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Opinion: Debunking the myths—Why fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are viable for the mass market

by Dr. Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy

2014 has been a year of rapid growth for the fuel cell market with positive progress being made globally, especially in markets such as US, UK, Germany, France and Japan. Public-private investment initiatives, government funding for infrastructure and consumer subsidies, falling production costs and notably, the commitment to future OEM launches of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)—all indicate a clear road to adoption. The findings from last year’s UK H2 Mobility report support this conclusion, outlining that FCEVs represent an attractive and sustainable long-term business proposition and that they can deliver important environmental and economic benefits to the UK.

Despite the recent progress, a number of myths around the use, power efficiency and cost of fuel cells still exist.

With global leading car OEMs such as Toyota, Honda, Hyundai all recently announcing their intentions to make their FCEVs available to the consumer, there is no doubt that the OEMs have done their homework. 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 (480 km) or more on a tank of hydrogen gas while emitting nothing more toxic than pure water vapor. Most recently, Toyota announced that its fuel cell sedan would also be available in the UK, USA, Germany and Denmark during the summer of 2015.

FCEVs are a real opportunity to offer motoring consumers a zero tailpipe emissions yet practical solution. It’s time to debunk a number of myths.

Myth #1: Hydrogen energy is not all that energy efficient

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe but, on earth, it must normally be extracted from water or organic compounds. This is not much different from diesel and gasoline which are produced from refining and cleaning crude oil (a process which heavily involves the use of hydrogen). Whilst hydrogen today is extracted from natural gas and is already a global, multi-billion dollar industry used in a wide range of industrial applications, it is also produced from renewable sources like solar, wind or biogas without the need to use fossil fuels. This renewable production capacity is increasingly important to ensure the existing power grid can accept more renewable sources. Of course, this also has the merit of producing so-called “green hydrogen”.

In addition, fuel cell vehicles have zero-CO2 and zero particulate tailpipe emissions. And, according to a report by the California Fuel Cell Partnership, cars that run on hydrogen derived from natural gas emit 55% to 65% less carbon than gasoline-powered ones, because of their higher efficiencies. Because fuel cells are much more efficient than internal combustion engines (ICEs), whether produced from natural gas or renewable energy, on a so-called ‘well-to-wheel’ basis, hydrogen used in FCEVs is much more efficient than natural gas burnt in ICEs. And of course, FCEVs also don’t spew carcinogens or smog-forming particulates and compounds which matter to public health in cities.

Myth #2: Hydrogen gas is dangerous to store and use

One of the most common arguments heard when discussing the use of hydrogen is that, as a flammable gas, it is easily ignited and therefore far too dangerous to be stored either in refueling stations or within a pressure tank. However, hydrogen is no more or less dangerous than other flammable fuels or the batteries used in electric cars, and vehicles with pressure gas storage tanks are nothing new. With millions of on-the-road miles driven over the last few years, an existing global multi-billion industry transporting and making hydrogen for many decades, the motive industry is certainly convinced that hydrogen can be stored safely, with Toyota very recently having received approval from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to self-inspect and manufacture hydrogen tanks for FCEVs.

To reinforce the safety aspect of using hydrogen storage tanks, Toyota reported that they had fired bullets at their carbon-fibre fuel tanks, which did little more than bounce off or make small dents.

In fact, hydrogen has a rapid diffusivity (3.8 times faster than natural gas), which means that when released, it dilutes quickly into a non-flammable concentration. Because of this it may even be considered a safer alternative to the gasoline we use today, which when spilt creates an easily ignitable hazard for an extended period and, unlike hydrogen which has a low emissivity (you can put your hand next to a hydrogen flame without being burnt), when ignited sets secondary fires as the heat generated by gasoline is high.

Myth #3: FCEVs and their supporting infrastructure are too expensive to build so they will never provide a mass-market alternative solution

The cost of making fuel cell vehicles has recently dropped dramatically. Recent advances in fuel cell manufacturing and catalyst performance have led to a dramatic decrease in the cost of fuel cell production. In a recent interview with digital publication Quartz, Gil Castillo, senior group manager of advanced vehicles for Hyundai in California, says costs have dropped 70% since the company began working on fuel cells in the late 1990s. So much so, Hyundai has 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 these will decrease as they scale production for mass market: nothing new to invent here, just volume manufacturing and product engineering like any other products. 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.

Add to the mix a surge in global government funding initiatives and subsidies from California to Japan, and across Europe, and the case for affordable fuel cells and consequent infrastructure is strengthened. On the 1st of May 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, the Obama administration has launched the USA’s hydrogen strategy nationwide through the launch H2USA—a new public-private partnership focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure to support more transportation energy options for US consumers, including fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

On 9 October 2014, the UK Government announced an £11-million investment to help establish an initial network of up to 15 hydrogen refueling stations by the end of 2015, and will include £2 million of funding for public sector hydrogen vehicles.

The investment in infrastructure is not a distant hope or contained to the US alone. According to ITS-Davis researchers, regional investment of US$100-$200 million to support 100 stations for about 50,000 FCEVs would be enough to make hydrogen cost-competitive with gasoline on a cost-per-mile basis. This level of investment is already poised to happen in at least three places: California, Germany and Japan.

Myth #4: It will be difficult and time intensive to fill up FCEVs with hydrogen at the pump

Drivers don't have to make significant changes to their refueling behaviour 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 to fill, compared to the extended periods (including overnight) required to recharge battery-only vehicles. Crucially the driver does not have to fill up again for several hundred miles. And hydrogen technology is already being trialled in fuel cell buses by a number of cities including London and can also be scaled up to long-haul trucks and other big vehicles.

Myth #5: FCEVs don’t have enough energy for 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 (NREL) researchers demonstrated that a fuel cell-powered Toyota Highlander SUV can travel over 400 miles and achieve a fuel economy of 69 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).

In fact, hydrogen cars now coming onto the market have triple the range of most battery electric cars and can be refueled in several minutes (rather than recharged in hours), and this is just the start.

With the advancement of fuel cell technology, it’s clear to see that the case for adoption of FCEVs will continue to grow. This will also be driven by ever tightening global policies on carbon emissions. Industry partners from OEMs, to governments and fuel cell technology providers need to continue to work together to seize this opportunity and deliver a highly scalable and viable tailpipe, emissions-free energy alternative for the mass market.

We’re excited about the opportunity that fuel cell technology offers to the automotive industry, and we look forward to welcoming further market advancements and examples of real-world commercial use that will come to market in the next 12 to 18 months.

Dr. Henri Winand is the CEO and Executive Director of Intelligent Energy, which specializes in the development of modular fuel cell systems. Dr. Winand joined the Board as Chief Executive on 1 September 2006. He was previously Vice President of Corporate Venturing at Rolls-Royce plc.
During his time with Rolls-Royce, Dr. Winand managed a power systems business; introduced new manufacturing technologies into the group; and was responsible for defining and supervising the implementation of strategies for deriving additional value from the group's technology assets.
Dr. Winand has a PhD from the University of Cambridge, a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Warwick and a BEng from Imperial College, London. He is a Governing Board member of the European Union’s Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) and Treasurer of the New Industrial Grouping. He is a member of the UK Government’s Green Economy Council, advising the Secretaries of State for DECC, DEFRA and BIS and also a member of the University of Cambridge’s Alumni Advisory Board.

Comments

ai_vin

So, the CEO of a company that makes fuel cells is of the "opinion" that FCEVs are viable for the mass market.

Well, that's completely unexpected.

Davemart

Myth #6 Natural gas is more efficiently used providing electricity for a BEV than powering a hydrogen fuel call car.

I have contacted the California fuel cell partnership today with this information:

'Report:
http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0360544214008573/1-s2.0-S0360544214008573-main.pdf?_tid=661af8b4-667b-11e4-9a7a-00000aacb362&acdnat=1415364270_3144968c81eeb9b81d024ac1ba0a1e67

Table 3

Well to pump efficiency is shown as 85.1% for a fuel cell CNG vehicle using an on board reformer, and as 55% for a fuel cell vehicle, so reforming losses and further compression have clearly been accounted for in the hydrogen vehicle.

However the mpgge for both vehicles is then shown as 38.5.

On board reforming takes energy, so there is no way that they will be the same, and for the hydrogen vehicle the losses are taken twice.

They seem to be referring to a hypothetical vehicle, but the error is highlighted by looking at real H2 FCEV, where for instance the Hyundai Tucson which is bigger, heavier and less aerodynamic than the comparison vehicles and available now to lease is shown on the site as 50 mpgge

Applying that correction to table 14 and eyeballing the graph, the ~175g/km GGE comes down to around 135g/km. or around the same as the BEV using electricity from natural gas and substantially better than a BEV at the US grid mix.

This potential error needs to be checked and drawn to the attention of the report authors and the press, as hydrogen fuel cells should not be disadvantaged by claims that their greenhouse gas emissions are higher than they are.

In California the mandate for renewables for hydrogen in transport means that emissions will be lower still, and lower than emissions from a BEV using the US grid but with 25% renewables.

I would be grateful if you can either action this yourselves or give me a more appropriate contact if it is not within your remit'

the Green Car Congress covered this here:
http://www.greencarcongress.com/2014/09/20140924-onrl.html

clett

"fuel cells are much more efficient than internal combustion engines (ICEs)"

Peak fuel cell efficiency (~50-60%) is not that different from peak diesel engine efficiency these days (45-50%).

electric-car-insider.com

I love it when Hydrogen apologists trot out the line "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe" as if that had anything to do with the issue at all. OK, the sun is a big ball of Hydrogen, very slowly turning into helium. The best way to take advantage of that is to stick solar panels on my roof and plug in my car.

The other way, splitting water, costs about 10x as much. Stripping carbon off of methane doesn't solve the fossil fuel or climate change problems.

So why do hydrogen advocates continue to offer this canard?

Pure hokum.

Davemart

@clett:
Give it all she's got, Scotty, and darn the Carnot limit!

Davemart

ECI:

Still working nights then?

You usually charge your car using your solar panels?

Pure hokum.

So why do BEV only advocates continue to offer this canard?

electric-car-insider.com

Myth # 3

"Hyundai has announced it is leasing its hydrogen SUV for $499 a month, with fuel thrown in for free"

Nine EVs are available for less than $200 per month - from Ford, Chevy, Fiat/Chrysler, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Diamler and Honda (Honda is $249 including insurance).

Fuel is less than $50 per month, usually free if you switch to an EV Time of Use utility rate.

I didn't see a single reason listed in the entire article that made a compelling case for why I would want to drive a H2 car. Not a single reason.

I surely don't want to be tied to a fuel with limited availability that will cost more than gasoline, even in the optimistic scenario.

No, thanks. I'll keep my EV.

RFH

FYI, peak IC engine efficiency is not limited by the Carnot efficiency. It is not a reversible heat engine.

Nick Lyons

@RFH: You write:

FYI, peak IC engine efficiency is not limited by the Carnot efficiency. It is not a reversible heat engine.

Are not all heat engines subject to the limits of the Carnot cycle? What am I missing here?

electric-car-insider.com

Yes, Davemart. I have solar panels on my roof, and they charge my car as it sits in the garage immediately below. Except when I do a trade with the local utility, giving them my sunshine at peak hours when they need it, and getting it back at night when they have plenty of surplus capacity. They give it to me at a very steep discount then, about 1/3 the daytime price. So I get a 3:1 credit if I charge at night instead of during the day.

It doesn't make me feel any better when I charge directly from the panels during the day. Because I know that putting the power out on the grid, where other people need it during peak load, and getting it back at night when most people are sleeping is good business. And good for the environment.


Davemart

RFH:

True enough.

I was being flippant rather than analytic.

Just the same, one of the companies which makes some of the most efficient combustion engines on the planet, Toyota, is into fuel cells as they have more head room.

Diesel engines etc not only have much lower average efficiency than peak, but are a far more mature technology than fuel cells, although the latter have been around for a long time they need something approaching modern technology to be much use.

SJC

Myth # ECI

EV owners will never have to pay road taxes nor replace expensive battery packs.

electric-car-insider.com

Battery packs are warranted for at least 8 years, 100,000 miles. Tesla has an unlimited mile warranty. Studies of the Tesla Roadster battery demonstrate greater than expected longevity.

Same old FUD, SJC. Shame on you.

Roger Pham

The most important raison d'etre for FCEV is the ability to replace petroleum in surface transportation.
It may not seem important now that we are having a surplus of petroleum, but shale oil wells do not last for long and are quick to be depleted. Low-cost oil reserves are dwindling.

Even if FCEV's are selling very well now and taking 1/3 and then 1/2 of the new automotive market share, it will take 30-50 years for H2 to significantly replace 1/3-1/2 of petroleum's market share in order to ease another "oil shock."

Yet, the reality is that it may take another decade for FCEV's to gain that kind of market share if at all, due to the time it will take to ramp up production enough to bring the cost of FCEV's down to be competitive with ICEV's, AND for H2 to come down to 1/2-1/3 the cost per mile in comparison to an ICEV in order for the public to be compelled to buy FCEV's instead of ICEV's.

So, strong incentives and subsidies must be given to boost FCEV's sales and H2 infrastructure as fast as possible to prevent another "oil shock" that will devastate the economies world wide, as previous oil shocks have shown time and time again. Oil shocks will come suddenly, unannounced, and will bring a lot of miseries to the mass of people who are dependent on petroleum to get to work and to have their food and goods supplies daily, and to run farm equipments to produce their food...etc.

Plugged-in vehicles will not be able to replace ICEV's, simply because a lot of people do not want to have to bother with plugging-in their cars day to day. EV enthusiasts, yes, are happy to be able to plug-in their vehicles, but many if not most people do not want that little extra inconvenience of having to plug-in and plug-out in their daily life...especially when FCEV's will be able to reduce their fuel cost per mile to be 1/2 to 1/3 that of ICEV's today.

H2 can power heavy-duty vehicles essential for daily living, while battery are too bulky to power heavy duty vehicles because load capacity and range will be much reduced. That's why industrial fork lifts are powered by H2-FC instead by battery. Farmers can run their tractors off of H2 produced from wind and solar power in their own farms instead of having to depend on petroleum. Fertilizer can be made from solar and wind H2 instead of from Nat Gas that is a finite resource.

Energy security and food security are the two compelling reasons to push ahead for H2-FC NOW instead of waiting until we will be caught with our pants down again, like times and times again in the last and this century. Then, we ended up spending trillion of USD to send troops abroad to protect our oil supplies...producing looming national debts and tens of thousands veterans killed or worse off, maimed for life, and killing and maiming millions of innocent lives in other parts of the world where we sent troops!

WHAT IS A MORE HUMANE THING TO DO?
H2-FC...its not just an environmental issue, not just an economic issue, its a MORAL issue!

Davemart

ECI:

If someone says:
'It is as good as money in the bank'
offer to take the money instead, at a 10% discount and watch them backpeddle.

Why do battery only proponents routinely claim that they run their cars on solar when they don't?
It is because that elides the true problem with renewables, getting the power when you need it, which is turn is one of the driving rationales for hydrogen.

Electricity without the storage problem solved cannot be directly equated to hydrogen and fuel cells which address the issue.

It is hardly right to criticise the statement that hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, which is perfectly correct even is not very relevant, and then deliberately and wilfully miss-state as is customary the way you power your car.

A slightly irrelevant truth is preferable to entirely and wilfully false statements.

HarveyD

Relity says that both BEVs and FCEVs will progressively get to be better and cheaper to buy and to operate.

By 2020 or, they will compete with most ICEVs and may no longer require very large incentives.

However, liquid fuel Federal taxes should be progressively increased by at least one or two extra dollars per US gallon, to make polluters pay for incentives given to non-polluting vehicle buyers and to reduce oïl import and consumption.

SJC

Shame on you, you mislead people. Do you think that the battery pack is not prorated? Do you think that if the pack dies after 6 years they pay you the WHOLE price of a new pack?
I doubt that, before you mislead some more, learn the details and disclose them. By the way, how about those road taxes you are avoiding.

Nick Lyons

Hello, electric_car_insider--

Please check out:

http://www.caiso.com/Pages/TodaysOutlook.aspx#SupplyandDemand

Here in sunny California, on November 7, peak demand is right at 5pm PST. I doubt your solar panels will be producing much at this time. From the above page:

Higher levels of variable electricity generation increases the ISO operational need for resources with the technological flexibility to start and stop quickly, and maintain output for set periods of time, so we can match supply and demand at all times.

This means fast-response, low efficiency gas turbine generators, among others. Giving preferential pricing and grid access to unreliable generators such as wind and solar is skewing the economics of power generation.

BTW, I too have solar panels on my roof and benefit from net metering.

SJC

"Plug-In Cars estimates the replacement 85 kwh battery pack for the Model S could cost as much as $34,000."

www.digitaltrends.com/cars/tesla-to-offer-eight-year-warranty-on-battery-pack/#ixzz3IQL1DwtO

I will leave it to readers to determine whether they think that is F.U.D. or a factual quote. Actual facts are better than misleading exaggerations.

Davemart

@SJC:

You are in the right of it, the battery pack on a Tesla is likely to continue to offer useful range for the life of the car, with the caveat that we can't truly know calender life until the time has passed, unlike cycle life which is easier to test, so there is a slim but finite possibility that they will go kaput.

However when I had a good look and a think about the costs of the Tesla when the 3rd quarter results came out yesterday, I was staggered at how uneconomic they still are.

They got $63 million of ZEV credits and sold around 4,900 cars in the quarter in the US.
That's ~$13k per car.
Add in the $7,500 of Fed tax credits that almost all Tesla owners will qualify for, and the $2,500 for California, I understand, and you come to a staggering $23,000 cost to the public purse in foregone revenue for every car.

In addition they made a loss for the quarter on a GAAP basis of $75 million, which works out to a loss of $9,000 for the ~8k cars produced for the world.

So total losses and tax rebates amount to $32k per car, which is pretty much like getting them to build a car and offering a free battery pack courtesy of the Government and shareholders.
It is also around the average cost of a brand new conventional car.

No wonder the Tesla S is a sweet car, as the true cost runs at something like $130,000 a throw.

Sure, costs will drop, but at the moment they are wildly, extravagantly, uneconomic.

So are fuel cell cars, but they are not being produced in volume for rich cats, but on a small basis for fleets etc.

I was shocked when I worked out the figures, even though I support public money to encourage a fuel transition.

Davemart

Hmm, maybe it is not correct to treat the ZEV credits as a tax loss, but they certainly are extra money for the cars, so that they disguise the true cost per car.

Davemart

I think I misconstrued the debate between ECI and SJC and consequently made a comment which was not relevant or correctly attributed to their discussion.
Apologies.

SJC

"Nissan LEAF battery packs are warrantied against a capacity loss of 9 bars (approximately 70 per cent of the battery pack’s original capacity) for a period of 60 months or 60,000 miles. With eight bars of capacity remaining, translating to just 46 miles of range on a full charge..."

https://transportevolved.com/2014/08/07/nissan-leaf-battery-warranty-repair-whats-involved/

kelly

A CHEAP fuel cell might make a good, occasional use battery EV range extender, with stations only needed along interstates.

But SO much taxpayer money has been stolen by FC R&D(the 1970's space program knew the costs/limits) for decades through GM and other bankrupts.

Davemart

@kelly:
With $23,000 of tax breaks and ZEV credits for every rich man's toy Tesla sold in California, it is a bit rich to moan about grants for fuel cells.

The industrial chemists think they are a good alternative, and regrettably the authorities which dispense grants looked at what people who actually had the training to assess what might be viable said to allocate money instead of only allocating it to things you fancy.

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