll be able to find a way to convince your wife about your next hot purchase also, after you take her out for a test drive... Need I say more ;) ?

A.C. R.

Tesla isn't working on any fuel cells. They are going for full electrics. No hybrids, they've made that publicly clear.

> Tesla will offer a PHEV version having a 20-kWh battery pack and a high-output small engine of 2 cylinder with 600-900-cc
> wait until Tesla will offer a FC-PHEV

You'll be waiting a long time. The reason Tesla is going for full electrics is because they believe that with the price/performance curve of batteries, BEV will soon eclipse the hybrid power plant - either ICE or future FC. Right now today, a PHEV or EREV can be manufactured at a fairly attractive price point if you already have ICE supply at low cost. (Tesla did not). Right now, the limitations of the current 20,000 public charge points make PHEV an attractive consumer option. But as soon as range gets to 150-200 miles, with a decent Quick Charge infrastructure, most people will have little incentive to purchase the PHEV, which will be burdened with $3,000 ICE that is almost never used. And that penalty will be on performance as well as price.

Tesla has shown that achieving this goal is strictly a matter of price for cells. Both chemistry and manufacturing scale change the price dramatically, likely 1/2 for chemistry and 1/3 for manufacturing scale.


> penetration of RE and NE in all seasons and at all time, 24/7, will require the cooperation of a H2-FC system. This will be many decades into the future, so it is difficult to speculate as to who will be the vendors.

Ok, this was one of the more clarifying comments, thank you.

Although I don't believe that FC will be required, and that we can get there with solid-state chemistry (batteries), I won't dispute what may occur many decades in the future. The "Four Miracles" Steven Chu described as necessary for a viable H2 economy could very well be solved in many decades. But the battery density will likely be solved by 2020 if not sooner (chemistry, nanostructures). And then there won't be any need for liquid fuels for passenger vehicles.

A.C. R.

I'm fine with spending $3k on a range extender that allows you to travel the whole continent if you had to. As it stands the plugin hybrid has a better value proposition than the pure BEV because the battery cost is a large multiple of $3k. More like $30k in fact. So you'd have to get batteries down in price 5-10x to make this work. That'd be a LONG time away in the future.

For most car makers BEVs are a "bridge too far". Plugins offer them a transitional option. When batteries get cheaper the pack size will increase. You have to think like a company. Having to build fast charging infrastructure is a bit out of the regular business of car companies so they all view it as an external threat or issue. After all, car companies aren't involved in the business of gasoline stations.

Roger Pham

Ah, the future is exciting to watch! Different camps are betting on different technologies. Global warming can't wait for the perfect technology. We've got to use those that are "good enough." Right now, FC-H2 is good enough. PHEV technology is good enough. Long-range BEV technology like Tesla is good enough, except expensive, but will improve with time.

The solution lies not in picking and choosing one vs. another, but in using "all of the above" approach, one technology complementing another. High-end user will prefer a Tesla, or Super PHEV's from Audi, BMW, etc. Middle-end user can use a PHEV from Ford or GM, or Leaf, or Miev etc. Low-end user can use $12,000-Fiesta or similar. Soon, we will have FCV's from major car companies to consider. Very exciting!

A.C. R.

As it stands FC-H2 is a bit more expensive than Teslas.

And even if they get much cheaper, they're unlikely to be cheaper than plugin hybrids, so poor value by definition considering the much higher fuel cost and lack of infrastructure.

Roger Pham

As it stands now, FC stack at ~$100/kW is more expensive per kW than battery at ~$20/kW, but H2 tank at ~$18/kWh, is cheaper than battery at $200-400 per kWh, by a very large margin, over one order of magnitude.

Thus, by reducing the FC stack to 50 kW from 100 kW, while reducing the battery pack to 10 kWh from 85 kWh, significant cost savings can be achieved.

Plus, FC technology has a novelty factor that can fetch high dollars, similar to flat panel TV at one time priced at $14,000 and now priced at under $1,000.

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