Honda Leases FCX to First Individual Customers

June 29, 2005


American Honda Motor today announced the lease of its FCX fuel cell car (earlier post) to the world’s first individual customers, the Spallino family of Redondo Beach, California.

The Spallinos, who signed a two-year lease, will drive the FCX in everyday normal use, including the work commute from Redondo Beach to Irvine (approximately 41 miles each way over the 405). Honda chose the Spallinos for the test in part because they already own a CNG-fueled Honda Civic GX and are more accustomed to dealing with a limited number of fueling stations.


The Spallinos will have access to several hydrogen fueling stations (via the California Hydrogen Highway refueling initiative), including one at Honda’s headquarters in Torrance. An additional fueling station is available at LAX, to the north of Redondo Beach.

The family will pay $500 a month to lease the FCX—considerably cheaper than the $7,300+ per month charged to its Japanese customers (earlier post). The fee includes maintenance and insurance on a car costing more than $1 million.

Honda intends to lease several more FCXs to individual customers over the next year. Currently, the automaker has a fleet of 13 FCX fuel cell vehicles in regular daily use with six public municipal customers in California, New York and Nevada.

The FCX is the only hydrogen vehicle to date to be certified by both the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s Air Resources Board (CARB). The EPA certified the 2005 FCX as a Tier-2 Bin 1, and CARB certified the FCX as a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV).

The 2005 FCX model uses Honda own fuel cell stack (Honda FC Stack). The 2005 FCX carries an EPA city/highway rating of 62/51 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent and a range of 190 miles. (More specs here.)

Honda’s announcement came on the same day that GM released a survey on American’s Views of Emerging Automotive Technologies from which the company concluded, among other things, that:

...while the survey shows that Americans support the same goals that are at the heart of GM’s overall advanced technology strategy for improving efficiency [i.e., hydrogen], it’s troubling what little credit we’re getting. Clearly we’ve got our work cut out for us in communicating GM’s accomplishments and our commitment to developing advanced technologies.

Honda just widened that gap. While the leasing of the car to a private family will likely provide useful engineering and design feedback, the publicity attendant to it will further strengthen the popular perception of Honda as one of the leaders of emerging technology.

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Nanomaterials for Solar Hydrogen Production and Storage

Nanostructured materials are the basis for two research projects investigating the solar production of hydrogen and hydrogen storage.

Researchers from UC Santa Cruz, the University of Georgia and Nomadics are developing a device that integrates two kinds of solar cells—a photovoltaic cell to produce electricity and a photoelectrochemical cell to produce hydrogen from the electrolysis of water.

Both will use specially designed materials based on arrays of nanowires with uniform orientation. The main focus of the project will be on developing these nanostructured materials to optimize the efficiency of both the photovoltaic cell and the photoelectrochemical cell.

The researchers will use a technique called glancing angle deposition (GLAD) to fabricate the nanowire arrays.

Instead of requiring complex lithographic processing, GLAD uses computer-controlled substrate motion in conjunction with glancing incidence flux from physical vapour deposition to precisely tailor the structure of thin films. The geometry and porosity can be engineered to specific needs.

The goal is to produce clean energy. The idea of using solar energy and water as a source of hydrogen is very attractive, and we believe nanostructured materials can be used to do this efficiently.

We want to build a device that you can put in the sun, fill it with water, and get hydrogen without using any outside source of energy.

—Jin Zhang, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC and project lead

The hydrogen storage project, also involving UCSC and U of Georgia, with the addition of the Washington State University,  will also use the GLAD technique. One solution for hydrogen storage is to store it in  a solid form as a metal hydride compound. The researchers plan to find the optimum conditions for fabricating metal hydride nanostructures to achieve highly efficient hydrogen storage.

Both projects have received funding from the DOE.

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So Cal Edison Gets a DaimlerChrysler F-Cell

June 28, 2005


Southern California Edison (SCE) took possession of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered DaimlerChrysler F-Cell for operation and testing.

This F-Cell is not one of the new, higher-powered, longer-ranged B-class-based vehicles DaimlerChrysler introduced at the Geneva show in March (earlier post), but the earlier A-class-based vehicle.

The entire F-Cell fuel cell system is housed in the floor, leaving full use of the passenger and cargo spaces. It has a range of approximately 100 miles and a top speed of 85 mph. The electric motor develops 88 hp (65 kW), enabling acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 14 seconds. The stack is developed by DaimlerChrysler’s cooperation partner, Ballard Power Systems.

The next-generation F-Cell, by contrast, develops 100 kW and has a range of some 250 miles.

The SCE F-Cell is one of more than 100 fuel cell vehicles—the largest in the world—DaimlerChrysler has put into service worldwide. The data collected through vehicle operation will contribute to the DOE Hydrogen Learning Demonstration Project.

DaimlerChrysler has invested more than $1 billion in hydrogen fuel cell technology so far.

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SOLZINC: Storing Solar Energy in Zinc for Electricity or Hydrogen Production

June 26, 2005


An international research consortium has successfully built a 300-kW pilot plant that uses solar energy to reduce zinc oxide to zinc.

The zinc can be used in zinc-air batteries or be used to produce hydrogen by reacting it with water vapor. In both cases the zinc recombines with oxygen and zinc oxide is produced, which can be reused in the solar reactor to produce zinc once more. (Click on chart at right to enlarge.)

In essence, the process stores solar energy in a transportable metal carrier that then can release the energy as electricity or hydrogen.

The consortium consists of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ), the Weizmann Institute of Science, and others. Weizmann started working on this in 1997, but it was in 2001 that funding from the EU kicked in to the SOLZINC project.

The first trials of the solar power-plant have used 30% of available solar energy and produced 45 kg of zinc an hour, exceeding projected goals. During further tests this summer the team hopes to achieve a higher efficiency. The consortium projects efficiency levels of 50%–60% for industrial-size plants.


The process uses a two-cavity reactor design. Zinc oxide (ZnO) is combined with coal, coke or carbon biomass and placed into the outer cavity—the reaction chamber. An array of heliostats reflects solar rays to a hyperbolic mirror attached to the solar production tower, which in turn reflect the rays through a secondary concentrator in the reactor.

The solar radiation heats the inner cavity, which then indirectly heats the outer cavity. The sun’s rays are concentrated on this mixture by a system of mirrors. The zinc forms as a gas which is then condensed to a powder.

Straight thermal dissociation of ZnO requires operating temperatures above 1,750ºC. (And PSI is working on a solar reactor for that as well.) However, the use of a carbonaceous material as a reducing agent (e.g., coal, coke, biomass) reduces the required operating temperature to between 1,000ºC–1,400ºC. The SOLZINC process operates at approximately 1,200ºC.

One side-effect of operating at the lower temperature with carbon as a reactant is the release of CO2. The research team determined that:

...compared to the conventional fossil-fuel-based production of Zn, the solar-driven carbothermic process can reduce CO2 emissions by a factor of 5. If biomass is used as a reducing agent, the process has basically zero net CO2 emissions, if the production rate of biomass can be matched to its use as a reducing agent.


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Honda Working to Lower Price on Fuel Cell Cars to Gasoline-Equivalent

June 24, 2005

Bloomberg. Honda is targeting lowering the price of its fuel-cell-operated vehicles to about the same as that of regular gasoline-engine-powered cars by 2020.

Honda is shooting for a price for its fuel cell cars between ¥3 million (US$27,500) and ¥4 million  (US$36,600)— a similar price as that of its Accord sedan. Honda won’t put an exact price on the current FCX fuel-cell car, nor disclose its exact costs.

“The fuel-cell technology may never be used,” if no one is able to cut production costs by 2020, [Yozo] Kami [who leads the fuel cell project] said. It may take another 10 years from now to cut the cost of such vehicles to 10 million yen [US$92,000], he added.

Currently, Honda leases its FCX (earlier post) in Japan for ¥800,000 per month on a one year term—equivalent to some US$88,000 per year. Honda’s 19 customers for the FCX include the states of California and New York in the U.S. and the Hokkaido prefecture government in northern Japan.

“Honda’s technology is praiseworthy,” said Atsushi Kawai, an analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities Ltd. in Tokyo, who rates Honda shares “neutral.” “But it will be a long time before fuel cell cars can compete.”

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Ohio LandFill Gas Project to Produce Power, CNG, Methanol and Hydrogen

June 21, 2005

Business First. FirmGreen Energy is planning to build a landfill gas (LFG) project at the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio’s (SWACO) landfill in Grove City, near Columbus.

The US$18 million project—called a Green Energy Center by FGE— has three primary phases: the first, to produce power and heat with a microturbine burning LFG methane; second to convert LFG to CNG for vehicles; third to produce methanol for sale and in the production of biodiesel and hydrogen.

The core of the process is Acrion Technologies’ CO2 Wash—also being used in a prototype LFG project with Mack Trucks. (Earlier post.) FirmGreen is a licensee of the Acrion process.

Landfill gas is a natural product of the biological decomposition of organic waste. The resulting gas has a variety of chemical components, but at most sites the two principal components are methane (CH4) and CO2, with much smaller amounts of hydrogen sulfides (H2S), inerts and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

A big problem with LFG projects is the presence of trace components. Typical LFG contains heavy hydrocarbons (both aliphatic and aromatics such as benzene) as well as numerous chlorinated hydrocarbons. These trace compounds are in some cases toxic or hazardous and also cause rapid failure or engine and turbine components. There are now federal statutes which cover landfill emissions.


Acrion’s process removes contaminants from LFG using liquid carbon dioxide obtained directly from the LFG, and produces a stream of contaminant-free methane and CO2.

Contaminants are concentrated in a separate small stream of CO2 for incineration in the landfill flare.

The contaminant-free methane and CO2 stream can be used as medium BTU fuel gas, as a hydrogen source for the fuel cell or as feedstock for methanol synthesis. Further processing can separate CO2 from methane to produce pipeline methane or transportation fuel (compressed or liquefied), and liquid CO2.

(Brookhaven National Laboratory has signed a contract with Acrion to develop a process to produce marketable LNG and liquid CO2 from landfill gas.)

FGE has big plans for the GEC with the Acrion process. The planned LFG processing facilities will:

  • Generate up to 820 kW of electricity using Ingersoll Rand Micro-turbine technology.

  • Produce Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for SWACO’s landfill vehicles and local school buses.

  • Produce up to 6 million gallons of methanol per year for sale to Mitsubishi Gas Chemical.

  • Produce up to 75 tons per day of 99.9% pure liquid CO2.

  • Use LFG-derived methanol to produce up to 10,000,000 gallons of B100 biodiesel in conjunction with a sister biodiesel plant to be built.

  • Produce Hydrogen gas using Pressure Swing Absorption technology for experimental fuel cell technology development with Ohio State University.



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Morgan at Work on the Hydrogen Fuel Cell LIFEcar

June 19, 2005


Morgan Motor Company, the UK maker of the classic Morgan car, is building a hydrogen fuel-cell car based on its Aero 8 (shown at right). Partly supported by a £1.9 million (US$3.47 million; €2.84 million) grant from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Morgan LIFEcar will use a fuel cell developed by Qinetiq, while BOC produces the hydrogen refuelling plant.

Morgan also reportedly plans to use ultracapacitors in its energy storage solution. The project is currently targeting a prototype in two to three years. (Times)

We accept the problems of climate change and think that it would be irresponsible for any manufacturer not to act.

—Charles Morgan, LIFEcar project director

Morgan customers might be well suited in temperament to waiting to purchasing a unique hydrogen roadster.

Morgan launched its 150-mph Aero 8 in March 2000. To date, the company has sold 300 units, and has just had its latest version approved for the US market.

The waiting list for any Morgan in the UK is presently around 12 months—the shortest delivery time since the 1970s, according to the company.

The conventional Aero 8 uses an aluminum body and chassis, and is powered by a BMW 4.4-liter V-8 delivering 333 hp (248 Nm) and 331 lb-ft (449 Nm) of torque. The Aero 8 weighs 1,145 kg, and accelerates from 0–100kph in under 4.5 seconds.

The car consumes 10.9 liters of fuel per 100km (21.6 mpg US) on a combined drive cycle, and emits 264 g CO2/km.

It will be interesting to see what sort of performance targets Morgan will use with the fuel-cell LIFEcar. More details as they come.

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Japan Clears Toyota and Honda Fuel Cell Vehicles for Wider Sale

June 17, 2005

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) has given “motor vehicle type certification” to both the Toyota FCHV and the Honda FCX.

Up to now, MLIT granted certification to individual fuel cell vehicles for the purpose of testing on public roads. With new “type” certification, however, fuel cell vehicles no longer need to be cleared individually.

This thus is one step on the way to broader production and sales.

Toyota plans to begin wider leasing its FCHV 1 July. Since limited marketing of the FCHV began in Japan and the US in December 2002, 11 FCHVs have been leased in Japan and five in the US.

Honda has delivered a total of 19 FCX fuel cell vehicles to customers in the US and Japan since December 2002, when it delivered FCXs to both the Japanese Cabinet Office and the City of Los Angeles on the same day.

The company plans to begin leasing the FCX to private individuals in the US sometime this year.

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“What a Gas!”: NYT Reviews the Honda FCX

June 05, 2005


Jim Motavalli of The New York Times reviews the Honda FCX after an unsupervised week of driving.

This is a street-ready hydrogen car with license plates and no rough edges, a test bed for green technology worth well over $1 million.

[...]Given my experience with fuel-cell prototypes that were noisy, balky and incapable of going very far between refuelings, the FCX was something of a surprise. Featuring the latest generation of Honda’s own fuel cells (hundreds of them are arrayed in two multiple sets, called stacks) and a body and electric motor derived from the company’s unsuccessful EV Plus battery vehicle, the FCX felt like a real car, not a high-strung test mule.

[...] Honda hasn’t publicly disclosed its investment in hydrogen technology, but General Motors has committed more than $1 billion and produced only a handful of cars. When vehicles are hand-made by Ph.D.s as part of blue-sky research projects, can you even speculate on how much they are “worth”?

[...]At my daughters’ school, the youngsters were happy to squeeze into the back seat like college students in a phone booth. Their questions about fuel cells were simple.

“Is this the car of the future?” they asked. “Maybe,” I said.

An interesting sidenote—at least according the article, hybrid owners who encountered Motavalli and his FCX apparently asked “Do you have to plug it in?” A successful plug-in hybrid strategy will have some major PR work to do to counter the apparently automatic (and from what I can tell, unwarranted) bias against a plug-in architecture.

(A hat-tip to Robert B.!)

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BMW Hints at a Future Supercapacitor Hybrid

May 31, 2005

Edmunds.com interviews BMW’s Professor Raymond Freymann, the managing director of BMW Group Research and Technology. An aeronautical engineer by training, he has been at BMW for almost 20 years.

As the company has often said, BMW is bullish on hydrogen long-term, although not necessarily on fuel cells. Hence their emphasis on internal combustion engines fueled by hydrogen. BMW will be offering a bi-fueled (H2 and gasoline) 7 Series within two years—earlier post).

We think the future is not so radical. All of our consideration is on internal combustion engines. We’re not sure fuel cells will happen—other than as the power source for everything driven electronically, such as air conditioning, in-car entertainment, lights, etc. For this application, the fuel cell makes perfect sense. But as the power source for driving the car? That is a huge step.

Rather, we think the internal combustion engine, fuelled by liquid hydrogen is perfect. The technology exists. The internal combustion engine also offers much better power density and efficiency than fuel cells. Fuel cells have such a long way to go. I'm not sure anyone would be able to pay the bills.

Hydrogen will work best in direct-injection engines with supercharging. The thermal efficiency of a hydrogen internal combustion engine will be more than 50 percent. Gasoline engines currently operate below 40 percent and diesels just above 40 percent. The hydrogen engine will have more power and more torque. And no pollution. Initially, maybe we will make [hydrogen] from natural gas, but eventually all hydrogen will be produced using renewable energy—such as solar power.

Freymann predicts a peaking of diesel popularity in Europe as direct-injection gasoline engines gain greater presence. And he is somewhat dismissive of current hybrid designs (“two engines...simply add weight to the car, and add money to the car”).

Freymann indicated that BMW is working on a gasoline-electric hybrid, however, but using supercapacitors boosted by regenerative braking, rather than batteries.

[The super capacitors] are lighter and store less power, but unlike batteries we can use all their power—all 100 percent. An electric engine has a lot of torque at low revs—that is its main benefit—so it’s ideal for fast initial acceleration. At higher revs, once you’ve begun to accelerate, nothing can beat an internal combustion engine. Our hybrid approach combines the best characteristics of both engines.

BMW has worked on ISAD (Integrated Starter Alternator Damper)-like hybrid systems for a number of years, as chronicled in the IEA Implementing Agreement for Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Technologies and Programmes Overview Report 2000.


  • IEA Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Implementing Agreement website

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Ford Product Development VP on Powertrain Futures

all4engineers runs an interesting, albeit short,  interview with Richard Parry-Jones, Ford’s Executive Vice-President for product development, on Ford’s views and activities around different powertrains.

Parry-Jones touches on electric vehicles (“very, very limited”); hybrids (significant, but not taking over); hydrogen and diesel.

A few snippets:

[On Hydrogen Internal Combustion engines] A second reason is that there is no guarantee that fuel cells will work. I think they will, but I would not swear my daughter’s life on it. And hydrogen/internal combustion provides a back-up. If we get into an energy crunch, we have another way to go. It’s not as efficient as fuel cells, but it’s not a bad idea.

[On hydrogen fuel] There are no easy wins. If you reduce natural gas to create hydrogen, the cost of fuel is approximately five times higher than using oil. The cost of oil will rise to the point where that becomes viable. But longer term, to really address CO2, we need to find a sequestering technology to sequester the carbon after we liberate the hydrogen, and if we go even longer term, we have to find renewable sources of energy.The oil crunch I talk about is not just around the corner. It will be 40 years at least to work this out. But we have to find a replacement for the energy, not just the oil.

[On Diesel] I believe clean diesels can play a role in this [North American] market, not starting with passenger cars in my opinion, but coming down from pickups.

[On the 2.7-liter diesel shown in the Mercury MetaOne concept diesel hybrid (post)] No [we can’t bring that engine to North America]. There is a new regime coming along, Euro V, and probably an Euro VI after that, which have increasingly stringent levels for particulate and NOx emissions. The North American legislation, after low-sulphur fuel becomes available in 2006, is going to be Tier 2 Bin 5, which is more stringent than Euro V. Although we could sell that engine today in North America, we won't be able to keep it. We and anyone else who wants to sell in North America is going to have to invent some new technology. I tell our engineers, don't moan about it, fix it.

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Purolator Introduces Hybrids and FCV into its Fleet

May 28, 2005


Purolator Courier Ltd., Canada’s largest overnight courier company, formally introduced ten hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and one hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid electric vehicle (FC-HEV) into its Toronto curb-side delivery fleet in a large-scale pilot program. The company plans to integrate an additional 20 HEVs into its fleet in other major metropolitan areas in Canada.

Purolator took delivery of the first hybrid van in November 2004.

The company expects the HEVs to eliminate up to 50%, and the FC-HEVs up to 100%, of greenhouse gasses currently emitted with conventional gasoline/diesel delivery vehicles. If the operational results match these expectations, then Purolator intends to add up to 400 HEV vehicles to its fleet annually as it replenishes vehicles.

We are proud to be the first Canadian courier company to start the transition to hybrid electric vehicles and to introduce a fuel cell hybrid electric vehicle to our fleet. With the significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions and fuel savings promised by HEVs, we believe that our customers, our employees, the environment and our company will all benefit. We know this first step will show the way and help alleviate some of the air pollution problems that can exist in a large city. It’s truly a strategic decision for us that will have a long term impact. The piloting of this green technology takes us one step closer to realizing our vision to lead the industry to a future standard of zero vehicle emissions.”

—Robert Johnson, President and CEO of Purolator

In tandem with the launch of the FC-HEV and HEVs, Purolator is developing an on-site hydrogen production, storage and refuelling/dispensing facility. Purolator’s other environmental initiatives include:

  • A strict no-idling policy that helps conserve fuel and reduces emissions

  • A route optimization program that reduces overall distances travelled by vehicles thereby minimizing fuel consumption and emissions


The Purolator FC-HEV, developed with Enova’s 120-kW electric drive system and a Hydrogenics (who also developed on the on-site hydrogen production system) 65-kW stack, is one of the first complete hydrogen fuel cell applications in a Canadian fleet environment, including everything from hydrogen generation and refuelling to the power module.

The Government of Canada invested more than $2.6 million in the fuel cell project, including $1.9 million from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), through the Canadian Transportation Fuel Cell Alliance, and more than $770,000 from Industry Canada’s Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC), through its Hydrogen Early Adopters program.

The FC-HEV project is also one of the first in a series of strategic early deployments of Fuel Cell technology as part of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) Hydrogen Village program. The GTA Hydrogen Village is a partnership of some 40 companies dedicated to the development of a sustainable commercial market for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the GTA.

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California Rolls out $54M Hydrogen Highway Plan

May 26, 2005

The California Environmental Protection Agency formally released the California Hydrogen Highway Network Blueprint Plan (CA H2 Net)—a blueprint that calls for the development of a network of hydrogen stations throughout California to help accelerate the transition to a sustainable hydrogen economy.

The first phase of the Blueprint Plan calls for development of up to 100 refueling stations and 2,000 hydrogen vehicles in the state by 2010. There are more than 40 current or planned stations throughout the state and a small number of vehicles provided by all major auto makers who are investing heavily in hydrogen vehicle technology.

The plan calls for the state to provide $53.4 million in matching funds to industry to build the 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego. Because 39 already exist or are planned soon, 61 new stations, at a cost of about $1 million each, would need to be built by 2010. The funding also would provide state grants to automakers of $10,000 per vehicle.

Last year, Governor Schwarzenegger called for up to 200 stations 20 miles apart on major freeways. The planners decided that it would be best to group stations first where most people live. Accordingly, the blueprint sets a goal of 250 stations statewide linking north and south in Phase 2, which could occur by 2015.

The California legislature needs to approve the funding. Should that happen, California will take the lead among the different state initiatives.


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DOE and USDA to Collaborate on Biomass-to-Hydrogen; DOE Awards $64M in Other Hydrogen Research

May 25, 2005


The Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working together to develop cost-effective technologies for hydrogen production from biomass resources.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two agencies today, DOE and USDA experts will meet regularly to share information on technologies and activities related to reducing the cost of chemically converting biomass to hydrogen.

Some biomass sources that can be used for hydrogen production include ethanol, crop and forest residues, and dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass or willow.

A good deal of the initial focus of the partnership is on speeding the deployment of hydrogen technology in the agriculture industry and in rural communities: renewable, farm-based biomass can fuel hydrogen production; agricultural vehicles fueled by hydrogen can have the same efficiency and environmental benefits planned for light-duty cars and trucks; and hydrogen fuel cell technology can provide power for remote locations and communities.

Biomass technologies hold great promise for our rural communities and are a promising route to renewable hydrogen production.

—Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman

Current DOE bio-hydrogen research falls into two categories:

  • Biological hydrogen production. Work in this area seeks to increase the efficiency of organisms that produce hydrogen as a byproduct—e.g., anaerobic fermentation systems, or photolytic hydrogen production.

  • Biomass-based hydrogen production. Work in this area explores improving gasification and pyrolysis technologies for low-cost biomass and wastes, and advanced reforming and shift technologies to reform hydrogen from the syngas. (I.e., similar to current Steam Methane Reforming, but using bio-mass derived syngas as the feedstock.)

Currently, there are three funded projects on biomass underway:

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is working on biomass pyrolysis followed by reforming of the resulting bio-oil to hydrogen.

  • Iowa State University is researching indirectly heated gasification systems to convert switchgrass into hydrogen.

  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is exploring aqueous phase biomass gasification.

Separately, Secretary Bodman announced  the selection of more than $64 million in hydrogen research and development projects.

  • Novel Materials for Hydrogen Storage (17 projects, $19.8 million over three years). A broad range of research in hydrogen storage is covered by these selected projects, including complex hydrides; nanostructured and novel materials; theory, modeling, and simulation; and state-of-the-art analytical and characterization tools to develop novel storage materials and methods.

  • Membranes for Separation, Purification, and Ion Transport (16 projects, $12.3 million over three years). Novel membranes are needed to selectively transport atomic, molecular, or ionic hydrogen and oxygen for hydrogen production and fuel cell applications.   The 16 projects selected, which include 13 universities and 3 national laboratories, address integrated nanoscale architectures; fuel cell membranes; and theory, modeling, and simulation of membranes and fuel cells.

  • Catalyst Design at the Nanoscale (18 projects, $15.8 million over three years). Catalysts are needed for converting solar energy to chemical energy, producing hydrogen from water or carbon-containing fuels such as coal and biomass, increasing efficiency in hydrogen storage kinetics, and producing electricity from hydrogen in fuel cells.  Nanoscale catalyst designs will be explored through 18 projects involving 12 universities and 5 national laboratories. Research areas include innovative synthetic techniques; novel characterization techniques; and theory, modeling, and simulation of catalytic pathways.

  • Solar Hydrogen Production (13 projects, $10 million over three years). Efficient and cost-effective conversion of sunlight to hydrogen by splitting water would be a major enabling technology for a viable hydrogen economy. Hydrogen production via solar energy conversion will be studied through 13 projects at 8 universities, 1 industry company, and 3 national laboratories.  The projects address nanoscale structures; organic semiconductors and other high performance materials; and theory, modeling, and simulation of photochemical processes.

  • Bio-inspired Materials and Processes (6 projects, $7 million over three years). Fundamental research into the molecular mechanisms underlying biological hydrogen production is the key to the ability to adapt, exploit, and extend what nature has accomplished for our own renewable energy needs.   Bio-inspired materials and processes for hydrogen production will be investigated through 6 projects at 5 universities and 1 national laboratory. Research includes enzyme catalysis; bio-hybrid energy coupled systems; and theory, modeling, and nanostructure design. This clearly will be enter into the collaboration with the USDA.


  • List of Selected DOE Hydrogen Research Projects

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ZAP and Apollo Demo On-Board Ammonia Reformer for Alkaline Fuel Cell Car

May 23, 2005

ZAP and its technology partner Apollo Energy Systems announced the successful demonstration of an on-board ammonia reformer—the“Ammonia Cracker”—to produce hydrogen for use in a ZAP-Apollo alkaline fuel cell (AFC)-powered vehicle.

In August 2004, ZAP announced a partnership with Apollo to develop a prototype alkaline fuel cell car based on the Smart cars that ZAP imports and modifies.

The approach is to develop an on-board reforming capability to fuel the alkaline fuel cell. (Thus the basic components of the system would be on-board ammonia storage, the on-board reformer, and the alkaline fuel cell itself.) The Smart Car prototype will use a 60 kW Apollo Fuel Cell, equipped with an 8.7 gallon ammonia fuel tank, and will have a cruising range of up to 200 miles per refueling.

Apollo’s fuel cell technology can jump start the hydrogen economy. The easiest and least expensive way to move Hydrogen from Point A to Point B is to use ammonia. Seventy-five percent of ammonia (NH3) is hydrogen. Ammonia can be added inexpensively as a component of today’s gas stations, without costly hydrogen extractors, allowing the refueling of fuel cell cars today, years ahead of other hydrogen solutions.

—Robert Aronsson, President of Apollo Energy Systems


Alkaline fuel cells (AFCs) were one of the first fuel cell technologies developed, and were widely used in the US space program to produce electrical energy and water onboard spacecraft. (Apollo Energy Systems has decades of experience with AFCs and a long history of fuel cell vehicle prototypes).

AFCs use a solution of potassium hydroxide (KOH) in water as the electrolyte and can use a variety of non-precious metals as a catalyst at the anode and cathode. In the AFC, hydrogen reacts with hydroxyl ions (OH-) at the anode to produce water and electrons. The electrons flow through the external circuit to return to the cathode, where they react with oxygen to create the hydroxyl ions.

In a PEM cell, hydrogen is split at the anode, with protons traveling across the membrane to the cathode where they combine with oxygen and the electrons (which have travelled to the cathode from the anode via an external circuit) to create water.

AFCs offer a number of benefits. They are extremely efficient, and do not need to rely on the precious metal catalysts that contribute to high prices in PEM cells. AFCs operate well at room temperature, and have a good cold start capability.

However, they are easily poisoned by carbon dioxide, the presence of which in either the hydrogen or the oxygen stream leads to the formation of carbonate crystals, capable of blocking the electrolyte pathways and pores.

This vulnerability has, in the past, required that both the hydrogen and the oxygen used in the cell be purified—an expensive process. Even the small ambient amount of CO2 in the air can affect the cell’s operation.

The approach that Apollo and its collaborators at the Graz University of Technology (Graz, Austria) are taking to address this is to use a simple absorbing tower (with soda lime or amines) to remove CO2 from air, and to use a recirculating electrolyte to minimize the absorption of CO2. The use of the on-board ammonia reformer for hydrogen production delivers a hydrogen stream with a consistent purity.

ZAP also has a PEM fuel cell vehicle project underway, this one with Anuvu as its partner, and is targeting production of the vehicle sometime this year. (Earlier post.)


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Norway Funds its Hydrogen Road

May 20, 2005


Norway is allocating NOK 48.6 million (US$7.5 million, €6.0 million) for testing alternative fuels and environmentally friendly technology. Of that, 62%—NOK 30.2 million (US$4.6 million, €3.7 million)—will go to the HyNor project, which wants to build a hydrogen highway between the cities of Oslo and Stavanger.

HyNor is a Norwegian joint industry initiative to implement demonstrations of a hydrogen energy infrastructure along a route of 580 kilometers (360 miles) from Oslo to Stavanger during the years 2005 to 2008. The project  will touch on the multiple steps required to develop a hydrogen infrastructure and will include demonstrations of various hydrogen production technologies and uses of hydrogen, adapted to local conditions.

Christopher Kloed from Norsk Hydro is leading the project. Some NOK 16.2 million (US$2.5 million, €2.0 million) is targeted for Hydro’s establishing a hydrogen filling station in the industrial area of Grenland in Porsgrunn. The filling station may be located in close proximity to Hydro’s research park there, and could utilize surplus hydrogen manufactured by established industry in the area.

Norsk Hydro electrolyzers were used in the first hydrogen station on Iceland, opened in 2003. The electricity used during the electrolytic process there is obtained from Iceland’s natural geothermal and hydroelectric energy sources.


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ZESTFUL: Prototype Plug-in Fuel Cell Hybrid

May 17, 2005

UK researchers are developing a zero-emissions plug-in hybrid London Taxi powered by a large high-energy Zebra battery pack and a small 6 kW hydrogen fuel cell stack that essentially functions as a range extender.



Prof. Nigel Schofield (Manchester University), the project leader, is presenting a paper describing the project this week at the IEEE International Electric Machines and Drives Conference (IEMDC) in Austin, Texas.

The purpose of the project is to explore the potential for using a small fuel cell stack in conjunction with a more robust energy storage system—essentially using a plug-in hybrid architecture to downsize the fuel cell stack. This theoretically can reduce the cost and engineering issues attendant with an application that relies upon a fuel cell for primary power.

Accelerating a 2.5-tonne London taxi from a set of lights requires something like 80kW peak power. If you went to a total fuel cell solution, you would have to have 80–100kW worth of installed fuel cell on the vehicle, and the cost, mass and volume of that would not be commercially competitive, as compared to a hybrid solution.

—Prof. Schofield (The Engineer)

The project, called ZESTFUL (Zero Emission Small vehicle with Integrated High Temperature Battery and Fuel Cell), is one of the Foresight Vehicle’s supported projects within the Hybrid, Electric and Alternatively Fueled Vehicle (HEAFV) group.

The Foresight Vehicle Initiative is administered by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Limited (SMMT).

The prototype uses two 40 kW Zebra sodium nickel chloride (Na/NiCl2) batteries and a 6 kW PEM fuel cell stack (two 3 kW units) produced by MES-DEA in Switzerland. Ninety liters of compressed hydrogen gas at 230 bar (3,336 psi) are stored in carbon composite cylinders. The hybrid uses regenerative braking and plug-in to the grid to recharge the battery pack.

Each battery has its own associated charger which connects to 240V, 50Hz supply for overnight or downtime opportune charging.

The Zebra Z5C battery, with its ceramic electrolyte, has an operating temperature of around 300°C (572ºF)—the battery pack thus needs to be enclosed in a thermally insulated box, and is bulky. Hence, it tends to turn up applied in larger vehicles. ISE Corporation, for example, has used Zebra packs in its hybrid buses.


The team ran simulations testing six case studies: four in pure battery mode (full EV), comparing the Zebra and more common lead-acid batteries (Pb-acid), and two assessing the performance of the combined Zebra and fuel-cell hybrid.

Use of the hybrid architecture doubled the range of the standalone Zebra EV from 120 km (75 miles) to 240 km (149 miles).

The electric cab will start track testing later this year.

This project will provide some insight into the long-term viability of a plug-in architecture, and points the way to perhaps a more tractable way to phase-in the use of fuel cells.


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New Toyota Hydrogen Tanks Offer More Capacity, Longer Life

May 16, 2005

Toyota has developed two new high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks featuring greater capacity and longer operational life for its fuel cell vehicles. The tanks offer 35 megapascal (350 bar or 5,000 psi)  storage and 70 megapascal (700 bar or 10,000 psi) storage.

Toyota designed the new high-pressure tanks are with an all-composite structure wrapped by a carbon fiber exterior and with an anti-leak liner made of high-strength nylon resin with superior hydrogen permeation-prevention performance.

The use of a nylon resin tank liner allows the liner to be thinner, meaning that the new 350-bar tank can hold 10% more hydrogen than the same-exterior-size 350-bar tank Toyota used before.

The extra capacity extends the cruising range of Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell hybrid passenger vehicle from 300 km (186 miles) to 330 km (205 miles) in the Japanese test cycle.

The new 700-bar tank stores approximately 1.7 times more hydrogen than the previous 350-bar tank, resulting in a cruising range of more than 500km (311 miles) in the Japanese test cycle.

Both tanks have been certified by the High Pressure Gas Safety Institute of Japan—the 35MPa tank in April of last year and the 70MPa tank this past January. Additionally, this April, the 35MPa tank met the Institute’s new technical standard established in March for compressed hydrogen automobile fuel tanks, allowing it to be used for 15 years, compared to three years for previous tanks.

Both tanks also feature a high-pressure valve developed within the Toyota Group. This valve follows a new design that positions a solenoid shut-off valve inside the tank for increased reliability.

Although Toyota is clearly better known for its hybrid vehicle development, the company has pursued hydrogen technology as a longer-term solution in parallel. Toyota has developed all major fuel cell system components for its fuel cell vehicles itself, including the fuel cell stack.

Since 2002, 11 Toyota FCHVs have been leased in Japan and five in the U.S. Toyota is also active in applying its fuel cell technology to buses. In addition to conducting real-world verification tests with a fuel cell bus prototype operating within Tokyo’s metropolitan public bus system, Toyota currently has eight units of its FCHV-BUS transporting visitors between various venues at the EXPO 2005, Aichi, Japan. (Earlier post.)

Toyota will present technical details of the newly developed hydrogen tanks at the 2005 JSAE Annual Congress (Spring) to be held at the Pacifico Yokohama complex from May 18.

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Hydrogen Economy Decades Away

May 12, 2005

Three researchers, who contributed to the report prepared by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Engineering on the prospects for a hydrogen economy, conclude in new article that, if achievable, it will take “several decades” to overcome technical challenges standing in the way of the mass production and use of hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Energy is one of the grand challenges facing the global community. While the use of H2 as an energy carrier has been demonstrated, its wide-scale use is laden with potential technical, economic, and societal impasses. Some major obstacles to an H2 economy are: reduction in fuel cell cost by one order-of-magnitude while enhancing performance attributes; storage and transportation of H2; and evolution of a suitable infrastructure.

If successful, an H2 economy and associated infrastructure will not be realized for several decades. Because success is not certain, it will be wise to maintain a robust portfolio of energy research and development that includes programs in areas other than H2.

The article, written by Rakesh Agrawal, Purdue University’s Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, Martin Offutt, from the National Research Council, and Michael P. Ramage, a retired executive from ExxonMobil, appears in the June issue of the AIChE Journal, the publication of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.


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Air Products Selects Proton for Hydrogen Electrolysis in H2 Stations

May 09, 2005

Air Products has selected Proton, a subsidiary of Distributed Energy Systems Corp., as the preferred supplier for its electrolysis-based hydrogen energy stations.

Under the supply agreement, Proton’s HOGEN hydrogen generators, which produce hydrogen from electricity and water using its proprietary PEM water electrolysis technology, will initially be used at three previously announced Air Products fueling stations to be placed in California in 2005.

PEM water electrolysis uses electricity, a catalyst and a proton exchange membrane (PEM) to split water (H2O) into molecules of hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O). PEM electrolysis is essentially the reverse of a PEM fuel cell operation, in which hydrogen is the input and water and electricity the outputs.


California South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) recently selected Air Products for fueling stations to be placed in Burbank, Riverside and Santa Monica.  Air Products and Proton have also collaborated on fueling stations to be located in Vermont (earlier post), and at a station soon to be dispensing hydrogen for bus transportation at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

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Nissan to Lease Fuel Cell X-Trails in US Within 2 Years

May 07, 2005

AutoWeek reports that Nissan will offer leases on limited numbers of fuel cell X-Trails (earlier post) in the United States within two years.

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Metal-Decorated Nanotubes Promising for Hydrogen Storage

May 04, 2005


National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists are predicting that carbon nanotubes “decorated” with titanium or other transition metals can latch on to hydrogen molecules in numbers sufficient for efficient hydrogen storage—a key enabler for long-term efforts to develop affordable hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

In the model to the right, the carbon nanotubes are represented in light blue, the titanium atoms in dark blue, and the hydrogen molecules in red.

Using established quantum physics theory, theorist Taner Yildirim and physicist Salim Ciraci, both of Turkey’s Bilkent University, found that hydrogen can amass in amounts equivalent to 8% percent of the weight of “titanium-decorated” single-walled carbon nanotubes. That’s one-third better than the 6 wt.% minimum storage-capacity requirement set by DOE for 2010. (The target is 9 wt.% for 2015.)

Equally important, the four hydrogen molecules that dock to a titanium atom are relinquished readily when heated. Such reversible desorption is another requirement for practical hydrogen storage.

Carbon nanotubes are among the promising candidates for next-generation hydrogen storage (earlier post). Achieving 6 wt.% storage, though, has been problematic. Positioning a titanium atom above the center of the hexagonally arranged carbon atoms (the repeating geometric pattern characteristic of carbon nanotubes) appears to resolve the impasse.

Yildirim and Ciraci are reporting their findings in Physical Review Letters: T. Yildirim and S. Ciraci, “Titanium-Decorated Carbon Nanotubes as a Potential High-Capacity Hydrogen Storage Medium”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 94, p. 175501 (2005).

NIST suggests that more information such as animation of the reaction paths and MD simulations can be obtained at www.ncnr.nist.gov/staff/taner/h2, but that link was not live at the time of this writing.

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Ford Puts Hydrogen Shuttles into Palm Springs Region

May 02, 2005

Ford Motor Company, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Clean Cities Coachella Valley Region (C3VR) Coalition announced a multi-year partnership that will place at least five hydrogen-fueled E-450 shuttles in operation next year in California’s Coachella Valley.

The announcement was made in conjunction with the 11th Annual Clean Cities Conference being held in Palm Springs.

C3VR will manage the demonstration program using Ford’s V-10, H2ICE E-450 shuttles (earlier post). The Tribe may operate the vehicles, and both groups will work with the national Clean Cities program to identify additional funding sources for the fleet.

The H2ICE E-450 delivers up to 99.7% reduction in operational CO2. The shuttle seats up to 12 passengers and their luggage, including the driver, and offers a range of up to 150 miles depending on conditions and vehicle load.

Ford plans to produce up to 100 hydrogen V-10, E-450 hydrogen buses for delivery to fleet customers in 2006.

Coachella Valley is also home to SunLine Transit Agency. In 1994, SunLine became the first public transit fleet in the nation to switch entirely from diesel to CNG. Since then, the agency has been aggressively exploring other alternative fuel options—especially hydrogen.

In 2000, SunLine opened up its own hydrogen generation/storage/fueling facility—the first such built by a public transit agency. The alternative fueling depot, which is also open to the public, provides CNG, LNG, HCNG (an 80% methane/20% hydrogen mix which Sunline is testing in its buses) and hydrogen.

One of the vehicles under test by Sunline is an H2ICE series hybrid-electric bus using...the Ford V-10 hydrogen engine. In this configuration, the hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine drives the generator which produces the electricity to power the bus. (Earlier post.)

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Enova Electric Drives in Two More Fuel Cell Prototypes

April 28, 2005

Enova Systems’s 120 kW HybridPower drive systems are being used in two different fuel cell-powered ground support equipment prototypes and tests for the US Air Force.

In the first, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, which operates the Department of Defense (DoD) Fuel Cell Test and Evaluation Center (FCTec), is integrating the Enova drive system with a Hydrogenics HyPM 65 kW fuel cell system in an MB-4 aircraft tow tractor.

The MB-4 tow tractor vehicle will be tested in fuel cell demonstrations at select Air Force Bases and civil airports in the United States.

In the second project, Enova contracted with the High Technology Development Corporation (HTDC) and the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies (HCATT) in Hawaii to integrate and to evaluate a fuel cell hybrid step van for Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu.

The Enova 120 kW electric drive motor delivers 650 Nm (480 lb-ft) torque.

Enova has worked with HCATT and Hickham in the past on other airport bus and electric vehicle projects. In late 2004, Enova also teamed with Hydrogenics to develop and deploy a fuel cell hybrid delivery van for Purolator Courier.

Enova Systems (formerly US Electricar) has been partnering with Hyundai for years on the research and development of all electric, hybrid electric, and fuel cell drive systems. Hyundai Motors and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) took equity stakes in Enova, and in 2003 the companies opened the joint Hyundai Enova Innovative Technology Center.

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Delta to Use Ford Hydrogen-Fueled Tow Tractors


Ford Motor Company, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), TUG Technologies Corporation, Delta Airlines and the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) announced a partnership that will put two hydrogen-fueled airport tow tractors into service at the Orlando airport.

The M1A tow tractor uses a Ford Power Products 4.2-liter, V-6 industrial engine converted and calibrated to operate on gaseous hydrogen. The naturally-aspirated H2ICE tractor will deliver approximately 80 hp (60 kW).

This engine has previously been a key power source to the airport ground support equipment (GSE) market in gasoline, natural gas and LPG configurations.

Ford 4.2-liter V-6 Engine
 GasolineLPGNatural GasHydrogen
Power hp (kW)125 (93)114 (85)102 (76)80 (60)
Torque lb-ft (Nm)206 (279)201 (272)182 (246)n/a

The near-zero operational emissions from the hydrogen engine makes it attractive for airport environments, where emissions levels are strictly regulated.

Delta will put two of these TUG hydrogen tractors into service as baggage carriers at the Orlando International Airport later this summer.

Ford is also producing eight V-10, E-450 H2ICE shuttle buses for operation in the Orlando area (including the Orlando airport) upon delivery in 2006.

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Fraunhofer Fuel Cell-Flywheel Hybrid Tram

April 26, 2005


Fraunhofer Institute for Transport and Infrastructure Systems (IVI) in Germany has developed a fuel cell-flywheel hybrid trolley (tram). The fuel cell-based system is a derivative of an earlier diesel-powered hybrid version.

The two-car hydrogen AutoTram is powered by a 80kW Ballard fuel cell system and three electric motors. Roof-mounted tanks hold 10 kg of compressed hydrogen at 200 bar (2,900 psi).

The tram uses a 325 kW flywheel from CCM with a capacity of 4 kWh for energy storage, recharged through regenerative braking, power from the fuel cell or a quick plug-in at a station.

(Earlier post on flywheel hybrids here.)

With a top speed of 60km/h, the tram is optically guided and runs trackless.


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U of Minn Launches Wind-to-Hydrogen Project

April 23, 2005


Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other dignitaries dedicated the only public large-scale wind research instrument in the United States designed to conduct research on converting wind power into hydrogen.

The 1.65 MW research wind turbine will sit on a 230-foot high tower.  Each blade is 135 feet long. The turbine begins producing electricity when the wind speed reaches 7.8 mph at 230-feet and will reach its maximum production of 1.65 MW at wind speeds of 29 mph. Researchers at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) in Morris, the turbine’s location, estimate that based on local wind conditions, the turbine will produce 5.6 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of power each year.

(The picture at right, from WCROC, shows the turbine in the final stages of assembly.)

The electricity presently is delivered to the nearby UMM campus, supplying some 50% of its power use, and any remaining goes to the grid. the hydrogen project will divert that surplus into electrolytic production of hydrogen.

This system will explore the use of renewable hydrogen in applications such as  fuel cells and localized fertilizer production. In the future, the facility will conduct research and demonstration projects on wind energy storage and on-demand renewable energy systems such as biomass and biodiesel generation, in addition to hydrogen fuel cells.

The production of hydrogen using wind-generated electricity is projected—long term—to be one of the least expensive and cleanest options for creating the gas.

The wind-to-hydrogen project at the WCROC has received initial funding from the state Commerce Department Energy Office, the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, Xcel Energy and the university’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE).

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ChevronTexaco: An Approach to Distributed Hydrogen Production

April 22, 2005

Clearly, one of the major requirements for a hydrogen-based transportation system is the production of the hydrogen itself.


At the recent Hydrogen Expo USA in Washington, ChevronTexaco Technology Ventures (CTTV) and Modine Manufacturing presented a paper outlining their development of an innovative, distributed, natural-gas-fed, smaller scale Steam Methane reformer for hydrogen production.

In principle, ChevronTexaco believes that development of an economic distributed hydrogen infrastructure is fundamental to the success of a hydrogen economy and the commercialization of fuel cells in both transport and stationary power applications.

The new compact reformer design features mechanical as well as thermal integration of the steam reforming, catalytic oxidizer, and water-gas shift reactions in a single vessel.  The design is thermally neutral and requires no external cooling and no control loops, and improves the energy balance of an SMR system.

The production design target for the system is approximately 40kg of hydrogen per day—enough to service a neighborhood’s worth of hydrogen-fueled cars.

The company concludes that its design has the potential to surpass the near-term targets set by the DOE for hydrogen cost: $13.94/GJ or $1.98/kg by this year. CTTV calculations yield a total reforming cost of $12.95/GJ or $1.84/kg.

However, despite the energy and economic improvements delivered through this design, the compact reformer still operates at a negative energy balance (i.e., more energy is used in producing the hydrogen than is obtained from the hydrogen), and hydrogen costs linked to the cost of natural gas seem bound to rise steeply.

Natural gas is only a short-term option.

—Jack Johnston, ExxonMobil, GCEP presentation

CTTV used a hypothetical cost of $4.00/MMBTU of natural gas in its calculations. The spot price for natural gas at Henry Hub for the week of 13–20 April 2005 was, by contrast, $7.10/MMBTU. The industrial market hasn’t seen $4.00 natural gas since 2002.

This doesn’t reflect a problem with the CTTV design—as noted above (and as we’ll explore a bit more below), it is energy- and cost-efficient within its class. It does, however, highlight the larger problem of Steam Methane Reforming as a process with natural gas as its feedstock for the production of hydrogen.

Some quick background first.

Hydrogen is prevalent on earth, but is usually bonded to carbon or oxygen—e.g., “hydrocarbon” fuels, biomass, or water. It takes energy to break those bonds. There are a variety of processes for this, with more under development.

The US already produces 9 million tons of hydrogen per year primarily for use in ammonia production, petroleum refining, and methanol production, with steam methane reforming accounting for 95% of that production. Globally, the figure is closer to 48%.

The DOE notes that 9 million tons of hydrogen would power 20–30 million cars.

The basic Steam Methane Reforming process uses steam to heat natural gas to approximately 850ºC over a nickel catalyst bed, yielding  a mixture of CO and H2O. The mixture is then cooled and catalyzed with steam again to yield pure hydrogen and CO2 (lots of CO2).


At this point, SMR is the most cost-effective process for hydrogen production. That will change, as the projection of the cost curves of select processes and feedstocks plotted to the right from Dr. Yogi Goswami at the University of Florida shows. (Click to enlarge.)

Shown on this graph is the DOE target price for hydrogen produced from natural gas in 2010: $10.56/GJ or $1.50/kg. The DOE has higher-priced targets for other processes. 

Given the probable supply constraints with natural gas in the future, the cost outlook for natural gas may even shift further to the left—i.e., cost more, sooner.

There are a variety of process approaches that are being explored to reduce the energy imbalance in the production of hydrogen from natural gas, and to sequester the CO2 thereby generated. Little of that will be able to affect the cost aspect, however. That alone—should the price of natural gas continue to rise—may be enough to make this approach a non-starter in the medium- to long-term.

That also begs the question of where the 9 million tons (and rising) already spoken for in the US will come from, and how cost-effectively.

Gloom about the feedstock aside, the CTTV approach seems pretty interesting. The company’s key attributes for the reformer are:

  1. Safe, robust and reliable

  2. Low operating cost through improved fuel efficiency

  3. Low capital costs through reduced system components and controls complexity

  4. Manufacturable in high volumes

The process chemistry for small scale SMR is the same as in a large scale refinery, but the authors of the paper point out that there are severe economy-of-scale penalties.

Scaling the process down from larger systems results in greater heat losses that contribute directly to lower production efficiency, higher operating costs, and ultimately higher cost of hydrogen.  To address these challenges, the project approach aims at developing a small scale SMR that is: (1) thermally and mechanically integrated to maximize heat recovery, minimize heat loss, and minimize balance of plant components, (2) able operate at pressure required for purification step to minimize electrical power consumption, and (3) thermally balance to achieve passive temperature control and to minimize the number of process control loops.


The CTTV team combined all process reactions and necessary heat transfer steps into a single, unitized vessel assembly. Concentric fin-type heat exchangers coated with catalysts allow the heat generated by the endothermic oxidizing reaction to be directly transferred to the endothermic steam reforming reaction.

The paper asserts that the maximum reformer hydrogen production rate is 55 kg/day, or 7,810 GJ of energy. The maximum natural gas consumption rate to achieve that production is 145 kg/day, or 8,051.85 GJ. In other words—you’re still running a net negative energy ratio—more energy goes in than comes out. Better than typical SMR systems, but still at a deficit.


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US and China Collaborate to Clean the Air for 2008 Olympics

April 16, 2005

The Department of Energy (DOE) is leading a U.S. multi-agency team to help Beijing achieve World Health Organization (WHO) standards for urban air quality by 2008—in time for the Summer Olympics.

The Chinese government intends to invest $17–$23 billion to meet the goal, and is planning on  major reductions in coal use, tougher fuel-quality and emissions standards and further development of a protective greenbelt that separates north China from silt-laden desert winds.

A US-China Joint Working Group (JWG) for the Green Olympics Protocol identified 10 areas for cooperation:

  • Natural-gas technology
  • Combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP)
  • Clean coal
  • Hydrogen and fuel-cell vehicle demonstration
  • Environmentally friendly buildings
  • Urban transportation
  • Air quality
  • Water quality
  • Solar photovoltaics
  • Beijing-Chicago Friendship Cities Initiative to promote local environmental activities

Among the JWG plans for the transportation side is a Hydrogen Park in the Olympic Village featuring five buses using HCNG (a mix of hydrogen and natural gas). (Related post) GM is donating a zero-emissions electric bus for use during the Olympics.

There are other US-China partnerships tackling related areas that are also using the Olympics in 2008 as a target.

The US/China Energy and Environmental Technology Center (EETC), for example, is working with the DOE and Beijing City to develop a framework of collaborations and specific tasks to transfer US clean energy technologies for improving and the environmental performance of the regional energy sector.

One such EETC project is supporting Powerzinc, a zinc-air fuel cell developer incorporated in the US with headquarters in California and R&D and manufacturing in Shanghai, in the commercial deployment of its zinc-air fuel cell-powered, zero-emission, electric vehicles.

FAW Bus and Coach Wuxi Works are building a prototype electric zinc-air bus using Powerzinc fuel cells. (Related post) The zinc-air bus will be demonstrated this year and ready for operation for the Games. Beijing has set a target of more than 3,000 such clean vehicles. Another major market is Shanghai for its 2010 WorldExpo.

Powerzinc is a member of the new Zinc Energy Storage Consortium (ZEST). (Earlier post.)


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Reva Developing Indian Fuel Cell Cars with Hydrogenics Stacks

April 13, 2005

Sify. India’s Reva Electric Car Company is developing hydrogen fuel cell cars using Hydrogenics fuel cell stacks for a pilot project launched by the Indian Oil Corporation.

In the first phase of the project, Reva will build two fuel cell vehicles, after which a fleet of 10-20 FVCs will be produced. The cars will be used for the hydrogen clean technology project in New Delhi and at Taj Mahal in Agra.

Reva unveiled its first fuel cell prototype last year. (Earlier post.) 

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Millennium Cell Awarded $3M by DOE for Work on Hydrogen Generation and Storage

Millennium Cell has been awarded a five-year, $3 million contract from the DOE to further its work with sodium borohydride-based hydrogen generation and storage. (Earlier post.) 

Sodium borohydride (short for sodium tetrahydridoborate: NaBH4) is a chemical compound with high hydrogen content. When NaBH4 is suspended in an aqueous solution and then passed over a catalyst, the reaction produces hydrogen, along with a benign byproduct—sodium metaborate—that can be recycled back into sodium borohydride.

NaBH4 + 2H2O 4H2 + NaBO2 + heat

One of the disadvantages to sodium borohydride as a hydrogen source is the cost and availability of the compound.

As part of the contact, Millennium Cell is working with Los Alamos National Lab, Rohm and Haas and others to evaluate lower-cost sodium borohydride manufacturing methods.

Up until recently, Millennium Cell had been vocal about targeting automotive applications for its technology, and provided the hydrogen source for a 2001 DaimlerChrysler fuel cell concept, the Natrium. Recently, however, Millennium Cell has been focusing on more immediate markets: portable electronic devices (consumer, military and industrial, such as laptops and DVD players; and portable and standby power.

The funding from DOE may give the company a boost back toward transportation.

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New Heavy-Duty Engine Manufacturer to Build Hydrogen-CNG Engines

April 11, 2005


Collier Technologies Inc. (CTI) has formed a new US OEM heavy-duty engine manufacturer, City Engines Inc., to develop and to market hydrogen/natural gas (HCNG) engines.

The new OEM has distribution agreements with Daewoo Heavy Industries (DHI) for their heavy-duty gas engines. City Engines initially will offer a base DHI 11-liter engine, outfitted with CTI-designed cylinder heads.

The HCNG 11 uses a 30% hydrogen–70% natural gas blend, and produces produces 282 hp and 866 lb ft of torque. City Engines hopes to implement an improved turbocharger that would boost output to 300 hp and torque to 900 lb ft.

The hydrogen-CNG blend offers better fuel economy and reduced maintenance than CNG alone.

Emissions certifications will be conducted over the next six to 12 months using 100% CNG fuels to meet the existing 2004 CARB Standard as well as with the 30% HCNG blend to meet the upcoming 2007 Standard.


Preliminary testing (chart at right) done by a DOE-sponsored project on HCNG development using a 20% hydrogen-CNG blend demonstrated lower emissions, including a 50% reduction in NOx, than similar engines fueled with CNG alone with no significant change in fuel efficiency.

City Engines will be in direct competition with established manufacturers such as Cummins Westport. HCNG is stimulating interest based on (a) its potential for further emissions reduction than CNG and (b) as a bridge technology to full hydrogen.

In addition to the work sponsored by DOE on HCNG, China is aggressively exploring the fuel’s potential as well.


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Fiat Takes a First at Monte Carlo with Hydrogen Seicento

April 08, 2005


Fiat’s Seicento hydrogen fuel cell prototype (photo at right) took 2nd place in the overall fuel cell category at the recent Monte Carlo Fuel Cell and Hybrid Rally held in conjunction with EVS-21, and took 1st place among compressed hydrogen-powered vehicles. Final points took into account total fuel consumption, the fuel-consumed to vehicle-weight ratio and any penalties accumulated during the race.

Cars in the rally covered a mixed motorway-main road itinerary totalling 410 km (255 miles), taking them through Turin, Cuneo, Col di Tenda and Val Roia to arrive in the Principality of Monaco.

Fiat introduced the Seicento H2 prototype in 2003.  The Seicento uses compressed hydrogen stored at 350 bar (5,000 psi) to feed a PEM stack capable of producing 200 V of electrical energy, with a maximum power output of 40 kW. The fuel cell car, with axle-power output of 30 kW, has a top speed of 130 km/h (81 mph) and a range of 200 km (124 miles).


In 2004, Fiat introduced the Panda Hydrogen—an application of its H2 fuel cell technology in a supermini designed for commercial fleet trials. 

The Panda Hydrogen (rendering at right) uses a hybrid architecture, with the fuel cell connected directly to the traction motor as the primary system, and the battery pack supplementing the power to the motor under start-up and acceleration. The batteries are recharged by regenerative braking.

The 40kW PEM stack is fed by hydrogen stored at 350 Bar in two tanks installed under the floorpan. The Panda Hydrogen has a top speed of 130 km/h, accelerates from 0-50 km/h (31 mpg) in less than 7 seconds, and has a range of more than 200 km (124 miles). (Clearly there is still much work to be done in range and performance.)

Although working with hydrogen for the medium- to long-term, Fiat is currently emphasizing work with natural gas engines for the short- to medium-term.

The company offers a range of bi-fuel gasoline-CNG vehicles. The engine starts with gasoline, but then immediately cuts over to CNG. Gasoline functions as a back-up fuel if the natural gas runs low, or if the driver selects it.

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Canada Funds Hydrogen-CNG Demos

April 04, 2005

The government of Canada has awarded Westport Innovations and a consortium of partners led by Sacre-Davey Innovations approximately $6 million (US $4.9 million) to develop and to demonstrate buses fueled with compressed natural gas (CNG) and hydrogen-enriched natural gas, or HCNG.

More details about the project and partners will be disclosed at a later date.

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CBN at the Hydrogen Conference

April 03, 2005

Car Buyer’s Notebook attended the hydrogen conference in Washington, DC last week, and provides some hands-on enthusiastic impressions of the Honda FCX.

When I first walked up to the vehicle, I didn’t realize it was running. When my ears ajusted to the light whir of the hydrogen-powered engine, I decided to try and get an audio recording.

Placing a Creative Labs digital voice recorder right on the hood, I let it capture a few seconds of the whisking motor. Or so I thought.

Playing it back, what I actually heard was a recording of me saying, “Is this my ride?” and the Honda guy responding, “Are you Frank?” If you strain to hear the motor, you can, but this explanation is probably a better demonstration than me posting the audio file and you putting your ear next to the computer speaker! [...]

Considering how quiet the FCX is, it is a marvel to consider a city full of hydrogen-powered vehicles, quietly transporting their occupants, and effectively subtracting the internal combustion assault we have all grown accustomed to.

It’s not the hydrogen per se, though, it’s the electric drive.

But on the hydrogen front, CBN has an intriguing idea: make Steve Jobs the Hydrogen Czar.

The hydrogen industry needs a salesman.

At this week’s Hydrogen Conference, the hotel basement was full of supremely technical and esoteric displays that all have something to do with eventually getting hydrogen powered cars on the road.

I felt like I was at a Star Trek convention. Worse, it was like attending a Trek convention when you're the only one that doesn’t know Vulcans have green blood.

Not to take anything away from the geniuses working to fix the membrane hydration dilemma in PEM fuel cells—but the public does not care. [...]

He [Jobs] needs to take the current interest and move it past the point where the national energy security crowd will be able to turn their back on it.

He’d do it by selling it on its own merits—“Hydrogen cars are insanely great!” This form of marketing, where you’re enthralled by the brio of a master salesman, becomes the only raison d’etre required. And it takes on its own life force. Plus, the cars would all be equipped with iPod docks.


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GM Delivers First Fuel Cell Truck to US Army

April 01, 2005

GM delivered the first fuel cell-powered truck into U.S. military service today.

The U.S. Army took delivery of the crew cab pickup at the GM research facility outside of Rochester, NY, where the vehicle’s two fuel cell power modules were made.

The modified Chevrolet Silverado is equipped with two 94 kW fuel cell stacks, capable of generating 188 kW and 317 foot-pounds of torque, or roughly the motor torque generated by GM’s 5.3 liter V-8 engine. Three 10,000 psi compressed hydrogen storage tanks, provided by Quantum Technologies, will provide a range of 125 miles, even though the vehicle was not optimized for range.

GM had previously delivered a prototype Silverado diesel-electric hybrid with a fuel cell APU to the Army for testing and evaluation.

The U.S. Army has the largest fleet of vehicles in the world. Improving fuel economy and reducing the logistics of the fuel supply chain could save millions of dollars. For example, it cost the U.S. Army up to $400 a gallon of gas to ship fuel to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Not to mention the size and vulnerability of the fuel supply convoys.)

The U.S. Army will evaluate the experimental truck until July 2006 at an Army base in Ft. Belvoir, Va. The vehicle will be used to deliver packages but will not be used in combat. Rigorous testing is planned in different climates and locations around the U.S. to assess performance and give the military first-hand experience with hydrogen and fuel cells.

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Ford Delivers First Fuel Cell Cars in Canada to Vancouver Fuel Cell Vehicle Program

March 31, 2005

Ford Motor Company delivered five Ford Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) (earlier post) to the Vancouver Fuel Cell Vehicle Program (VFCVP) for real-use testing in selected fleets.

The five Ford Focus FCVs are the first “customer-ready” vehicles to be delivered by Ford, which plans to place 25 more vehicles in fleets in the United States and Germany by the end of this year.

The Government of Canada, Ford Motor Company/Ford of Canada, Fuel Cells Canada and the Government of British Columbia are collaborating on the five-year, $9-million fuel cell vehicle program.

BC Hydro, B.C. Transit, Ballard Power Systems, the City of Vancouver, Fuel Cells Canada, the National Research Council (NRC), Natural Resources Canada and the Government of British Columbia will use the  Focus FCVs in real daily driving conditions as part of a three-year hydrogen fuel technology demonstration program.

The Ford Focus FCV is a hybrid-electric vehicle that uses the  Ballard Mark 902 series fuel cell engine and Dynetek 5,000-psi (pounds per square inch) compressed-hydrogen storage tanks. (More specs at the link above.) The performance of each car will be carefully monitored over the next three years, providing important data for the continued development of fuel cell technology.

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New On-Board Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Delivers 50% Efficiency

Northwestern University researchers have developed a new small solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that converts iso-octane (C8H18), a highly-pure hydrocarbon compound that is a component of gasoline, to hydrogen, The hydrogen is then used by the fuel cell to produce electrical energy with an overall fuel efficiency of up to 50%.

Their paper, published online by the journal Science, describes the combination of a special thin-film catalyst layer, through which the iso-octane flows, with a conventional anode. That porous layer, which contains stabilized zirconia and small amounts of the metals ruthenium and cerium, chemically and cleanly converts the fuel to hydrogen.

This approach is potentially the basis of a simple low-cost system that can provide significantly higher fuel efficiency by using excess fuel cell heat for the endothermic reforming reaction.

An Octane-Fueled Solid Oxide Fuel Cell [DOI: 10.1126/science.1109213]

Current internal combustion engines have a “well-to-wheels“ efficiency of only 10%–15%. Current PEM fuel cells using hydrogen from the steam reforming of natural gas offer 29% overall efficiency, while current gas/electric hybrids have achieved up to 32%.

(The different efficiencies are estimated here, in the supporting online material for the paper.)

The advent of hybrid vehicles has shaken up the fuel cell community and made researchers rethink hydrogen as a fuel. We need to look at the solid oxide fuel cell—the one kind of fuel cell that can work with other fuels beside hydrogen—as an option.

—Scott A. Barnett, professor of materials science and engineering, NU

Although conceptually similar (hydrogen in, electricity out) the solid oxide fuel cell is different than the PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cells most often discussed as power plants for transportation. PEM fuel cells tend to be smaller, run at lower temperatures, produce less power and require an external supply of hydrogen.

Solid oxide fuel cells use a hard, ceramic compound of metal (like calcium or zirconium) oxides as an electrolyte, rather than the thin, permeable polymer electrolyte sheet in a PEM. SOFCs tend to be more efficient, and run at a higher temperature. It is that higher temperature that the Northwestern team is using for the chemical reforming of the iso-octane.


A major drawback of using solid oxide fuel cells is that carbon from the fuel is deposited all over the anode because of the high temperatures. But our thin film catalyst, plus the addition of a small amount of oxygen, eliminates those deposits, making it a viable technology to pursue with further research. We have shown that the fuel cell is much more stable with the catalyst and air than without.

—Scott Barnett

With its higher efficiency, such an SOFC approach would reduce our distillate usage compared to straight ICE vehicles or current hybrids, and would reduce the need for the supporting hydrogen infrastructure required by PEM cells. Of course, you still need a ready supply of iso-octane.

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DaimlerChrysler Deal with DOE on Fuel Cells

March 30, 2005

DaimlerChrysler, like GM (earlier post), has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to further develop fuel cell vehicles in the United States. DaimlerChrysler will invest more than $70 million in this partnership.

The five-year agreement, part of the DOE Controlled Fleet and Hydrogen Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project, links DaimlerChrysler, BP and other companies as partners to help increase public awareness through outreach and demonstration programs. 

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GM to Build 40-Vehicle Fuel Cell Demonstration Fleet

GM and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have entered into a five-year, $88-million agreement to build a 40-vehicle hydrogen fuel cell demonstration and testing fleet.

Under the program, GM will spend $44-million to deploy fuel cell vehicle fleets in Washington D.C., New York , California and Michigan. The DOE will contribute the other $44 million under an agreement that expires in September 2009.

Through a separate, commercial agreement, Shell Hydrogen will set up five hydrogen refueling stations in Washington, DC., metropolitan New York City, between Washington D.C. and New York, and in California to support the demo fleet.

Other program partners include the U.S. Army at Ft. Belvoir, Va. and Quantum Technologies in Lake Forest, Calif. – providing facilities for GM to store and maintain fuel cell vehicles; NextEnergy in Detroit, Mich. for codes and standards development; and Viewpoint Systems in Rochester, New York for collecting and retrieving data remotely.

GM also will announced details of a collaboration with the  U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) later this week.

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Commercial Automotive Fuel Cells by 2010 or Bust

March 29, 2005


Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in developing, manufacturing and marketing PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cells, released its “Technology Roadmap” leading to a commercially viable fuel cell by 2010.

The Road Map, announced to coincide with the start of the National Hydrogen Association’s Annual Hydrogen Conference in Washington, D.C., maps out trends and targets in four areas critical for commercial adoption of automotive fuel cell technology:

  • Durability of 5,000 hours of lifetime. According to Ballard, 2,200 hours of durability is equivalent to 100,000 kilometers (62,150 miles) under regular driving conditions.

  • Cost of US $30/kW net. The DOE’s target cost for commercial introduction of a fuel cell system in 2010 is $45 USD/kW of net system power, divided between the fuel cell stack ($30 USD/kW net) and the supporting balance of plant ($15 USD/kW net). Ballard’s target is for the stack, and maps to the DOE’s.

  • Freeze Start capability to -30 ºC, in 30 seconds, to 50% rated power.

  • Volumetric Power Density of 2,500 Watts net/liter. Reducing volumetric power density reflects the ability to package the fuel cell stack into increasingly smaller spaces within a vehicle. Ballard’s target of 2,500 Watts Net/Liter is more aggressive than the DOE’s target of 2,000 Watts net/liter.

In February, Ballard pulled off a “Technology Hat Trick” (earlier post) by demonstrating a fuel cell stack that can start repeatedly from -20° C (-4° F) and operate for more than 2,000 hours at a substantially reduced cost with no performance tradeoff.


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Danish Towns Fund Hydrogen Train


The Engineer reports that three Danish towns in Ringkøbing Amt (county) in Western Jutland—Vemb, Lemvig and Thyborøn—will put up funding for a hydrogen-fueled train running along the 59 km railway line connecting them.

The line is operated by the Vemb-Lemvig-Thyborøn Jernbane (VLTJ) railway (Lemvigbanen).

The county of Ringkøbing is home to a number of renewable energy projects. Ringkøbing Amt faces westward to the North Sea, and has some of the best wind resources in Denmark. Wind power provides approximately 35% of the electricity for the county. Currently, a fourth of the Danish production of biogas is from this region and plans are underway to build one of the biggest biogas plants in the world. A new test center for wave energy has been developed to the north.

The county is also the seat of Denmark’s Hydrogen Innovation and Research Center (HIRC).

HIRC has proposed a number of hydrogen projects in the area, the train being but one.

HIRC has proposed two phases to the project. The first phase would use a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine (natural gas engine). The second would be to move to a fuel-cell system.

The center estimates that a single 1 MW windmill could produce the hydrogen required for two train sets.

According to the CEO of HIRC, Jens-Chr. Møller: “Our goal is to get Europe’s first commercially viable hydrogen train in Europe. There are many international projects on using hydrogen in cars and buses, but plans on hydrogen trains are very few and mostly centred in the US and Japan.”

With money at hand, HIRC now hopes to attract the attention of train manufacturers interested in participating in the project.

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Nanostructured Catalyst Produces Hydrogen from Ammonia

March 28, 2005


Researchers at Rutgers are exploring the use of an iridium-based nanostructured catalyst to extract hydrogen from ammonia for use in a fuel cell.

The research team found that iridium heated to temperatures above 300 ºC (approx. 600 ºF) in the presence of oxygen morphs into uniform arrays of nanosized pyramids.  The shape change is caused by the atomic forces from the adjacent oxygen atoms pulling the iridium atoms into a more tightly ordered crystalline state.

This pyramidal surface allows the ammonia molecules, themselves tetrahedral in shape, to nestle in nicely “like matching puzzle pieces.” This sets up the molecules to undergo complete and efficient decomposition.

Different annealing temperatures create different-sized facets on the pyramids, which affect how well the iridium catalyzes ammonia decomposition. The researchers are performing additional studies to characterize the process more completely.

Ammonia (NH3) is mostly manufactured through a catalytic industrial process using natural gas and air. The natural gas is reformed to create hydrogen gas, which is then processed to create the ammonia. The Rutgers process, in essence, undoes the initial manufacturing process.

Liquid ammonia could—in theory—be handled much like today’s gasoline and diesel fuel. Conceptually, a vehicle with a catalyst such as the one at Rutgers could produce hydrogen on-board for use in a fuel cell.

However, there are probably some practical barriers in the way. Ammonia is a hazardous substance that can cause bodily damage. Broad-based refueling might offer some challenges.

Second, although it is one of the most widely produced chemicals worldwide (140 million tonnes per year), 80% of that goes into the production of fertilizer. Any substantive use in transportation would require a major increase in chemical manufacturing capabilities.

All that aside, this work illustrates the potential in tailoring nanostructured metal surfaces on supported industrial catalysts to make new forms of catalysts that are more robust and selective.

A paper describing the research is to be published April 20 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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New Materials for Hydrogen Storage

March 22, 2005

Storage is one of the Grand Challenges for using hydrogen in transportation, and researchers are rising to it.

While storage of compressed gaseous hydrogen or liquefied hydrogen in high-pressure or cryogenic tanks is one option, finding an advanced solid-state or liquid chemical material that can be filled with, hold and then release hydrogen as needed is another.

There are numerous factors that go into finding an effective solid storage medium: the amount of hydrogen it can hold, the energy cost for “filling it” with hydrogen, the environmental impact of byproducts (if any), the number of fill and discharge cycles without degradation, the rate at which it can fill and discharge, stability, the ease of manufacturing and, of course, the cost.

Work on solid hydrogen storage falls into two basic categories:

  • Metal and chemical hydrides

  • Carbon and nanoscale materials

Very broadly, a hydride is a binary chemical compound between hydrogen and another element. (e.g., nickel metal hydride).


A metal hydride decomposes when heated, releasing the hydrogen. For transportation, this is a great theoretical solution. But finding a viable commercial implementation of this requires identifying a compound with sufficient adsorption capacity operating under realistic temperature ranges for a vehicle.

An illustrative schematic of a metal hydride storage system for vehicles is to the right.

A chemical hydride slurry or solution can also be used. Here, the hydrogen in the hydride is released through a reaction with water. Chemical hydride systems are irreversible and require thermal management and regeneration of the carrier to recharge the hydrogen content.

Sodium borohydride, used in DaimlerChrysler’s concept Natrium and a Samsung concept scooter (earlier post) is an example of a chemical hydride.

Carbon and nanoscale material look to a different approach—essentially building molecular cages that can hold the hydrogen molecules.

The DOE has set research targets for the capacity of hydrogen solid storage, measured as the percentage weight hydrogen released.

DOE Storage Targets
20054.5 wt.%
20106 wt.%
20159 wt.%

At the meeting of the American Physical Society in Los Angeles this week, more than 35 presentations described different research into all of these areas.

Although much of the focus was on hydrides, a number of presentations were on new nanomaterials.

  • Researchers from NREL presented two different papers on their work with organo-metallic fullerenes (carbon buckeyball (C60) complexes with Iron or Scandium) in creating a solid nanostorage material, some of which achieved hydrogen storage of 8.7 wt%. (Abstract) (Abstract)

  • Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)are investigating ammonia borane (NH3BH3)and polyammonia borane (-NH2BH2-) within a scaffold of mesoporous silica templates. This family of molecules demonstrates hydrogen capacities of > 12 wt.%. The use of the scaffolding appears to increase H2 production and decrease borazine formations (undersirable in a hydrogen feed). (Abstract)

  • Researchers from UC Berkeley described their work with a glassy material (boron oxide) as a pathway to finding new classes of materials for hydrogen storage that can hold hydrogen at ambient conditions through physisorption. (Abstract)

  • Researchers from Air Products and Chemicals presented their work on understanding the storage dynamics of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNT) and determining potential approaches to increasing that storage capacity. (Abstract)

Among the numerous presentations on work with hydrides, GM researchers presented two papers describing their new quaternary hydride Li3BN2H8. This material (which can be produced relatively inexpensively via ball milling) releases more than 10 wt% hydrogen at temperatures greater than 250ºC—a storage capacity and operating temperature very attractive for cars.

Their preliminary work indicates, however, that the hydrogen release is not easily reversed; they have yet to achieve rehydriding (refilling the material with hydrogen). (Abstract, abstract).

A full listing of the APS March 2005 program is available here.

Solid progess, so to speak.


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New, Safer Catalyst Boosts H2 Production from Syngas

March 21, 2005

Ohio State University researchers have developed a chemical catalyst that increases hydrogen production via coal gasification without using a toxic metal common in other catalysts.

The new catalyst uses a combination of iron and aluminum (Fe-Al) with other metals (such as cobalt (Co) or copper (Cu)) to harvest hydrogen from the synthetic gas (syngas) resulting from gasification. In tests, the catalyst performed up to 25% better than a commercially available alternative.

Retrieving hydrogen from a reaction between the carbon monoxide and water in the syngas requires catalysts to boost the reaction—especially in large-scale gasification.

Currently, the most popular commercial catalyst is made from iron and the toxic metal chromium (Fe-Cr). During hydrogen production, the catalyst can release chromium as a byproduct. When the catalyst material has passed its useful lifetime, it requires expensive disposal methods.

Researchers don’t fully understand the iron-chromium mechanism. The OSU research team, led by Umit Ozkan, suspected that the chromium helps maintain the pore structure of iron during the reaction, so they looked for a metal with a similar chemical structure.

That led them to aluminum, and to other complementary metals that greatly increased hydrogen production.

The research is funded by the OhioCoal Development Office and the Ohio Department of Development.

The research team to date has tested the catalyst using  a feed mixture similar to what is produced from coal gasification, and will next test whether their catalyst works in the presence of sulfur, since coal from Ohio and much of the American northeast is sulfur-rich.

But it seems as though the new Fe-Al catlayst should work with the syngas resulting from other feedstocks—but it would remain to be seen how well.

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New Nanotube Could Produce H2 from Sunlight and Water

March 20, 2005

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are investigating the use of a new type of nanodevice for photocatalytic solar hydrogen production from water.


The new devices are porphyrin nanotubes—nanotubes made entirely of oppositely charged porphyrin molecules that self-assemble in water at room temperature. (Electron microscope image of porphyrin nanotube at right.) The better-known carbon nanotubes are formed at high temperatures and have covalent bonds between carbon atoms.

Porphyrins are light-absorbing molecules related to chlorophyll, the active part of photosynthetic proteins and light-harvesting nanostructures (chlorosomal rods).

Porphyrin nanotubes lack the high mechanical strength of the carbon tubes but possess a wider range of optical and electronic properties that can be exploited in making nanodevices. In fact, carbon nanotubes are often modified by attaching porphyrins to increase their utility.

This is unnecessary for the porphyrin nanotubes, which can be tailored to specific purposes like water-splitting by varying the type of porphyrin incorporated into the nanotube itself to obtain the desired properties.

When exposed to light, some porphyrin nanotubes can photocatalytically grow metal structures onto tube surfaces to create a functional nanodevice. For example, when the nanotubes are put into a solution with gold or platinum ions and exposed to sunlight, their photocatalytic activity causes the reduction of the ions to the metal.  Using this method the researchers have deposited platinum outside the nanotube and grown a nanowire of gold inside the tube.

The nanotube with the gold inside and platinum outside is the heart of the photolytic nanodevice that may split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

The research team has already demonstrated that the nanotubes with platinum particles on the surface can produce hydrogen when illuminated with light.

To complete the photocatalytic nanodevice, a nanoparticle of an inorganic photocatalyst that produces oxygen must be attached to the gold contact ball that naturally forms at the end of the tube. The gold nanowire and ball serve as a conductor of electrons between the oxygen- and hydrogen-producing components of the nanodevice. The gold conductor also keeps the oxygen and hydrogen parts separate to prevent damage during operation.

Laboratory-scale devices of this type have already been built by others. What we are doing is reducing the size of the device to reap the benefits of the nanoscale architecture.

Once we have functional nanodevices that operate with reasonable efficiency in solution, we will turn our attention to the development of nanodevice-based solar light-harvesting cells and the systems integration issues involved in their production.

There are many possible routes to the construction of functional solar cells based on the porphyrin nanodevices. However, we have a lot of issues to resolve before we get to that point.

—John Shelnutt, Sandia research team leader

The research, partially funded by a grant to the University of Georgia from the Department of Energy, is exploring the use of porphyrin nanotubes in a range of applications.

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Burbank, AQMD to Convert 5 Priuses to H2ICE-Electric Hybrids

March 17, 2005

The city of Burbank, California, is partnering with the California South Coast Area Quality Management District (AQMD) to convert five Toyota Priuses to hydrogen-electric hybrids for testing and use in the Burbank fleet.

The converted cars will use hydrogen as a fuel in the existing internal combustion engine rather than gasoline. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive will be unmodified.

As part of the initiative, first proposed by AQMD in June 2003, the agency will spend $1.4 million to convert the Priuses and build the requisite hydrogen fueling station for the city. The Burbank city council voted yesterday to spend $349,375 to buy the basic cars, to pay for their fueling costs over five years and to provide utilities and related services for the fueling station.

The conversion of the Priuses and the construction of the station should be complete by October or November of this year. City managers will assign the hydrogen Priuses to operations which tend to accumulate higher-than-average mileage so as to provide the best testing ground possible. (City staff report.)

The new $1.8 million hydrogen-hybrid project comes as the city returns eight of its leased nine electric RAV4 SUVs to Toyota. (LA Daily News)

SCAQMD last year awarded Quantum Fuel Systems a $2.3 million contract for the engineering, design and development of the hydrogen fuel systems for a fleet of 30 Prius hybrids as part of the five-city proposal for the testing of  hydrogen hybrid Priuses.

Besides Burbank, the other cities targeted were Santa Monica, Riverside, Santa Ana and Ontario. Burbank appears to be the first to have actually committed its share of the funds to the project.

Quantum is developing the complete OEM-level hydrogen internal combustion engine fuel system, including both the injection system and hydrogen storage system. Included in the fuel systems will be the company’s fuel injectors, fuel rails, electronic control system and software, hydrogen storage and a customized turbocharger.

Quantum will also integrate these hydrogen fuel systems into the vehicles and perform complete validation including crash testing, engine and vehicle durability, and emissions testing to ensure compliance.

Quantum will offer the vehicles with two hydrogen storage configurations: compressed gaseous hydrogen storage system or an optional metal hydride storage system.

AQMD initiated the project as a way to gain real-world experience with a hydrogen fleet, compare different fueling strategies and hydrogen production methods, as well as to help to educate the public on this relatively new alternative vehicle fuel.

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Intelligent Energy’s ENV Fuel Cell Motorcycle

March 16, 2005


Fuel Cell Today. Intelligent Energy unveiled its new  ENV (Emissions Neutral Vehicle) prototype fuel-cell motorcycle yesterday in London.

The ENV bike is based around Intelligent Energy’s 1 kW CORE fuel cell. To improve performance during spikes in power demand (i.e., acceleration), the fuel cell is hybridized with a lead acid battery pack to provide 6kW peak load to the motor.

The CORE is completely detachable from the bike, and is capable of powering anything from a motorboat to a small domestic property.

The bike has a top speed of 50 mph and a projected range of at least 100 miles (160 km). Acceleration is leisurely: 0–30 mph in 7.3 seconds, 0–50 mph in 12.1 seconds.

The bike’s primary frame and swinging arm are made from hollow-cast aircraft grade aluminum.

Intelligent Energy formed in 2001 and set about acquiring three other companies that became the building blocks of its business. (Earlier post.) Those companies were:

  • Advanced Power Sources,  a UK PEM fuel cells research and development company
  • Element One Enterprises, US-based hydrogen fuel experts
  • MesoFuel, a New Mexico company that develops micro-devices for the conversion of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons into pure hydrogen for storage and use in PEM and other fuel cells.

On the PEM side, Intelligent Energy claimed to have a unique stack architecture that is simpler and thus easier to build, offering a range of power outputs.

Sounds like that’s what they have implemented in the ENV.

Honda has just begun selling its hydrogen fuel-cell scooter, as well as a gasoline-electric hybrid scooter, in Vietnam. (Car Buyer’s Notebook)

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DaimlerChrysler Targets 2012 for Sales of H2 Fuel Cell Cars

Reuters. DaimlerChrysler’s first hydrogen-powered car using fuel cell technology will be on sale from 2012, according to a company executive.

“It (commercialization) will start in 2012,” Herbert Kohler, Vice President of the Body and Powertrain research unit at DaimlerChrysler told reporters in Brussels, on the margins of a hydrogen car technology exhibition.

But there are still technical obstacles to overcome such as extending fuel cells’ reliability and durability; ensuring that they start at sub-freezing temperatures; reducing costs, and storing enough hydrogen in a small enough space to be workable.

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New DOE Hydrogen Portal


The DOE has launched a new Hydrogen Program website. The new site links the four DOE Offices ( Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EE), Fossil Energy (FE), Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (NE), and Science (SC))  that participate in the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI) and serves as an integrated portal for information on DOE’s HFI efforts.

The Offices and Programs page provides a useful matrix detailing which office is working in which technology area.

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H2 Generating and Fueling Station for Vermont

March 15, 2005


Distributed Energy Systems’s subsidiaries Proton Energy and Northern Power are partnering with EVermont to build a PEM electrolysis hydrogen fueling station in Vermont.

The project is supported by a nearly $1 million Department of Energy (DOE) grant, which will be administered by the DOE’s Hydrogen, Fuel Cell, and Infrastructure Technologies Program.

PEM Water electrolysis uses electricity, a catalyst and a proton exchange membrane (PEM) to split water (H2O) into molecules of hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O). PEM electrolysis is essentially the reverse of a PEM fuel cell operation, in which hydrogen is the input and water and electricity the outputs.


The system, based on a Proton Energy H Series electrolyzer, will produce up to 12 kg of hydrogen per day, using water and electricity from the grid. The hydrogen will be compressed and stored on-site and then dispensed for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

Electricity for the project will be supplied by Burlington Electric Department, which generated 42% of its power from renewable sources in 2004, including a wind turbine located adjacent to the Public Works site.

Vermont’s winter climate will provide a good testing ground for the effects of cold weather on the electrolyzer, hydrogen compression, and storage and delivery systems, as well as on hydrogen-fueled vehicles in general.

Proton is using the project to field-test new developments for its hydrogen generation systems.

  • A new power converter is intended to improve cost, functionality and efficiency.
  • An advanced, lower cost, higher-efficiency PEM cell stack will be implemented under the project.

  • New packaging concepts will advance technology for outdoor environments and reduce the cost of manufacturing.

We anticipate that the Vermont station will validate a number of DOE hydrogen objectives, including reducing the cost of production, improving efficiency, and engineering an integrated system design and control. At the same time, the project results should help reduce some of the technical barriers to widespread application of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

—Rob Friedland, SVP, Proton Hydrogen Technology Group


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Free Press Thumbs Up Review on Honda FCX

March 10, 2005

The Detroit Free Press’ Mark Phelan gives a three-day hands-on driving review of the Honda FCX—the first such unsupervised driving review of a fuel cell vehicle from any automaker.

I don’t know if the hydrogen fuel cell-powered Honda FCX I drove for a weekend is the wave of the future, but Lord, I hope so.

There's something inspirational about driving nearly 120 miles and producing no noxious emissions.

The biggest environmental hazard I encountered was the concern that I'd slip and fall when the water froze on my driveway. [...]

The FCX performed brilliantly, which is to say: just like a conventional car. Turn the key, it starts. Depress the accelerator and it goes.

The electric motor produces 107 horsepower and a muscular 201 pound-feet of torque. That’s more torque than a sporty V6-powered Volkswagen Golf GTi, giving the FCX enough oomph that I inadvertently squealed its all-season Yokohama tires several times on Woodward Avenue. [...]

As exalting as driving the FCX was, the car also comes equipped with an overwhelming irony: The car might run on the most plentiful element in the universe, but I had an eye glued to the fuel gauge all weekend because I was afraid I’d run out.

It’s worth reading in its entirety.

As Car Buyer’s Notebook points out, reviews like this (“it really is like a normal car, and better”) are important in building broader-based consumer support.

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$1.6M for H2 Storage with Aminoborane

March 09, 2005

The DOE has awarded RTI International $1.6 million to develop a hydrogen storage technology that could provide a stable and recyclable hydrogen source for fuel cell-powered vehicles.

The four-year project is to develop synthesis and extraction processes for aminoborane, a nitrogen/boron hydride compound. Aminoborane (H3BNH3) is a stable solid at ambient conditions that, when heated, decomposes and releases 19.6% of its weight as hydrogen.

The RTI researchers will design an on-board fuel system for hydrogen-powered vehicles and develop a cost-effective manufacturing process for recycling the storage material once the hydrogen content is depleted.

Also collaborating on the project are the State Scientific Research Center (GNIIChTEOS, Moscow) of the Russian Federation, which will provide expertise in the synthesis of the basic storage material, and ATK/Thiokol of Utah, which will provide industry support for production processes that could lead to commercial use.

The project is conceived in two phases. In the first phase, RTI will:

  • Develop chemical process steps to convert boron nitride to aminoborane, using only hydrogen and commodity chemicals such as ammonia and chlorine, on a laboratory scale

  • Study and optimize the process of hydrogen release by thermal decomposition of aminoborane

  • Demonstrate feasibility of regenerating aminoborane decomposition product

  • Design a preliminary on-board hydrogen storage system

  • Conduct a techno-economic feasibility analysis to provide a go/no go decision for the second phase of the  program.

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Producing Hydrogen From Fuel Cell Power Plants

March 07, 2005


QuestAir and FuelCell Energy are working on a preliminary design and economic analysis of a system including QuestAir’s commercial hydrogen purification products to produce pure hydrogen from the anode exhaust of a Fuel Cell Energy’s Direct Fuel Cell (DFC) power plant.

Direct Fuel Cell power plants equipped with this hydrogen export system could be used by FuelCell Energy’s customers to produce pure hydrogen for industrial uses or to fuel fleets of fuel cell vehicles, in addition to generating electrical power and heat from the fuel cell.

Fuel Cell Energy is a leader in the development and manufacture of high-temperature fuel cells for electric power generation, with some 3 dozen installations of its DFC power plants worldwide.

The current generation of DFCs are carbonate fuel cells; Fuel Cell Energy is exploring the use of solid oxide technology for smaller size units in the future. This is not the same type of fuel cell as the PEM used in an automobile, which is smaller, runs at lower temperatures, produces less power and requires an external supply of hydrogen.

The DFC takes in methane (or variant) as a fuel, and reforms the gas internally to produce the hydrogen required for use in the fuel cell reaction. During normal operation, the fuel cell itself only consumers some 70%–80% of the hydrogen feed, leaving 20%–30% available for export. The hydrogen would first need to be cooled, pressurized and purified prior to external use, but that’s where QuestAir comes in.

The amount of hydrogen produced can be increased by adding additional fuel to the system and maximizing heat recovery. Projected hydrogen yields from the DFC-H2 units are 3.8 kg/hr from a 250 kW DFC and 15.1 kg/hr from a 1,000 kW plant.

Fuel Cell Energy trials found that the system offers:

  • Power Efficiency (Gross Power/Fuel) of 57.8%

  • Hydrogen Efficiency of 64.4% ((Hydrogen - Purification Power) / Hydrogen)

  • Overall system efficiency ((Net Power +Hydrogen) / Fuel)) of 59.3%

Fuel Cell Type
 Polymer Electrolyte MembraneCarbonate Direct Fuel Cell
ElectrolyteIon Exchange MembraneAlkali Carbonate
Operating Temp. ºF200400
Charge CarrierH+CO=
Cell HardwareCarbon/Metal BasedStainless Steel


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DaimlerChrysler Introduces Next-Generation B-Class F-Cell

March 02, 2005


DaimlerChrysler has introduced a new fuel-cell vehicle based on its new B-Class Compact Sport Tourer.

A new high-torque electric motor develops more than 100 kW (134 hp)—35% more than the power unit in the prior generation, the A-Class F-Cell.

With a more efficient fuel cell that reduces fuel consumption and further enhanced hydrogen storage, the new F-Cell car has a range of almost 400 km (250 miles).


The components’ reliability and longevity have also been further improved.

The B-Class (earlier post) uses the Mercedes-Benz “sandwich” concept used in the A-class. The result is more internal room despite compact external dimensions, and a chassis that is ideal for a fuel-cell drive. (Cutaway pictures to right. The lower picture highlights the new fuel cell stack in blue.)

At the announcement, DaimlerChrysler noted that it has grouped together its hybrid and fuel cell drive research and development activities into respective competence centers. This more focused structure is designed to improve the cooperation with the respective strategic partners (GM for hybrids, Ballard/Ford for fuel cells), and to enable more efficient integration of research into production.

More than 100 DaimlerChrysler fuel cell cars, vans and buses are currently in everyday application, contributing to largest set of practical tests on fuel cell vehicles to date.

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US Signs Multilateral Agreement for Nuclear Energy Development

February 28, 2005


Reinforcing its focus on developing new nuclear power technologies, the US has signed a multilateral cooperative research and development agreement aimed at next-generation nuclear energy systems. The other signatory countries are Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

All are part of the 11-country Generation IV International Forum (GIF). Other members are Argentina, Brazil, the European Union, South Africa, South Korea, and Switzerland.

The GIF partners have identified six next generation technologies for development including:

  • the Gas Cooled Fast Reactor

  • the Sodium Fast Reactor

  • the Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor

  • the Molten Salt Reactor

  • the Supercritical Water Reactor

  • the Very High Temperature Reactor

The last concept—the Very High Temperature Reactor—is the current basis of the U.S. research program to develop a cost-effective nuclear system that will directly produce hydrogen as well as electricity. (Earlier post)


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Dynetek Providing 700-bar H2 Storage to Nissan

Dynetek is providing the new 700-bar (10,000 psi) high-pressure hydrogen storage system to Nissan for use in its X-TRAIL fuel cell vehicle.

Nissan  announced the transition to the higher-pressure storage system when it unveiled its in-house developed fuel cell stack. (Earlier post.)

The 700-bar storage cylinder increases hydrogen storage capacity by approximately 70% compared to the previous 350-bar (5, 000 psi) storage cylinder, thereby extending the driving range for the vehicle.

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Ford Introducing H2 Combustion Engines to Industrial Marketplace

February 24, 2005


Ford Power Products (FPP), a division of Ford Powertrain Operations, is introducing hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines (H2ICEs) to the industrial marketplace.

This parallels Ford Motor Company’s introduction of the E-450 commercial hydrogen-powered shuttle bus. (Earlier post.)

FPP currently has two different hydrogen engines prototyped for the industrial marketplace: a 4.2-liter V-6 hydrogen engine for airline ground support equipment, and the 6.8-liter V-10 hydrogen engine (picture at right) for power generation applications. Each burns compressed gaseous hydrogen.

Preliminary Ford H2ICE Engine Specs
Displacement (liters) 4.2 6.8
Rated Power (kW/hp) 60/80 140/188
Minimum Fuel Pressure @ engine (psi) 125 125

The E-450 is also based on the V-10 hydrogen-fueled engine.

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Nissan Announces its First In-House Fuel Cell Stack

February 21, 2005


Nissan announced that it has designed and developed its first in-house fuel cell stack, as well as a new 700 bar hydrogen storage system.  The automaker had been using  United Technologies stacks in earlier fuel cell prototypes.

The new technologies offer improved acceleration, performance and driving range.

Nissan’s fuel cell stack uses a newly developed thin separator. The separator is the component that separates the hydrogen and oxygen gases supplied to the individual cells and transfers the electricity produced to the next cell.

A fuel cell for a vehicle will likely use several hundred fuel cells connected in a stack in series to obtain the necessary voltage.

The new separator narrows the spacing between adjacent fuel cells (the cell pitch) connected in the stack by 40% compared to the previous stack from UTC used in the X-TRAIL FCV.

Nissan also integrated the plumbing components inside the stack case, and built into the case the peripheral control devices.

As a result, Nissan has increased power while reducing size. The new stack can be reduced in volume to approximately 60% of the previous stack while providing the same level of power.

Improvements to the electrode materials also more than double the service life of the new stack compared with the stack previously used. The new fuel cell stack also has an expanded temperature operating range.

A new 700 bar (10,000 psi) hydrogen storage cylinder increases vehicular hydrogen storage capacity by approximately 30% compared with the previous 350 bar (5,000 psi) cylinder without any change to the cylinder’s external dimensions. The increased storage extends the driving range of a fuel cell vehicle.

The new high-pressure hydrogen storage cylinder is made of an inner aluminum liner and an outer shell of several wound layers of a high-strength, high-elasticity carbon fiber.


Nissan began conducting FCV public-road tests in the US in 2001 and Japan in 2002. Nissan began leasing its X-TRAIL FCV to a limited number of customers, starting with oil refiner Cosmo Oil Co. in March 2004.

The current (2003) model of the X-TRAIL FCV (at right) with the UTC fuel cell stack and 350 bar storage has a top speed of 145 km/h (90 mph) and a range of some 350 km (218 miles).

Nissan will now begin in-vehicle testing of the new fuel cell stack to further improve its overall performance and reliability.

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Quantum Picks Up Patent for Tranportable H2 Fueling

February 20, 2005

Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies has been awarded a US patent for portable and transportable hydrogen refueling systems.

Quantum’s patent covers portable and transportable hydrogen refueling systems that incorporate self-contained hydrogen producing subsystems or accept low pressure hydrogen from external sources, and are capable of compressing and dispensing at either 5,000- or 10,000-psi (350 or 700 bar).

Quantum currently sells two models of transportable hydrogen refuelers: the HyHauler and the HyHauler Plus.

Transportable hydrogen refueling stations will likely play a major role in developing a hydrogen refueling infrastructure, for both commercial and military applications.

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UK to Leave H2 Development to Others?

February 19, 2005

The Sunday Herald reports that a report commissioned by the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) recommends that Britain leave significant research and development in hydrogen and fuel cell technology to countries such as the US, Japan and China.

“You don’t need a seat at the table for everything. Global markets will ensure that good products are developed,” the draft report states. [...]

The DTI report, produced by energy consultants E4tech in December, is sceptical about using renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power to produce hydrogen, and favours using fossil fuels or nuclear energy, which it says are more “cost effective”. [...]

The report sets out the government’s twin aims of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and improving energy security – the ability to produce the energy required to keep the economy running stable.

It states: “For stationary power and heating applications it is unlikely that hydrogen fuel will provide competitive CO2 reductions by 2030”.

A spokeswoman for the DTI said the government was committed to tackling climate change and pointed out that hydrogen and fuel cells were still at the research stage. The government response is to be published by the end of the month.

It will be interesting to see the official response—and ideally, the original report.

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Florida Begins Work on First H2 Station

Florida Governor Jeb Bush broke ground for the state’s first hydrogen fueling station on Friday. BP is providing the fueling support.

As part of Florida’s hydrogen initiatives, Ford is providing eight Ford V-10, E-450 H2ICE shuttle buses (earlier post) and a small fleet of Ford Focus fuel cell vehicles (earlier post) as part of a DOE-sponsored demonstration project. 

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Hyundai, Partners Open H2 Fueling Center

February 18, 2005

Hyundai Motor, Co. in partnership with UTC Fuel Cells and ChevronTexaco, has opened a hydrogen fueling station at the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center in Chino, Calif. The project is part of a Department of Energy-sponsored Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration Validation Program.

The new hydrogen station will support a fleet of five Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) (earlier post) based out of the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center. Other fleets will be tested out of AC Transit in Oakland, Calif. and Southern California Edison over the duration of the program.

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Mazda Opens H2 Station in Japan

February 16, 2005


Mazda Motor has opened, with government approval,  a hydrogen fueling station near  Mazda’s global headquarters in Hiroshima.  It is the first hydrogen filling station in the Chugoku region of western Japan.

The facility supplies fuel to both the hydrogen engine test facility and the Mazda hydrogen rotary vehicles currently under development and testing for commercial use (earlier post). Mazda’s goal is to sell hydrogen vehicles to public entities and corporations in Japan within two years.

High-pressure hydrogen gas—supplied by an outside contractor—is stored at about 200 bar (2,900 psi) in compressed hydrogen gas tanks and further pressurized to 350 bar (5,000 psi) for delivery to vehicles. The filling station supports the refueling of up to 10 vehicles per day.

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$2 Billion for H2 Infrastructure Required by 2012

A new market research study from ABI Research concludes that some $2 billion—whether from government or industry—must be invested in creating a hydrogen fuelling station infrastructure by 2012 if market expectations are to be met.

The study, Hydrogen Infrastructure, also evaluates the production and distribution pathways that will be essential for any major fuel cell vehicle introduction, and reviews potential fuel sources for hydrogen generation.

Natural gas, coal, ethanol and methanol, biomass gasification, electrolysis, solar and wind energy, even nuclear reactions are all potential sources for the hydrogen needed to run fuel cells, and the study analyzes each in detail, with particular emphasis on natural gas, the most likely candidate.

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Mitsubishi Motors Turns to New Leader Mitsubishi Heavy for Fuel Cell Technology

February 07, 2005

Struggling Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries  are considering joint development of a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle as part of the automaker’s revival effort under the heavy machinery maker’s leadership, Kyodo news reported.

Mitsubishi had introduced a fuel cell prototype in 2003—the Mitsubishi FCV, a Grandis minivan powered by DaimlerChyrsler's FC-System (using the Ballard PEM fuel cell).  DaimlerChrysler was a key partner and part owner of for automaker before ending cash infusions to bail out the troubled company last year.

Late last month, Mitsubishi Motors announced a plan to seek revival under the leadership of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Mitsubishi Heavy, for its part, is a developer of fuel cells, especially PEM cells.

This development project of the two Mitsubishis would follow their joint development in 2001 of a vehicle powered by hydrogen extracted from methanol.

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Computational Modeling to Support Hydrogen Production

February 02, 2005

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new computational modeling tool that could ultimately make the research and development to discover new systems for hydrogen production quicker and less expensive.

The research, supported by the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and reported in the current issue of Science, predicts hydrogen flux through metal alloy separation membranes that could be used to produce pure hydrogen.

Such membranes allow pure hydrogen to pass through, while blocking impurities that are present with other gases in the production of hydrogen from fossil energy resources. Impurities lessen the effective use of hydrogen, and separation is a critical component of hydrogen production.

Metal membranes play a vital role in hydrogen purification. Defect-free membranes can exhibit effectively infinite selectivity but must also provide high fluxes, resistance to poisoning, long operational lifetimes, and low cost. Alloying offers one route to improve on membranes based on pure metals such as palladium. We show how ab initio calculations and coarse-grained modeling can accurately predict hydrogen fluxes through binary alloy membranes as functions of alloy composition, temperature, and pressure.

Kamakoti et. al., Science, Vol 307, Issue 5709, 569-573 , 28 January 2005

This research demonstrates our vision of coupling computational and experimental methods to facilitate rapid research and development of advanced technologies. In essence, we are developing the computational tools to prescreen hydrogen separation membranes.

Anthony Cugini, focus area leader of Computational and Basic Sciences at NETL

The use of computational modeling to determine the ability of candidate membranes to produce pure hydrogen would be a time- and money-saving step for hydrogen researchers. Instead of having to produce a large suite of alloys with various proportions of metals—such as palladium and copper—and then test them to determine optimum compositions for maximum hydrogen purification, they could predict in advance which compositions would have the desirable properties.

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Toyota to Use its Fuel Cell Hybrid Bus at 2005 World Expo

January 31, 2005


Toyota is providing fuel cell hybrid-electric buses to shuttle visitors between the two expo sites of the 2005 Aichi World Exposition, which opens March 25.

The bus, developed with Hino (a Toyota subsidiary—earlier post) will travel 4.4 kilometers between the Nagatuke and Seto areas.

The FCHV-BUS2 fuel cell hybrids use twin fuel cell stacks combined with a version of Toyota’s THS-II hybrid drive and management systems (used in the Prius).

Toyota has had this type of bus in very limited service since 2002 on select routes in Tokyo.

Toyota-Hino FCHV-BUS2
Fuel Cell Name Toyota FC Stack
Type PEM
Output (kW) 90 x 2
Motor Type Permanent magnet
Maximum Output (kW / HP) 80 / 107 x 2
Maximum torque (Nm / lb-ft) 260 / 192  x 2
Fuel Storage High-pressure tank
Maximum pressure (psi) 5,000
Battery Type NiMH
Performance Max range (km / miles) 250 / 155
Maximum Speed (km/h / mph) 80 / 50

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GM, Shell to Bring 13 FCVs and Fueling to NYC

January 27, 2005

GM will provide 13 fuel cell-powered vehicles to the New York City metro area and its partner in the project, Shell Hydrogen, will establish New York State’s first hydrogen service station in the New York City metropolitan area in 2006. 

The duo is the only team bringing fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen refueling to the NYC area under the U.S. Department of Energy's Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project.

GM’s New York fuel cell fleet will use and thus test the same next-generation fuel cell power module shown in the Sequel concept vehicle, unveiled a few weeks ago. (Earlier post.)

The new fuel cell power module consists of the fuel cell stack, the hydrogen and air processing subsystems, the cooling system and the high-voltage distribution system. This power module delivers 73 kW of high-voltage power for the electric traction motors, as well as auxiliaries.

The New York fleet is part of a total of 40 vehicles that GM is building under the DOE program. GM will also introduce fleets in California and the Detroit metro area and expand the current Washington D.C. fleet, which today includes six HydroGen3 vehicles.

Shell’s H2 refueling station is likely to consist of a portable hydrogen-refueling module installed at an existing Shell station. In addition to the New York station, under this program Shell will provide two hydrogen refueling stations in California, and a fourth station will be located somewhere between New York and Washington D.C.

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GM/Hydrogenics H2 Forklift

January 26, 2005

Hydrogenics and General Motors of Canada will demonstrate a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Class I forklift as well as refueling of this vehicle at an onsite hydrogen station on 1 Feb. The H2 forklift project was funded by Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) and the Canadian Transportation Fuel Cell Alliance (CTFCA) .

Currently, industrial vehicles contribute almost 13% of the global total of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

More details to come.

Several other Canadian fuel cell companies—General Hydrogen and Cellex—are also looking to industrial vehicles, specifically forklifts, as  a natural fit for fuel cells.

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Bill Ford Points to Hybrids and Hydrogen as “Game-Changers”

January 25, 2005

Introducing a briefing for financial analysts today in New York, Bill Ford, CEO of Ford Motor, outlined a product strategy that explicitly relies on hybrids and hydrogen as strategic differentiators—even in the short term. Presentation materials and an archived webcast of the briefing are available here.

One of the ways we plan to differentiate ourselves is to become a leader in offering innovation to make a difference for our customers, and the world in which they live. [...]

What we are really known for is being a company that successfully applies new technology to a mass market. We were the first to offer breakthrough innovations such as the V8 engine... to a mass audience. In recent years, our mass marketing breakthroughs...included everything from PZEV engines to Roll Stability Control.

The Escape Hybrid—the world’s first hybrid SUV—is a great example of successful product innovation for the mass market. The Escape Hybrid isn’t just a sensible solution that uses new technology. It is a hot item in the marketplace, and it is not just environmentalists who are raving about it.

Interestingly, a few years ago, we were under great pressure to cut that program because people said that for 20-30 thousand units, it’s not worth the trip. Frankly, that was the kind of thing that would have been cut in the past.  We would not let that happen. We did not build our results by cutting our product programs.

So the Escape is sold out, and while it is great to be trendy and fashionable, it was also named North American Truck of the Year. I think that shows the significance of this product.

Hybrids do represent a way for us to differentiate ourselves, because for the first time in a long time, there are companies that have a significant new technology and there are companies that don’t. We have our own patented hybrid technology and proprietary drive system and electronic controls, and by the time many of our competitors offer a hybrid, we’ll be on to the next generation. Some [of the competition] won’t be able to afford their own proprietary system. [...]

That’s 5 hybrids. One very popular one on sale today, another coming later this year, and three more in the next 3 years.

But that’s only the start. It’s only one of four fuel technologies we are seriously working on.

We are the only auto company doing serious development work with all four fuel technologies: clean diesel, gasoline-electric hybrids, hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines and hydrogen fuel cells.

I believe that hydrogen internal combustion engines offer an interesting opportunity for us. We are going to have 100 of these vans on the road by next year for sale. This technology offers most of the benefits of fuel cells at a fraction of the price. It’s another way to separate Ford from the rest.

We are doing serious work for today and tomorrow. Our efforts include creating a path to a clean, renewable and hydrogen-powered future. This could be the next game changer in our business after hybrids, and if it is, I want us to have a leading position.  We are doing  our development in house with technical talent and a depth of capability that I match against anyone in the world.

It is not just about corporate citizenship...it is a way to differentiate ourselves, and a way to gain a competitive advantage.

For a discussion of Ford’s short-term hybrid plans, see this earlier post.

Ford’s 2005 Outlook came as it continues to lose market share to domestic and Asian rivals. The auto maker ended last year with a market share of 18.3%, its lowest in more than three decades. (Reuters) The company does expect to generate more revenue from its auto operations this year, although it expects overall earnings to drop.

Ford has begun formulating a market position around the “four fuel technologies” approach that I think could work for them, given that they continue to develop the products to back it up. But if the company wants to take ground back from Toyota, it will have to do more than be reactive. In other words, they need to try to lead the broader clean platform market, in the way that Toyota seized leadership of the hybrid market.

For that to happen, Ford will need to pick up the product and marketing pace. The Honda Insight came out in 1999, the Toyota Prius in 2000. Ford is 4–5 years behind in getting hybrids out in the market, and its competition in that space is moving on to their next-generation systems.

Ford could do it. The concepts rolled out at NAIAS seem very promising. But will it? Ford has to lead, not just with product, but with education and marketing to support those products. Ford needs to build the market, not just produce some cool prototypes that, if the correct conditions emerge, will be great products. Leading a market is different than producing a concept car. The founder of Ford managed to do both. Can the descendant?

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GM, Shell Bringing Fuel Cell Vehicles and Fueling to NY

January 24, 2005

On Thursday of this week, GM and Shell will announce their plans to bring fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen refueling to New York.

This is part of a larger agreement with the US DOE for hydrogen fuel cell demonstrations and testing. (DOE program solicitation here.) GM will provide approximately 40 fuel cell-powered minivans and fuel cell-powered SUVs to the state of New York and Shell Oil will develop hydrogen refueling capabilities.

That sounds like a hefty beginning to a demonstration. Compare the eralier deployment of six GM fuel cell vehicles to Washington, DC or Honda’s provision of two FCX vehicles to New York.

The scale of the demonstration seems much more in accord with Shell Hydrogen CEO Jeremy Bentham’s vision of “Lighthouse Projects” (earlier post) the attributes of which include:

  • Fleets building up to 100 vehicles and beyond
  • Fueled from mini-networks of 4-6 integrated hydrogen/gasoline stations

More details later this week.

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Metaldyne CEO Calls for All-Out Press on Hydrogen

January 21, 2005

In a very succinct and focused speech at the Automotive News World Congress in Dearborn, Metaldyne Corp. Chief Executive Tim Leuliette called energy independence the most critical issue facing the US, and outlined the basics of a serious industry-government partnership to advance rapidly the advent of a hydrogen economy.

[...] there is actually a more significant challenge for all of us in this industry and in this country. It’s an issue we raise periodically and then put away when concerns fade from the nightly news. It’s an issue we like not to talk about unless we have to. It’s an issue that with one senseless act, one government collapse, one hiccup in a global distribution system, will become our worst nightmare.

The issue is the drug that our industry, our society, is hooked on…it’s called oil.

He called for an industry and government partnership to move the nation away from oil dependence and toward a hydrogen-based economy.

We are at the beginning of a journey [to a hydrogen economy], and have many technological issues to overcome, but they can be overcome.

Those who support this path, do so for three fundamental reasons. First, we must find an alternative energy source for national security reasons. Second, we must find an alternative energy source for environmental reasons. And third, we must find an alternative fuel source for fundamental long-term economic reasons. How you rank these reasons is your own concern, but the answer doesn’t change.

Leuliette wants to get serious—and doesn’t see the current Hydrogen Fuel Initiative as anywhere close to adequate.

The $1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative that President Bush announced in his State of the Union two years ago aims for fuel cell technology to reach the automotive consumer by 2020, and for hydrogen technology to significantly reduce this country’s oil usage by 2040. The current plan outlines a timetable ten times longer than the Manhattan project…and four times longer that putting a man on the moon.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am absolutely convinced that we don’t have that kind of time. We don’t have anywhere near that kind of time...$1.2 billion is a token gesture.

He proposed a campaign, dubbed the Hydrogen Project, that would rival the Apollo Project of the 1960s and the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.

The solution will not come from Washington…but enabling legislation and the money will. This is more important than sending a man to Mars, and it’s more important than subsidizing tobacco farmers to grow a product that we are, at the same time, trying to dissuade usage because of its health risks. It is more important than particle beam weapons, and it is more important than the $15 billion Big Dig project in Boston. We are talking about true energy independence. We are talking about eliminating the leverage that radical Islam has over this country. We are talking about disconnecting this nation from the oil thirst the new China will impart upon the world’s producers.

He then outlined his four-point plan for Project Hydrogen.

  1. Immediately establish a well-funded and powerful industry consortium comprised of automakers, suppliers and organized labor to provide interface and political singularity.

  2. Establish, through an industry technical society like SAE, a hydrogen-powered-vehicle design team to set industry practice and design rules.

  3. Target that 80% of the vehicles sold in this country and 100% of the vehicles imported to this country be hydrogen powered by 2020.

  4. A $.10/gallon gas tax beginning in 2008 and increasing by $.10/gallon per year through 2012 to fund R&D, infrastructure and incentive needs.

It is a good speech, and makes a cogent argument that I can’t adequately represent without reproducing the entire text. Well worth a read.

Metaldyne is  a leading metals-based components (e.g., engine, chassis, driveline) supplier to the auto industry. The $2B company combines the largest independent forging capability, one of the largest independent machining and assembly capabilities and the largest manufacturer of thin-wall precision die castings for automotive applications in North America.

The goals of Leuliette’s Project Hydrogen sound similar to the goals of the Apollo Alliance—but there are differences in the missions.

The Apollo Alliance describes itself as “a broad coalition within the labor, environmental, business, urban, and faith communities in support of good jobs and energy independence.” It develops “public education campaigns and communications strategies... for a bold, broad-based, and immediate program of public policy to achieve energy independence.” (From what I can tell, however, it does not have the active participation of business.)

The hypothetical Project Hydrogen, however, seems more focused on organizing industry to do the actual research, design and engineering work.

Both will be necessary. Without public education—consumer education—the necessary policy changes won’t have support. Without organizing and funding industry to do the work, the actual discoveries and developments won’t be made.

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Las Vegas Leases Two Honda Fuel Cell Cars

January 20, 2005

Las Vegas Sun. The Las Vegas City Council voted to lease two Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell cars (earlier post) for a combined price of $14,400 a year. One car will arrive Friday, the other on Monday.

The city is getting the cars at a bargain price—the current market price is more than $1 million each—because [Honda] wants to see how the cars fare in a Las Vegas summer.

Cory Welch, a senior project manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., said the fuel-cell powered cars in Las Vegas will be watched to see how a plastic membrane in the cell reacts to arid conditions.

The membranes, which are used to produce electricity in the cell, need to be humidified to work, Welch said.

“The dry air could damage the membrane and then it wouldn’t work," he said. "So it’s good to test the fuel cells in all sorts of climates.”

Of the 996 vehicles in Las Vegas’s fleet, 187 run on natural gas (19%), about 200 use biodiesel (20%) and 19 are hybrids (2%).

In the US, Honda also has two FCXs in New York (for cold weather testing), five in Los Angeles, two in San Francisco, and one in Chula Vista, Calif., which is south of San Diego.

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Indian Oil Corp to Launch Hydrogen Vehicle Prototype

January 17, 2005

PTI. Indian Oil Corporation will launch the prototype of a hydrogen-powered vehicle in the next two months.

India’s Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to test drive the vehicle to signify the importance of using alternative fuel for transport.

Indian Oil Corporation is the country’s largest commercial enterprise, with annual revenues of US$ 29.8 billion.

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More Details on GM’s Sequel H2 Vehicle

January 12, 2005


GM’s newly announced hydrogen fuel cell concept vehicle, the Sequel (earlier post), is big.

Slightly larger in its dimensions than the Cadillac SRX crossover or Chrysler’s 300C, the Sequel weighs much more than either: 4,774 pounds compared to 4,164 for an SRX or 3,758 for the 300C.

Yet GM engineers have designed a new fuel cell power system that moves the Sequel along from 0–60 mph in less than 10 seconds and supports a 300-mile range.

GM’s goal is to design and validate a fuel cell propulsion system by 2010 that is competitive with current internal combustion systems on durability and performance, and that ultimately can be built at scale affordably.

We’ve achieved remarkable gains in range and acceleration by using our fuel cell system technology that exists today. That’s a real breakthrough. For anyone tracking the viability of fuel cell vehicles, this is encouraging news.

Today, with Sequel, the vision is real—not yet affordable, but doable.

—Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development and planning


The Sequel combines a new fuel cell system, higher-pressure hydrogen storage, enhanced by-wire controls substituting for mechanical systems and new rear-wheel hub motors to deliver the large-vehicle-equivalent performance GM is seeking.

The GM-designed fuel cell delivers 25% more power than its predecessor in the Hy-Wire. The fuel cell power module consists of the fuel cell stack, the hydrogen and air processing subsystems, the cooling system and the high-voltage distribution system. This power module delivers 73 kW of high-voltage power for the electric traction motors, as well as auxiliaries like HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), the by-wire electronics and the battery.

The new fuel cell also uses a new air intake system that is more efficient, quieter and lighter than its predecessor. Additional radiators are located under the Sequel’s hood, directly behind the headlights, and in the rear of the vehicle, behind the taillights. These necessary design features help pull heat away from the fuel cell system, allowing Sequel to operate in hotter ambient temperatures.

A fuel cell system is more efficient than an internal combustion engine, but its energy conversion is totally different and requires much more heat to be removed via the coolant. With its three openings in the front, the extra opening for the HVAC and the two additional openings in the rear, you can easily recognize that Sequel was designed for heat rejection. We expect excellent performance at high ambient temperatures, typical of what you would experience in the desert.

—Lothar Matejcek, project manager, GM Fuel Cell Activities, Mainz-Kastel

The Sequel uses three traction motors—a single transverse-mounted motor in the front and two rear wheel hub motors—that deliver a total of 110 kW of power.

The front traction system incorporates a 60 kW electric motor from Siemens that delivers 1,740 lb-ft (2,350 Nm) torque at the wheels. The system incorporates the requisite power electronics and planetary gear.

The rear traction system includes the twin 25 kW rear wheel hub motors (designed by GM), and power inverters. Each wheel hub motor delivers 369 lb-ft (500 Nm) of torque, giving the Sequel total torque at wheels of 2,506 lb-ft (3,398 Nm).

A 65 kW Li-Ion battery system from Saft provides extra power to the three electric motors during acceleration. It also stores power regenerated during braking to help extend the vehicle’s overall mileage range.

Advances in high-pressure hydrogen storage, developed by GM in conjunction with Quantum Technologies, support Sequel’s 300-mile range. Three lightweight, carbon composite tanks store hydrogen at 10,000 psi (700 bars), compared to 5,000 psi (350 bars) in Hy-wire, Sequel's concept predecessor. Sequel can carry 8 kg of hydrogen, more than double that of GM’s HydroGen3 fuel cell vehicle. The larger tanks also enable a better ratio of stored hydrogen mass versus fuel storage system mass.

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GM Introduces Third-Generation Hydrogen Concept Car: the Sequel

January 09, 2005


At NAIAS, GM displayed the Sequel, its latest hydrogen concept car. Following on the AUTOnomy and Hy-wire concept cars, the Sequel is about the size of a Cadillac SRX, travels up to 300 miles on its hydrogen supply, and accelerates to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds.

Current-generation fuel cell vehicles have a range of between 170 and 250 miles and cover 0-60 mph in between 12-16 seconds, depending upon whether a battery is used.

The technologies embodied in Sequel—fuel cells, drive-by-wire and wheel hub motors—have developed so fast that GM has been able to double the range and halve the 0-60 mph acceleration time, compared to current fuel cell vehicles in less than three years, according to Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development and planning.

Three years ago, our chairman and CEO, Rick Wagoner, challenged us to completely rethink the automobile. The Autonomy and Hy-wire concepts were the outgrowth of that challenge—a revolution in how vehicles would be designed, built and used in the future. But, they were concepts. Today, with Sequel, the vision is real—not yet affordable, but doable.

—Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development and planning

The Sequel packages everything in an 11-inch skateboard chassis, building on what GM first showed with AUTOnomy and Hy-wire. The Sequel offers 42% better torque than its predecessor, and shorter braking distances.

More details as they come.

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GM & Sandia Labs Collaborating on $10M H2 Storage Project

January 07, 2005

GM and Sandia National Laboratories are initiating a 4-year, $10 million program to develop and to test sodium aluminum hydride (sodium alanate for short) storage tanks for hydrogen. The goal is to develop a pre-prototype solid-state hydrogen storage tank that would store more hydrogen onboard a fuel cell vehicle than possible with current conventional hydrogen storage methods.

Researchers also hope to create a tank design that could be adaptable to any type of solid-state hydrogen storage.

Metal hydrides, which form when metal alloys are combined with hydrogen, can absorb and store hydrogen within their structures. When subjected to heat, the hydrides release their hydrogen.

GM and Sandia say the program is part of a concerted effort to find a way to store enough hydrogen onboard a fuel cell vehicle to equal the driving range obtained from a tank of gas, which will be key to customer acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.

The current leading methods of storage are liquid and compressed gas. However, to date, neither of these technologies has been able to provide the needed range and running time for fuel cell vehicles.

The GM-Sandia project has two phases. In Phase One, the program will study engineering designs for a sodium alanate storage tank. Researchers will analyze these designs using thermal and mechanical modeling, develop controls systems for hydrogen transfer and storage, and develop designs for external heat management. GM and Sandia scientists will also be testing various shapes—from cylindrical to semi-conformable—to see which are the most promising.

In Phase Two, researchers will subject promising tank designs to rigorous safety testing and ultimately fabricate pre-prototype sodium alanate hydrogen storage tanks based on knowledge gained from the program’s first phase.

A possible scenario for filling up with a solid-state storage solution such as sodium alanate could look like this: The alanate would come preloaded in the tank, where it would remain, giving up its hydrogen, and becoming a mixture of sodium hydride and aluminum. The customer would fill up using gaseous hydrogen. During filling, the mixture of aluminum and sodium hydride would absorb the hydrogen and turn it back into alanate, which would be ready to yield hydrogen when needed by the fuel cell. Once the tank is filled, the hydrogen would be stored at low pressure.

Hydride-based hydrogen storage has some hurdles to clear. One current drawback is that most complex metal hydrides, such as sodium alanate, still operate at too-high a temperature, producing an inefficiency that forces some of the hydrogen to be used up in order to release the remaining hydrogen. In other words, because recharging of the hydrides and release of the hydrogen from metal hydrides requires heat, it increases overall fuel consumption.  Another challenge is reducing the time it takes to reabsorb hydrogen—currently 30 minutes to recharge.

In separate, independent projects outside of this collaboration, both GM and Sandia are working to identify alloys that will store greater amounts of hydrogen that can be released at lower temperatures. Reducing filling and recharging times is another key area of research.

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Honda Leases H2 FCX to Hokkaido Prefecture

December 22, 2004


Honda is leasing the hydrogen fuel-cell powered FCX to Hokkaido Prefecture in Japan. This follows on the heels of the recent certification of the FCX for use on public roads in Japan. (Earlier post.) The FCX will arrive  at the end of January, 2005.

Honda is also commissioning the Prefecture’s participation in the ongoing road testing of the new FCX and the collection of data relevant to its sub-freezing temperature start up and operational capabilities and hydrogen supply.

Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost prefecture; temperatures in January range from -12ºC (10ºF) to -4ºC (25ºF).

The Honda FCX uses Honda’s own fuel cell stack, which has the capability of operating in sub-freezing temperatures. (Earlier post.) Honda sees the operation of the vehicle in Hokkaido Prefecture as an opportunity further to verify the performance of the FCX in various winter driving conditions. In November, Honda announced the leasing of two FCX vehicles to New York State (earlier post). This too will provide cold-weather operating data.

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First H2ICE Hybrid Transit Bus in Service

December 17, 2004


The SunLine Transit Agency in Palm Springs, CA, has put the first H2ICE series hybrid transit bus into service .

Built by ISE, the $600,000 hybrid uses Ford’s hydrogen-burning 6.8-liter V-10 to drive a generator that produces electricity for  drive motors. The engine sits in a cradle assembly similar in other respects to ISE’s Thundervolt production gasoline-hybrid system, which also uses a Ford V-10 engine.

The hybrid uses twin traction motors with 85 kW continuous power, 170 kW peak. Ultracapacitors store the energy produced by the generator and by regenerative braking. Roof tanks store 58 kg of hydrogen at 350 bar (5,000 psi).

The 40-foot bus has a top speed of 65 mph, a range of more than 230 miles, and accelerates from 0-30 in 15 seconds. Mileage ranges from 4.4 to 6.5 mpg (gasoline gallon equivalent—GGE) depending upon use.

With a hydrogen-fueled engine, the bus excels in reducing operating emissions. The chart to the right (click to enlarge) compares emissions from standard diesel, standard CNG, and other hybrids to the hydrogen platform.

SunLine Transit has pursued an aggressive clean technology strategy for a number of years, first implementing CNG, then testing hydrogen-CNG (HCNG) and other advanced platforms. In April 2000, SunLine opened a hydrogen generation, storage, fueling, and education facility to demonstrate various approaches to hydrogen production. SunLine produces hydrogen through electrolysis as well as natural gas reforming. Electricity to power the electrolyzer and reformer is provided by the electric grid with some of that power being offset by SunLine’s solar panels and tracking arrays.

SunLine, founded in 1977, is based in Thousand Palms and operates a fleet of 47 buses and 23 para-transit vehicles. Each year, it logs about 4 million miles serving the region.


  • Hydrogen ICE Bus Flyer
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    Green Light in Japan for Honda FCX


    Japanese Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure has certified the Honda FCX (earlier post) for use on public roads. Equipped with Honda's own fuel cell stack, the FCX can start in sub-freezing temperatures.  Honda plans to offer the new FCX for lease in various regions in Japan starting in 2005, including those with cold winter climates.

    Honda has been leasing the earlier version of the FCX in the United States and Japan since December 2002. Honda has been testing the second-generation FCX in cold weather since last year, demonstrating its  capacity to start and operate at sub-zero temperatures.

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    ZAP and Anuvu Shoot for a Consumer H2 FCV in 2005

    December 16, 2004


    ZAP, an electric vehicle distributor, says it intends to create fuel cell-powered vehicles for delivery to consumers in 2005 by working with PEM fuel cell manufacturer Anuvu.

    ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) is a ten-year old company that started by distributing electric bicycles and folding electric scooters. In 1999 ZAP added electric motorbikes; in 2001 it added electric drive scooters; in 2003 ZAP announced its first electric automobiles; and in 2004 ZAP introduced electric ATVs and the fuel-efficient SMART Car.

    Anuvu, also ten-years old, designs and manufactures its Power-X fuel cell stacks, engines and systems, and provides custom solutions for a variety of clients. Anuvu has already designed and assembled a few fuel cell-powered vehicles.

    Anuvu’s prototype “Clean Urban Vehicle” (CUV)—a Suzuki Esteem wagon modified with Anuvu’s fuel cell system—picked up five gold and one silver awards in the small fuel cell car category at the 2003 Challenge Bibendum. (Those results tied with Honda’s FCX.)

    The company’s first commercially available fuel cell hybrid (for fleets) is based on a Nissan Frontier pickup.

    The current Frontier-based CUV uses two 6kW fuel cell stacks in parallel for a combined 12 kW output. The CUV pairs this with lead acid gel batteries and Anuvu’s own hybrid power management system for a peak 100 kW to drive a Solectria AC 90-C motor. The motor delivers 400 Nm of peak torque, 90 Nm of continuous torque and 40 kW of continuous power.

    Regenerative braking contributes to recharging the batteries. Anuvu plans a subsequent CUV model with a 24 kW fuel cell system and NiMH batteries.

    The vehicle uses gaseous hydrogen stored at 350 bar (5,000 psi). This CUV has a range of 250 miles, with a top speed of 75 mph and a 0–60 time of 10 seconds and lists for $99,995. Anuvu has plans for a full-range vehicle in the future.

    Anuvu has also kitted out GEM neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV) with fuel cell systems and 1 kg H2 storage to triple the GEMs’ range. The Anuvu-modified GEMs also feature a 110 VAC power outlet, providing mobile power for work tools.

    Zap wants to package and market this capability as part of its portfolio, and has signed a purchase order for an undisclosed number of Anuvu Power-X fuel cells.

    ZAP’s goal is to dominate the niche for advanced transportation. Our philosophy is to partner with all of the market players that promise near-term solutions.

    ZAP had the first practical electric bicycle, first practical electric scooter, first practical electric car, and recently the first federally approved SMART Car in the United States. Now, with Anuvu, we have set a goal of marketing the first practical hydrogen fuel cell powered car by 2005.

    —ZAP CEO Steve Schneider

    ZAP is a persistent and creative promoter. It started selling its personal electric vehicles on the Internet in 1995. Earlier this year, it signed a distribution agreement with Costco for the ZAPPY scooter, auctioned its Americanized SMART cars on eBay, and has recently inked $2.98 million worth of wholesale purchase orders for the SMART car from US dealers.

    Once ZAP received a Letter of Conformity for those SMART cars from the EPA this year, it was able to begin organizing U.S. marketing and distribution for the car. ZAP has a near-term goal of 150 dealer outlets by second quarter of fiscal year 2005.

    Those initial outlets are to be the foundation for ZAP’s plans to build a dealer network catering to “socially responsible car buyers” with advanced automotive technologies, including fuel-efficient automobiles powered by gasoline, electric, hydrogen and other fuels. Any product resulting from the partnership with Anuvu would thus end up in those dealerships.

    The barriers and obstacles to a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle on the dealer lot in 2005 are many and obvious—especially price, vehicle performance and fueling infrastructure. All those constraints help form the strategy of mainstream fuel cell vehicle makers of shooting first for combinations of multi-year trials and fleet leasing.

    There’s something to be said, though, for just going for it. If ZAP and Anuvu can package a reasonably-priced  vehicle and offer a solution to the fueling issue (perhaps by providing on-site generation at the ZAP dealerships) they probably can build a small, niche market in the near term. Whether that can be a profitable and sustainable market at this stage is another question.

    Another issue for ZAP could be its capitalization. The company (publicly traded, ZAPZ.OB) lost $10 million on $4.87 million of revenue (trailing twelve months as of 30.Sep.04), and has only $2 million in cash on the balance sheet. Financing an aggressive expansion into dealerships and rolling out new lines of advanced technology vehicles will require large amounts of creativity, sales ability,  financial gymnastics, and tolerance for risk. Of course, depending how ZAP prices its dealer franchises, those 150 outlets may be part of the financing solution as well as the distribution and sales solution. It will be interesting to see how ZAP tackles this.

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    Additional Detail on the Michelin/PSI HY-LIGHT Prototype

    December 15, 2004


    Michelin is providing a bit more information on the HY-LIGHT hydrogen fuel cell concept car, including a simplified schematic (at right). Developed in partnership with the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI), the HY-LIGHT made its debut at the Challenge Bibendum in Shanghai this year. (Earlier post.)

    The lightweight car (850 kg) uses Michelin’s Active Wheel units—electric traction motors combined with an active electric suspension—mounted in the front wheels. Supercapacitors store the electricity generated by braking.

    Michelin designed the HY-LIGHT with the expectation of using H2 and O2 generated via electrolysis and stored in separate on-board tanks at up to 350 bar (5,000 psi).

    With pressurized oxygen stored on-board, the HY-LIGHT fuel cell does not require an on-board compressor to pump air through it to provide the source of oxygen through the fuel cell. Compressors add weight and power consumption, and ambient air contains components the fuel cell doesn’t require, such as nitrogen and CO2.

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    DaimlerChrysler On Track for 100 FCVs by Year-end

    December 09, 2004

    In December, DaimlerChrylser will more than double the number of fuel cell vehicles it has placed in the United States.  That puts the company on track to meeting its promise of having 100 fuel cell vehicles by the end of the year, acording to Andreas Schell, Senior Manager Fuel Cell Systems Advance Vehicle Engineering, Chrysler Group.

    Adding to what is already the largest fleet of fuel cell automobiles in the world, the recent U.S. arrivals consist of Mercedes F-Cell passenger cars and medium-duty Dodge Fuel Cell Sprinter Vans. The 19 vehicles are currently being prepped for customers in California and Michigan.

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    Tokyo Gas Offers Home Hydrogen System

    December 07, 2004


    Tokyo Gas Co. is introducing a home hydrogen fuel cell-based co-generation system to provide electricity, heat and hot water—but not, as does the Honda Home Energy System II (earlier post) hydrogen gas for vehicles. Not yet, at least.

    The systems, jointly developed with Ebara Ballard Corporation and Matsushita Electric will be on the market on a limited scale on February 8, 2005. Tokyo Gas plans to roll the system out more widely in 2008.

    The company will install 200 units in certain areas where maintenance capabilities have been established within Tokyo Gas supply area by the end of 2005. The company is offering a FC Partnership agreement for early subscribers: a ten-year contract at ¥1 million—approximately $9,726, or $81 per month. FC Partners will provide Tokyo Gas with operational data and feedback for the first three years. Tokyo Gas has established a standard hydrogen co-generation tariff with a maximum monthly charge of ¥9,500 (approximately $92).

    The 1 kW systems have a hot water tank capacity of 200 liters.

    The feedstock for the system is Tokyo Gas’s city gas—predominantly natural gas from LNG with the addition of some propane from LPG to adjust the calorific value.

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    Japan Wants H2 Fuel Cell Train by 2010

    December 06, 2004

    Yomiuri Shimbun. Japan’s Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) has studies underway to get a fuel cell-powered train into service by about 2010.

    Created in 1987 as the joint R&D unit for the seven Japan Railway companies, the institute has among its projects the development of a Maglev system. RTRI has been working on fuel-cell trains since 2001, when it successfully ran a mini-train powered by fuel cells with an output of one kilowatt-hour with one person aboard. In February 2004, the institute tested a prototype with an output of 30 kWh and a  top speed of 30 km/h.

    The fuel-cell train now envisioned by RTRI will consist of two cars, one equipped with a set of four motors, a transformer and a battery, and the other equipped with fuel cells and a hydrogen cylinder.

    The vehicle will be able to run at a maximum speed of 120 km/h and travel a maximum of 300 to 400 kilometers before the hydrogen cylinder needs replacing.

    A major hurdle to be cleared before the planned fuel cell-powered train can be put into service is to boost the fuel cells’ efficiency, according to Kenichi Uruga, chief of the institute’s Vehicle Control Technology Department.

    To run a couple of carriages, fuel cells capable of turning out 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity are needed, he said. Fuel cells capable of producing that amount of electricity currently available are too large to be set up in the envisaged vehicle, Uruga said.

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    CA H2 Highway Meeting to be Webcast

    The final meeting of the California Hydrogen Highway Advisory Panel for the discussion of the blueprint plan is scheduled for 8 Dec from 4:00 to 6:00 PM, Pacific Time.  It is open to the public, and will be webcast.

    Questions for the Panel members may be submitted in advance (by noon on 12/7) to  [email protected]. Webcast viewers may submit questions during the session to [email protected]. Meeting attendees can submit questions in writing on site.

    Webcast info here.

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    Honda’s Polyfuel Strategy

    December 05, 2004


    Robert Bienenfeld, who has been pushing the alternative fuel agenda at Honda for years, outlined Honda’s 10-point “polyfuel” strategy at the CALSTART conference.

    Polyfuels in this context does not refer to the fuel cell manufacturer of the same name.  The term is a label for the pragmatic short- to medium-term—and perhaps even long-term—approach of basically using whatever technologies and alternative platforms are available to help stop the headlong rush to the precipice of increasing oil dependence and emissions-driven climate change and health issues.

    A polyfuels strategy is inherently one of fuel and platform diversity—sort of like a coalition government. The different parties and factions have their own agendas, issues and principles; constantly struggle for the upper hand; but manage to work together on large, strategic issues.

    Honda’s strategy is as follows:

    1. Reduce emissions and increase power without hurting fuel efficiency. Honda points to the Accord hybrid as an example. The downside of this approach, which is clearly designed to meet the current buying criteria of the majority of consumers (size, power, comfort, safety), is that you don’t make progress quickly enough.

    2. Aggressively apply current technologies that work— Honda’s VTEC for variable cylinder management as an example. This is essentially the approach the California Air Resources Board is demanding from automakers in adherence to the CO2 reduction standards.

    3. Try various marketing concepts to see what works. Honda has packaged its hybrid technology in three different vehicles designed around different principles:

      • The Insight for extreme efficiency

      • The Civic Hybrid for mass market appeal

      • The Accord Hybrid for performance, luxury and efficiency.

    4. Be realistic in building business plans. Honda’s sales of Civic Hybrids have tracked closely to the price of fuel.

    5. Lead with strategic concepts, such as the natural gas Civic. (Civic GX) Honda is indeed taking the lead in the US in making natural gas vehicles available and convenient for consumers...and it’s a test. (Point 3 above.)

    6. Invest in advanced technologies—hydrogen fuel cell technology represented by the second generation Honda FCX running on Honda’s own fuel cell stack.

    7. Evaluate new technology in the real world. Test it, market it.

    8. Listen to and partner with leaders.

    9. Innovate with infrastructure solutions. Honda is doing this more broadly than any other automaker of which I am aware in this area. Their innovation isn’t relegated to large-scale multi-million dollar lighthouse projects, hydrogen filling stations and so on. With the Phill home natural gas pump and the second generation Honda Energy Station for home hydrogen reforming and fueling, Honda is trying to bring these advanced capabilities to the consumer.

    10. Invest in demand-side innovations. Honda has tried a variety of intelligent community vehicle approaches (Flexcar, Carlink) sharing  low-emissions or alternative vehicles to reduce overall usage.

    As presented, the Honda strategy makes sense, and it is clear they are executing on it—it also leaves out a number of different approaches, notably clean diesels, biofuels and battery electric vehicles. That’s OK—as long as someone provides those missing elements.

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    Bucky Balls for H2 Storage?

    November 30, 2004


    GEMZ Corp., a nanotech startup, is set to acquire an exclusive license to a new thermal acoustic process for the production of bucky balls—C60—to be used for the storage of hydrogen.

    While the technology is still conceptual, and its development is “uncertain and fraught with risk,” according to GEMZ, it could open the way for hydrogen storage in C60 at a cost two orders of magnitude lower than current technology permits. GEMZ estimates that the thermal acoustic technique is potentially more efficient than the four methods currently used for producing C60, all of which consume too much energy in the manufacturing process for them to be cost effective.

    Bucky balls, also known as Buckminster Fullerenes, after the architect Buckminster Fuller, are the roundest and most symmetrical large molecule known. Discovered in 1985 by Professors Smalley, Curl and Kroto (for which they won the Nobel Prize in 1996), bucky balls are hollow clusters of 60 carbon atoms, shaped like soccer balls.

    The C60 molecule has the special property of being able to absorb large numbers of hydrogen atoms without disrupting the bucky ball structure. This property suggests that C60 may be a better storage medium for hydrogen than metal hydrides, the best current material, and hence possibly a key factor in the development of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

    In 2003, Japanese researchers using a bucky ball derivative successfully inserted a hydrogen molecule into the molecular cage at the lowest energy cost then to date. The image above is from the paper describing their work: the H2 molecule is shown as the space-filling model in the center, and the host C60 molecule is shown as a stick model.

    GEMZ is clearly taking a gamble—and will be using the fact of the licensing to raise the funds necessary to develop a practical proof of concept of the new technology. But these are the types of developments and breakthroughs—and gambles—necessary for widespread hydrogen usage to be viable. 


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    Milestone for H2 Production by High-Temperature Electrolysis

    November 29, 2004

    Researchers at the DOE’s Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) and Ceramatec, Inc have successfully shown that they can produce hydrogen at temperatures and pressures suitable for a future Generation IV nuclear reactor via High-Temperature Electrolysis (HTE). This marks a milestone along the research path laid out some three years ago on exploring different mechanisms for hydrogen production via nuclear energy.

    The simple and modular approach we’ve taken with our research partners produces either hydrogen or electricity, and most notable of all—achieves the highest-known production rate of hydrogen by high-temperature electrolysis.

    —Steve Herring, lead INEEL researcher

    Instead of conventional electrolysis, which uses only electric current to separate hydrogen from water, high-temperature electrolysis enhances the efficiency of the process by adding substantial external heat—such as high-temperature steam from an advanced nuclear reactor system. Such a high-temperature system has the potential to achieve overall conversion efficiencies in the 45–50%  range, compared to approximately 30%  for conventional electrolysis. Added benefits include the avoidance of both greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

    The experimental system (not nuclear-based) produced hydrogen at a rate of 50 normal liters (standard temperature and pressure) per hour.


    The technology of hydrogen production through conventional water electrolysis is well-established. Conventional electrolysis splits water into its components—hydrogen and oxygen—by charging water with an electrical current. The charge breaks the chemical bond between the hydrogen and oxygen and splits apart the atomic components. The resulting ions form at two poles: the anode, which is positively charged, and the cathode, which is negatively charged. Hydrogen ions gather at the cathode and react with it to form hydrogen gas, which is then collected. Oxygen goes through a similar process at the anode.

    The main drawbacks of conventional electrolysis for large-scale hydrogen production are the amount of electricity required for the process and the high cost of membrane production.


    High-temperature electrolysis (HTE) adds in some of the energy needed to split the water as heat instead of electricity, thus reducing the overall energy required. HTE uses a device very similar to an Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) (Cermatec’s expertise).

    Essentially, the electrolytic cell consists of a solid oxide electrolyte with conducting electrodes deposited on either side of the electrolyte. A mixture of steam and hydrogen at 750-950ºC is supplied to the anode side of the electrolyte. Oxygen ions are drawn through the electrolyte by the electrical potential and combine to O2 on the cathode side. The steam-hydrogen mixture exits and the water and hydrogen gas mixture is passed through a separator to separate hydrogen.

    Because using heat directly is more much efficient that first converting heat to electricity, the overall efficiency of the high-temperature system is much higher. That assumes, of course, that you have a readily-available, non fossil-fuel-based source of high heat available—i.e., that you have an advanced high-temperature nuclear reactor or an adapted solar energy system at hand.

    Current nuclear thinking on HTE presumes a helium-cooled, high-temperature Next Generation Nuclear Plant as an element of the entire system. The helium, heated by the nuclear reaction to a temperature of approximately 1,000ºC, spins a turbine to generate electricity and also heats water to superheated steam for the HTE process. (Diagram of the concept below.)


    From a planner’s point of view, the ability of the nuclear plant to generate electricity and hydrogen makes the solution an attractive one. There are other high-temperature reactors under consideration as part of the Generation IV nuclear research plan, as there are other research paths (thermochemical production) for hydrogen generation under the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative.

    According to INEEL, a single next-generation nuclear plant will be able to produce in hydrogen the equivalent of 200,000 gallons of gasoline each day.

    There are numerous issues specific to HTE to work through, including reducing the cost of manufacturing electrolytic cells and components and increasing the lifetime of units. This would be a fairly hostile environment to many materials.

    If you take the nuclear-specific element out of it for a moment, however, what the INEEL-led team is discovering and developing is not inextricably bound to nuclear energy; all HTE requires is a high heat energy source.

    Accordingly, another DOE initiative is exploring the solar-hydrogen potential, and is coordinating with the experimental work at INEEL. INEEL has, I think, a bigger budget.


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    H2 Fuel Systems Firm Acquires Design and Assembly Company

    November 23, 2004

    Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies, a provider of  hydrogen fuel systems and storage for both ICE and fuel cell vehicles, is acquiring Starcraft Corporation in a stock-for-stock deal valued at approximately $185 million. (Earlier posts on Quantum here and here.)

    Starcraft is an interesting acquisition for Quantum. Starcraft is a supplier of after-market parts (wheel and tire assemblies, that sort of thing), but, through its Tecstar subsidiary, it is also a second-stage engineering design and integration firm.  As a result of its work creating specialty cars and enhancing conventional models, the company has engineering capabilities focused on powertrain projects and complete vehicle concepts, such as high-performance and racing engines for cars, boats and motorcycles, and complete race cars.

    By picking up Starcraft, Quantum now has expanded resources for vehicle system design, powertrain engineering, systems integration, validation, and second stage manufacturing and assembly for its future alternative fuel and fuel cell vehicle programs.

    Merging the two companies will allow the combined company to expand its current OEM capabilities while positioning itself as a major player in the early stage development and production of fuel cell vehicles. The Starcraft product portfolio coupled with its service and assembly capabilities will position Quantum as a specialty vehicle designer, integrator and assembler for low-volume programs with the military and growing OEM customer base.

    —Alan Niedzwiecki, Quantum’s CEO

    The market didn’t seem to like the announced deal all that much—Quantum stock dropped 11% on the news. Mergers usually are very tricky in the best of circumstances. Companies tend to become inwardly focused on their structures and plans and working out the details rather than steadfastly focusing outward on their customers and the market. (Been there, done that.) Mergers in which a company tries to move outside of its core area of competence are doubly risky.

    That said, if this works, (as in, viable company, good products, growing revenue) it will give the development of hydrogen ICE and fuel cell vehicles a boost. It won’t hurt to have another strong designer and low-volume assembler focused on alternative platforms.  The question Quantum will have to answer to its shareholders over time, though, is whether or not it would have been better to acquire that capability another way.

    in H2, Vehicle Manufacturers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Breaking In Is Hard To Do

    November 22, 2004

    Alternate Energy Company (AEC) is a small, new company that has gone through a number of changes and contortions over the past couple of years as it works on perfecting and then commercializing a  proprietary approach to hydrogen production.

    AEC’s technology reportedly generates hydrogen gas from proprietary alloys (the company just filed patents related to these metals) immersed in an aqueous solution. The promised result is pure, fuel-cell grade hydrogen (99.9%) at low-cost, on-demand, without any known harmful or toxic by-products. (It sounds a bit like the sodium borohydride approach driven by Millenium Cell and being demonstrated by DaimlerChrysler and Samsung—earlier post.)

    AEC has two main challenges. The first is the technology, but let’s assume they get that squared away. (If they don’t, then it’s game over, anyway.) The second is figuring out how to stay alive in the market—i.e., how to commercialize it, which business segments to target, and so on. This isn’t a trivial question for any business, but especially not for a newcomer.

    In a recent filing with the SEC (an SB2 prospectus for a securities offering—AEC is public, although a penny stock), the company published its marketing grid that evaluates the prospects for the AEC product by criteria and market.

    I reproduced the grid below. On AEC’s scale, a 1=most favorable to the company; a 5=least favorable. I color-coded the different rankings to see the patterns better. (Click to enlarge.)


    The transportation market, while the extremely attractive in market size and availability of grant money, racks up the most “least favorable” rankings of any of the possible markets for this startup. It’s too hard to break in, the operating and support requirements would be extremely exacting—and that’s probably a sound business assessment on AEC’s part. AEC now seems to be targeting segments of the  stationary power generation market: stationary industrial, micro-technology, stationary back-up and emergency power applications and residential primary.

    Still, transportation is a very tempting market, especially if the AEC technology can actually produce the hydrogen in sufficient volume. In June, AEC announced that it, in partnership with Feel Good Cars (another startup), would produced a serial hybrid version of Feel Good’s electric neighborhood car using a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine as the generator with an on-board AEC system providing the hydrogen.

    The original Feel Good ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) is a certified  low-speed vehicle (LSV) designed just for neighborhood use. Running out to the store, for example.

    The ZENN uses a rechargeable valve regulated lead acid battery, and has a maximum speed of 25 mph, with a range of 30-34 miles. It does use a regenerative braking system as well.

    At the time of announcement, the companies indicated that they could have a working prototype by the end of this year.

    I hope they are able to do it. For the market’s sake, we need to be able to have scrappy, innovative startups be able to bring their technologies into the mix.

    in H2, Vehicle Manufacturers, Vehicle Systems | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Hydrogenics to Develop and Demo H2 Bus

    November 19, 2004

    Hydrogenics (earlier post) has been tapped by the Ministry for Transport Energy and State Planning of the State North-Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany, to develop a hydrogen fuel-cell powered “midi-bus.” The propulsion system of the 17-foot European-manufactured bus will be based on Hydrogenics’ HyPM power module technology. Also under the terms of the contract, Hydrogenics will supply full scale testing and select demonstrations in NRW. The contract is a cost share arrangement in which NRW will fund 50% of the project cost up to €566,000 (approximately $US 735,000).

    The project and its assessment will take place over a one-year period. Demonstrations are expected to be underway by the middle of next year.

    The HyPM modules are fully integrated systems with mechanical and electrical interfaces and controls built around Hydrogenics’ H2X PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell stack. The current  module, the HyPM 10, can be combined in a serial or parallel configurations to meet a variety of power requirements.

    The HyPM 10 produces 10 kW of continuous power with peak power of 12 kW.

    Hydrogenics has worked on several fuel cell bus prototypes for customers including the US Air Force and Natural Resources Canada.

    in Fleets, Fuel Cells, H2 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Samsung Hydrogen-on-Demand Scooter

    November 18, 2004

    Samsung Engineering has successfully tested a prototype fuel-cell scooter that uses a version of  “hydrogen on demand” technology to generate its own hydrogen from a solution of sodium borohydride. The scooter, the result of a project sponsored by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, can run up to 140 kilometers on 6 liters of hydrogen fuel.

    There are a few interesting aspects to this. First, up to now the most visible work on hydrogen-powered and hybrid scooters and motorcycles was coming from Honda and Yamaha (Japan). Both have shown prototypes of very interesting fuel cell (and hybrid, in the case of Honda) scooters. Samsung (Korea) is trying to get a place at the head table.  (As is Hyundai (Korea) with automotive hybrids and fuel cell vehicles).

    “The development and testing of the hydrogen-powered scooter shows that South Korea’s technology is on a par with that of the world,”said Yu Yong-ho, president of Samsung Engineering’s R&D center.

    Second is the use of sodium borohydride as an on-board feedstock for on-demand conversion to hydrogen.


    Millenium Cell is the leader in developing sodium borohydride-based energy sources. Using a proprietary catalyst, their patented and trademarked  “Hydrogen on Demand” systems can support a range of applications from personal electronics to transportation. A diagram of a Millenium Cell Hydrogen on Demand system is to the right.

    Sodium borohydride (short for sodium tetrahydridoborate: NaBH4) is a compound with very high hydrogen content. When NaBH4 is suspended in an aqueous solution and then passed over a catalyst, the reaction produces a large amount of hydrogen, along with a benign byproduct—sodium metaborate—that can be recycled back into sodium borohydride.

    NaBH4 + 2H2O 4H2 + NaBO2 + heat


    There are a number of advantages to this approach for creating hydrogen:

    • The reaction is completely inorganic (carbon and sulfur free), producing a high-quality energy source without polluting emissions. (At least on-board; I have no idea what is involved in the  production of sodium borohydride.)

    • The reaction is very steady and highly controllable—remove the catalyst and it stops.

    • The reaction needed to release the hydrogen requires no energy, and can operate at ambient temperature and pressure.

    • The sodium borohydride is nonflammable, nonexplosive, and easy to transport.

    The primary disadvantage is the cost and availability of the compound.

    DaimlerChrysler used Millenium Cell technology it its Natrium fuel cell concept car, introduced in 2001. The Natrium (Latin for sodium, and the origin of the “Na” symbol for the element) is based on a Town and Country minivan, and uses a Millenium Cell fuel processor with a Ballard fuel cell, Siemens motor and SAFT Li-ion battery pack.

    Natrium Concept Car
    Motor 35 kW Siemens
    Fuel cell system 55 kW Ballard/XCELLSiS
    Battery pack 40 kW SAFT Li-ion
    Fuel processor Millenium Cell HOD
    0-60 mpg 16 seconds
    Top speed 80 mph
    Range 300 miles

    In 2003, Samsung and Millenium cell entered into a partnership to jointly develop fuel cells for portable devices. The scooter apparently is related, in concept if not through licensing. Portable devices is indeed Millenium Cell’s principle area of focus for commercializing their technology. Transportation, for them, is an area of future interest.

    in Fuel Cells, H2, Personal Transit | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Two H2 FCXs for New York State

    November 16, 2004

    Honda is leasing two 2005 FCX fuel cell vehicles to the state of New York, the first state customer for Honda fuel cell technology and the first customer for a fuel cell vehicle in the Northeastern U.S. This brings the number of FCV vehicles in operation to 12.

    The 2005 FCX (earlier post) uses Honda’s own fuel cell stack (Honda FC Stack) with the ability to start and operate in sub-freezing temperatures—definitely a requirement for operating in upstate New York.

    The State will lease the  two hydrogen-powered FCX  vehicles for two years with delivery of the first vehicle scheduled to take place in December, followed by the second vehicle in mid-2005.

    in Fleets, Fuel Cells, H2 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    H2 Generation and Fueling at Home: Honda’s Home Energy System II


    Honda R&D Americas and Plug Power have began successful operation of their 2nd-generation prototype home hydrogen system, the Home Energy Station II (HES II). HES II is the latest evolution of a joint development effort by Honda and Plug Power to produce a home system that generates hydrogen from natural gas for use in fuel cell vehicles while supplying electricity and hot water to the home. Testing of the HES II system will be done in conjunction with demonstration of Honda’s 2005 FCX fuel cell car on public roads in the Northeastern U.S.

    The HES II system contains the following elements:

    • A reformer to extract hydrogen from natural gas

    • A fuel cell unit that utilizes some of the extracted hydrogen to provide power for the system

    • A refiner to purify the hydrogen

    • A compressor for pressurizing the extracted hydrogen

    • A high-pressure tank unit to store the pressurized hydrogen

    HES II incorporates several subsystems which utilize Plug Power’s proprietary technology and allow for a reduction in the space required for the system. Originally two separate units, the HES now combines all the elements into one smaller package that includes the natural gas reformer, hydrogen purifier, fuel cell stack, compressor, fuel storage and delivery system.

    The initial version of the HES, shown in October 2003, produced hydrogen at a maximum rate of 2 normal cubic meters per hour (2Nm3/hour) with a purity of 99.99% or higher. The system had a storage capacity of 400 liters @ 420 atmospheres (425.6 bar or 6,172 psi).

    Honda and Plug Power are not the first to demonstrate or to explore small-scale generation of hydrogen. Shell Hydrogen, for example, has been working with Stuart Systems on home-scale electrolyser technology. Honda, however, is establishing a pattern of developing home alternative fuel systems that tie directly to their vehicle development. Earlier this year, Honda introduced Phill, a home natural gas fueling system for CNG vehicles in conjunction with announcing its plans to begin retail sales of the Civic GX natural gas vehicle beginning in California in spring 2005. (Earlier post.)

    Supporting the distributed (and presumably low-cost) generation of alternative fuels makes enormous sense for an automaker. There should be more of it. I’m eager to see further performance and cost figures on the HES II work, and to see which other automakers pick up on the idea.

    in Fuel Cells, H2 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Toro Evaluating Nuvera Fuel Cell


    Toro—the lawnmower and powered yard equipment company—is evaluating Nuvera’s H2e hydrogen fuel cell module for potential use in its professional grounds and turf care equipment.

    The H2e (“hydrogen to electricity”) is Nuvera’s small-scale product line of hydrogen power modules. This line of PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell stacks provides between 1 to 6 kW of electric power.

    Nuvera is coupling the H2e with power electronics, a peaking battery, and hydrogen storage capability to create a compact fuel cell engine for many types of industrial vehicles.

    Nuvera has a strategic partnership with Renault—which owns 10% of Nuvera—on automotive fuel cell R&D. This partnership is an extension of an earlier agreement between Nuvera and Renault for the development of an on-board reformer to convert gasoline to hydrogen. A prototype of the reformer is due this year.

    in Fuel Cells, H2 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    GM: $12B for H2 Pumps

    November 14, 2004

    Larry Burns, GM’s head of R&D and the point person on the hydrogen initiative for the automaker estimated that adding sufficient hydrogen pumps to U.S. gasoline stations for a viable hydrogen fueling infrastructure will cost about $12 billion. (NW Times.)

    That amount would support placing pumps at  12,000 stations in U.S. cities and along major highways.

    “The investment to get the infrastructure is not insurmountable,” Burns said on a conference call. “That’s half what it would cost today to build the Alaska pipeline.”

    $12B works out to an average $1M per station. And that’s the pumps—not the actual supply of hydrogen. Considering the magnitude of the price tag associated with major conventional energy projects, though...not bad.

    But that’s also basing a vision of the future refueling model on the present centralized model—i.e., a few (in the hundreds) refineries producing fuels piped and trucked to distribution centers thence to retail outlet or private refueling depots.

    The increasing capabilities of smaller biorefineries and the potential for distributed renewable generation of hydrogen (Hydrogenics/Stuart Energy post) could well tweak that model more towards a distributed model supporting a much greater number of smaller, less expensive refueling stations.  Think of a hydrogen (or biofuel version) of Honda’s Phill home natural gas refueling pump. (Earlier post.)

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    Largest H2 Station Opens in Berlin

    November 13, 2004

    Deutsche Welle. The world’s largest public hydrogen fueling station opened yesterday in Berlin. The Aral station, with sufficient capacity to fill 100 vehicles with hydrogen, offers both liquid and compressed hydrogen alongside gasoline and diesel pumps. At the moment, there are only 16 hydrogen cars and one city bus in Berlin.

    Aral, a subsidiary of BP, built Germany’s first public hydrogen refueling station (in operation since 1998) at Munich airport.

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    H2 Consolidation: Hydrogenics and Stuart Energy

    November 11, 2004

    Hydrogenics is acquiring Stuart Energy Systems in a $130-million all-stock deal. ($155 million Canadian—both parties are Canadian companies, and located about 2 km apart in Ontario.)

    The combination of the hydrogen generation (water electrolysis) and fueling technologies of Stuart Energy with the fuel-cell technologies and testing equipment of Hydrogenics creates a larger company with a more complete product portfolio that can offer a comprehensive hydrogen energy solution, especially for on-site applications, including private fleet refueling.

    We’re in a race, I think this race is a serious race, and those that create critical mass early on and are able to focus on profitability early on are going to be the ones that command the future.

    A lot of fleet operators, looking at trends in energy market, are increasingly intrigued by the potential of hydrogen and fuel cells...when combined with renewable electricity and electrolysis, we have a compelling solution in many applications.

    —Jon Slangerup, CEO Stuart Energy, who will be an adviser to the new company

    Stuart has long been a proponent and provider of on-site hydrogen generation solutions and  has a strong focus on tying low-cost electrolyzers with windmills for distributed, renewable H2 production, especially in Europe.

    Stuart also has been working with Ford on the H2ICE program. Ford uses Ballard fuel cell technology, but the new tie-up between Stuart and Hydrogenics might open up some other possibilities.

    Conference call on the acquisition announcement.

    in Fuel Cells, H2 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Westport Providing H2 Injectors for BMW

    November 10, 2004

    Westport Innovations has signed a new agreement with BMW to continue to develop and to supply hydrogen gas injection components to support BMW’s work on H2 combustion engines (H2ICE). This is the latest in a series of development agreements between Westport and BMW that began in 2002.

    Westport’s hydrogen system is a version of its natural gas injection system modified to deal with the difference in gas density and other factors. Westport has technology development alliances in place with a number of manufacturers, such as Ford, MAN, Isuzu, and BMW to develop engines that operate using  natural gas, propane, hydrogen and blended fuels such as HCNG (Hydrogen-CNG).

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    Honda H2 FCX to Chula Vista


    Honda has delivered a Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell car to the city of Chula Vista, CA. This brings the total of FCX vehicles in service in California to 10.  The city will lease the vehicle for two years and operate the FCX on a regular daily basis. Refueling will be at a publicly accessible hydrogen station already operated by the city on their property.

    The FCX is the only fuel cell car certified by the U.S. EPA (Tier-2 Bin 1) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) (Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV)).

    In 2004, the city of San Francisco leased two cars, joining the City of Los  Angeles (five cars) and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (two cars) as FCX customers.

    An earlier post on the specifications of the 2nd-generation 2005 FCX is here. Honda significantly boosted the performance in this new model by using its own fuel cell stack.

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    First Integrated Gasoline/H2 Station Opens

    November 09, 2004

    Shell and GM are opening the first gasoline and hydrogen integrated fueling station in North America tomorrow. A retrofit of an existing Shell retail station in Washington, DC, the Benning Road Shell Hydrogen Station will be used to fuel GM vehicles participating in the DOE Learning Demonstration, part of a Washington, DC to New York hydrogen corridor.

    The first load of hydrogen was delivered to the site and transferred to the storage system in October.  The hydrogen is stored in a below-ground, double-walled stainless steel tank with a fiberglass liner. There are 3 UV flame detectors and H2 gas detectors in and around the tank area.

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    GM, Shanghai Automotive Partner on Hybrids and Fuel Cells

    October 30, 2004

    GM and Shanghai Automotive are jointly to develop and to commercialize hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles—and the infrastructure required to support them—in China. The broad-based agreement, presaged by the announcement two weeks ago of joint development of diesel hybrid buses (earlier post), is the first of its kind between a global and Chinese automaker.

    In addition to co-developing a demonstration vehicle building on GM’s HydroGen3 fuel-cell vehicle, the partners intend to:

    • Develop local engineering capability for clean-energy vehicles

    • Promote the development of a Chinese hydrogen infrastructure

    • Contribute to the formulation of relevant regulations and policies by the Chinese government

    • Promote general awareness of the future of advanced vehicle technology in China

    The realization of a cleaner future will not be accomplished in a single step. That is why GM is adopting a three-pronged approach to our overall advanced propulsion strategy, which we believe offers the greatest overall benefits to society. Hybrids will play an important role, but over the long term, we believe fuel cells powered by hydrogen offer the ultimate environmental answer. Because it has a developing automotive industry without a massive gasoline infrastructure, China is in a unique position to take the lead in moving toward a hydrogen-based economy.

    —Rick Wagoner, GM CEO

    GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center will be responsible for maintaining the daily operation of the demonstration fuel-cell vehicle. This will enable PATAC to become familiar with the latest alternative propulsion technology in order to enhance its own product development capability. It will further serve as an important point of reference for government decision-makers in creating regulations and standards and developing infrastructure required for the next generation of vehicles.

    In addition, GM will leverage its industry-leading fuel-cell technology to fully support SAIC’s bid in the fourth quarter of 2005 to take part in the Global Environment Facility/United Nations Development Program Demonstration for Fuel Cell Bus Commercialization program in China.

    GM and SAIC have worked together on fuel cells before, unveiling a fuel-cell Buick GL8 minivan, called the Phoenix, in November 2001. The Phoenix was powered by a 35-kilowatt, first-generation, fuel cell stack from GM. The newer HydroGen3 is about twice as powerful.

    in China, Fuel Cells, H2, Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Audi Picks up 10 Awards at Challenge Bibendum

    October 29, 2004

    Audi brought three models to the Challenge Bibendum and won 10 awards for driving dynamics, driving safety, emission behaviour and fuel consumption. The winning models were:

    • An A2 1.2 TDI, the only five-door car that delivers 100 kilometers (combined drive cycle) on less than three litres of fuel—that’s 78 mpg.

    • A hydrogen fuel cell A2H2, shown for the first time earlier this year at the Hannover Fair.

    • An A8 3.0 TDI, which also has an aluminium space frame body and is driven by the world’s first diesel engine with piezo injectors.

    The 5-year-old A2 1.2 TDI uses a 3-cylinder in-line engine that produces 45 kW (60 hp) and 140 Nm (103 lb-ft) of torque. An oxidizing catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) help it meet Euro4 emissions standards. Its all-aluminium body with Audi Space Frame (ASF) is 43 percent lighter than an otherwise identical structure made from steel. Audi pushed down the cars drag coefficient to a sensationally low cD = 0.25. All of which goes to prove the obvious—that small, light cars reduce fuel consumption.


    Its fuel cell sibling, the A2H2, actually delivers better performance in certain situations. The A2H2 combines a 66 kW Ballard PEM fuel cell with a 38 kW NiMH battery, producing a combined short term output of nearly 100 kW (134 hp). A three-section tank located beneath the trunk stores the gaseous hydrogen at 350 bar (5,000 psi), holding 1.8 kilograms of hydrogen.

    The electric motor delivers up to 425 Nm (313 lb-ft) of torque, providing better acceleration than the A2 1.2 TDI. The battery provides the energy to start up the fuel cell. During normal operation, the fuel cell supplies the electric motor with power and recharges the battery based on available capacity. During acceleration, the battery provides a boost to the motor. The A2H2 uses regenerative braking to further recharge the battery.

    Audi A2 Vehicles
     A2 1.2 TDI A2H2
    Engine/Motor1.2-L in-line 3-cylinder dieselPEM fuel cell with electric motor
    Power output45 kW
    60 hp
    Fuel cell: 66 kW
    Battery: 38 kW
    Motor: 40 kW (54 hp)
    Torque140 Nm
    103 lb-ft
    425 Nm
    313 lb-ft
    0-100 km14.8 sec10 sec
    Top speed168 km/h
    104 mph
    175 km/h
    109 mph
    Range669 km
    416 miles
    220 km
    137 miles

    in Conferences and other events, Diesel, Emissions, Fuel Cells, H2 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


    Gas Technology Institute (GTI) has developed a two-step steam reforming-shift fuel processor that can efficiently convert ethanol into hydrogen. For the past six months, GTI engineers have been performing internal research to demonstrate the potential of its fuel processor technology to generate hydrogen from a variety of renewable fuels.

    We were able to produce a high-quality hydrogen gas from ethanol—similar to results using natural gas—and demonstrated our process to representatives of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

    —Gerry Runte, Executive Director of GTI’s Hydrogen Systems Center

    One GTI goal is to utilize ethanol as the primary fuel to produce hydrogen in a hydrogen fueling station platform similar to the natural gas-to-hydrogen station being developed by GTI under a United States Department of Energy sponsored program.

    Probably too soon for anyone to have done an energy and emissions Lifecycle Analysis on this approach...

    in Ethanol, H2 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Quantum’s Fuel Cell Aggressor

    October 25, 2004


    Quantum Technologies (earlier post) has designed, developed and now shipped a high-performance, parallel-hybrid hydrogen fuel-cell off-road vehicle for the US Army.

    The Quantum AMVTM (Alternative Mobility Vehicle), nicknamed the “Aggressor,” couples a 10 kW (13.5 hp) fuel cell with a 60 kW (80.5 hp) battery in a parallel hybrid configuration, powering a high-torque (1,681 ft-lbs or 2,280 Nm) electric motor driving the rear wheels.

    Preliminary tests show an acceleration from 0 to 60 kmh (37 mph) in less than 4 seconds, and a top speed of 120 kmh (75 mph). Quantum’s electronic control system imposes torque and speed limits on the drivetrain to enhance traction and safety.

    The Quantum Aggressor runs on compressed hydrogen stored in Quantum’s proprietary Type IV impact-resistant carbon-fiber storage tanks. The tanks hold 68 liters (2.4 cu.ft) of hydrogen by volume, 1.6 kg (3.53 lbs) of hydrogen by mass.

    Type IV tanks are polymer-lined and fully wrapped with fiber composite. Types I through III are fully metal or metal-lined. The Type IV tanks, with plastic instead of metal, are better for weight-sensitive applications (transportation). Traditionally, carbon fiber has a poor resistance to impact damage. Quantum has added a proprietary, impact-resistant shell to the outside of its tanks, which hold up to 10,000 psi (700 bar).

    The Aggressor can also function as a silent field generator, providing power for telecommunications, surveillance, targeting, and other battlefield equipment.

    in Fuel Cells, H2, Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    10,000 Hythane Buses for Beijing

    October 23, 2004

    Brehon Energy plc, an affiliate of Australia’s Tasman Resources, has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with four leading Chinese groups to convert 10,000 diesel buses in Beijing to run on Hythane.® Hythane ® (also called HCNG—hydrogen CNG) is essentially CNG plus a small percentage of hydrogen (usually about 7% by energy or 20% by volume), and was developed by Hydrogen Components in the US. The project targets the conversion of the 10,000 buses prior to the start of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

    The Chinese organizations in the project are the China Association for Hydrogen Energy (CAHE), China Electronic Engineering Design Institute (CEEDI), Tsinghua University and Shougang Technology Research Institute (STRI).

    STRI is part of the Shougang Group of companies which includes Capital Steel Company, a major Chinese steel manufacturer that produces 8 million tons of steel per year and has available as a by-product a large quantity of hydrogen. That hydrogen will be used in the hythane mix.

    The project will seek certification under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol. Given the operational reduction in greenhouse gas emissions produced by replacing 10,000 diesel buses with Hythane® buses operating seven days per week in Beijing, the project team expects to generate substantial tradeable carbon credits. It will then use those carbon credits as a significant part of the funding package for the project.

    Hythane® reduces NOx emissions by 95% relative to diesel. In tests between Hythane® and CNG engines run by the Center for Transportation Technology and Systems, SunLine Transit Agency (which currently runs two Hythane® buses) and Cummins Westport, the Hythane® fueled engines reduced NOx emissions by 50%, non-methane hydrocarbons by 58%, methane by 16%, total hydrocarbons by 23% and CO2 by 7% (approximately 10 million tons per year). These reductions were achieved with no significant change in fuel efficiency between the Hythane®- and CNG-fueled engines.

    From a tank-to-wheels perspective, it seems clear that the Hythane ® buses produce the decrease in CO2 emissions compared to CNG and diesel for which the project team is looking. From a “well”-to-wheels perspective, I’m skeptical that there is a net benefit, given the source of the hydrogen. But since it is a by-product of an industrial process, I don’t know if the CO2 emissions associated with its production count toward the calculation of carbon credits for the buses. Carbon accounting is going to be a tricky field as it matures.

    Another Australian company, Advanced Engine Components, is involved in a joint venture in China that could see up to an additional 18,000 buses converted to CNG in time for the 2008 Olympics.

    in China, H2, Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Ford “Looking for Customers” for H2ICE Shuttle

    October 22, 2004

    Detroit News. Ford is looking for governments or private companies to test a fleet of its new H2ICE shuttle buses (earlier post). Bill Ford told attendees of Convergence 2004, an automotive electronics exhibition, that his company plans to build 100 hydrogen-powered shuttles by 2006, some of which will be deployed for use during January’s North American International Auto Show.

    The development program revealed last month is entering the marketing phase. “We’re looking for customers,” Bill Ford said.

    The announcement comes as the automaker continues to be a prime target of environmentalists because of its truck production. Critics have dismissed the automaker’s Escape Hybrid program as a token effort.

    Bill Ford did not set a fuel economy target for his company, but said the auto industry must address global warming because gasoline engines contribute to the problem. About 54 percent of consumers call it a serious concern, up from 46 percent, he said.

    And electronics, Bill Ford told Convergence attendees, will enable efficient, clean-burning hydrogen internal combustion engines—featured in Ford’s shuttle buses—to reach the market sooner.

    If the first-year production run of 20,000 Escape hybrids is a token effort, what is 100 hydrogen shuttle buses?

    There seems to be the beginnings of a shift on the part of more automakers to the position staked out earlier by BMW: use hydrogen ICE platforms in the short-term to catalyze the development of a hydrogen infrastructure and as a bridge technology to future hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

    Critical to that infrastructure are methods for producing hydrogen that carry a lower greenhouse gas impact than the current predominant technique of using natural gas as a feedstock. If one of the short-term goals is to reduce drastically the emission of greenhouse gases, accelerating the use of hydrogen produced from natural gas is not going to do it. The hydrogen combustion in the car is clean, but the hydrogen production from natural gas is not. From the emissions point of view, it would be better to focus on developing clean diesel hybrids running on biofuels.

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    Hydrogen HUMMER for the Governor—But It’s ICE

    California Gov. Schwarzenegger opened a hydrogen fueling station at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) on Friday, rolling into the station in a prototype H2ICE Hummer prototype—the H2H—loaned by GM.

    The H2H is an internal combustion engine (ICE) HUMMER H2 SUT (Sport Utility Truck) converted to burn gaseous hydrogen fuel. The truck uses a supercharged version of the truck’s original Vortec 6000 (6.0-liter V-8).

    “The H2H was created for two purposes,” said Elizabeth Lowery, GM vice president, Environment & Energy. “It brings focus and attention to the journey to a hydrogen economy, and it will provide GM with key learnings on hydrogen storage, hydrogen delivery systems, and hydrogen refueling infrastructure development.”

    Even as an avowed non-production prototype, this is a bit of a major departure for GM, which has been one of the automakers the most insistent on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the future. As a result, the automaker has never publicly emphasized an H2ICE prototype, preferring instead to seed the growing number of hydrogen trials around the globe with fuel cell vehicles such as its HydroGen3.

    By contrast, Ford, which also has a robust hydrogen fuel cell program, of late has been putting emphasis on its prototype H2ICE vehicles as a way to gain more experience with hydrogen—exactly the reasoning GM outlined above. (Earlier posts here, here, and here.)

    As an aside, the H2H also provides an example of a big truck that doesn’t depend on oil and is more friendly (leaving the source of the hydrogen out of the discussion of perception) to the environment. Of course, if that was the only concern, they could just trot out a biodiesel version.

    GM produced the H2H in conjunction with its partner Quantum Technologies, a leader in hydrogen fuel systems and storage for both ICE and fuel cell vehicles.

    In March 2004, California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) awarded a $2.3 million contract to Quantum to convert a fleet of 30 Toyota Priuses to hydrogen-burning hybrids.

    For that project, Quantum is developing the complete OEM-level hydrogen internal combustion engine fuel system, including both the injection system and hydrogen storage system. Included in the fuel systems will be the company’s patented fuel injectors, fuel rails, electronic control system and software, hydrogen storage and a customized turbocharger.

    Presumably, Quantum did not need to play such a complete role in the converison of H2 to H2H.

    It will be interesting to see if GM follows up with any other H2ICE prototypes. If they do, then it may be an indication that they are beginning to hedge their fuel cell bet, at least in terms of how soon they can build the FCV market.

    (Thanks to Autoblog for the tip on the Gov.)

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    $15.6 M in DOE Hydrogen Grants

    October 17, 2004

    The Department of Energy made hydrogen research grants worth $15.6 million during the last week. Here’s a brief summary. The designated grantees in some projects are the lead partners of a group.

    DOE H2 Research Grants
    DateOrganizationProjectDOE Grant

    14 Oct 04

    REB Research & Consulting (Ferndale, MI)

    Developing metallic membrane technology for hydrogen separation at the level of hydrogen fuel purity required for PEM fuel cells.


    14 Oct 04

    Virent Energy Systems (Madison, WI)

    Developing a one-step process for reforming (i.e. chemically converting) biomass liquids into hydrogen for small scale distributed systems. Small-scale distributed reforming systems could be used at existing gasoline stations thereby eliminating the need for a substantial hydrogen transport and delivery infrastructure. The research focuses on reforming a liquid solution directly, rather than changing it to a gas before converting it to hydrogen.


    13 Oct 04

    Midwest Optoelectronics (Toledo, OH)

    Developing solar electrochemical technologies that capture energy from sunlight and split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.


    13 Oct 04

    Ohio State University Research Foundation (Columbus, OH)

    Developing a low cost catalyst to help convert ethanol into hydrogen when using reforming (i.e. chemical conversion) processes. Small-scale distributed reforming systems could be used at existing gasoline stations thereby eliminating the need for a substantial hydrogen transport and delivery infrastructure.


    8 Oct 04

    Media and Process Technology Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA)

    Developing a membrane system that combines the water-gas-shift reaction for hydrogen production with a membrane for hydrogen purification into a single step. The single stage operation under the low temperature shift condition is a great opportunity to reduce hydrogen production capital and operating costs.


    8 Oct 04

    Air Products and Chemicals Inc. (Allentown, PA)

    Developing a reversible liquid-phase hydrogen carrier technology for transporting hydrogen from its central production facility to the point of use. The proposed carrier is a low-volatility fluid that can be stored and transported using the current liquid fuels infrastructure, thereby potentially reducing the amount of new infrastructure investment needed. Hydrogen delivery infrastructure is a major barrier to widespread use of hydrogen in vehicular and stationary fuel cells.


    Aside from the amazing coincidence that all the awards were in swing states in the upcoming Presidential election, they have in common a focus on streamlining hydrogen production. The biomass and photochemical projects are extremely interesting, as the energy use profile (and GHG emissions) would be considerably lower than any hydrogen production involving fossil fuels.

    Information from the DOE on the awards is available here.

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    Mazda to Lease Rotary H2ICE, Add Mild Hybrid Support

    October 15, 2004

    Mazda plans to start to lease bi-fuel vehicles using rotary engines powered by hydrogen or gasoline during the next two years.

    Mazda started working with hydrogen-powered vehicles in 1991, and has developed seven such models since then. The company highlighted its latest H2 effort, the RX-8 Hydrogen Rotary Engine (RE) sports concept car, at this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) after introducing it at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2003. The RX-8 Hydrogen RE features a dual fuel version of Mazda’s new award-winning RENESIS rotary combustion engine.

    Rotary combustion engines are less fuel-efficient than conventional reciprocating engines, but they produce higher power output for a given displacement volume. In other words, the same size (displacement) engine produces more power but at the cost of worse fuel economy (and higher emissions). These combustion characteristics, combined with the nature of hydrogen, have also led many for some time have to consider the rotary combustion engine as a good platform for a hydrogen combustion engine (H2ICE)—hence Mazda’s work on them for some 15 years.

    Because it offers separate chambers for intake and combustion, the rotary engine is ideal for burning hydrogen without the backfiring that can occur in a traditional piston engine. The separate induction chamber also provides a safer temperature for fitting the dual hydrogen injectors with their rubber seals, which are susceptible to the high temperatures encountered in a conventional reciprocating piston engine. Furthermore, the rotary works well with a lean fuel mixture.

    With the basic gasoline-fueled RENESIS engine, also introduced in 2003, Mazda set out to improve fuel economy and to reduce emissions, while retaining the power. The engineers made a number of changes (more detail on that here), including:

    • Changing the location, size, number and timing of the intake and exhaust ports.

    • Reducing the weight of the rotors.

    • Designing new fuel injectors for improved fuel atomization, allowing the RENESIS to run on a leaner fuel mixture than conventional rotary engines from the low to the high-rev range. When idling, the RENESIS consumes 40% less fuel than the latest production rotary engine.

    • Reducing hydrocarbon emissions by recycling exhaust gas in the subsequent combustion cycle.


    The RENESIS Hydrogen RE incorporates an electronically controlled hydrogen gas injector system. The system draws air from the side port during the intake cycle and uses dual hydrogen injectors in each of the engine’s twin rotor housings to directly inject hydrogen into the intake chambers. (Diagram at right, click to enlarge.)

    Also helping to maximize the benefits of the rotary engine in hydrogen combustion mode, the RENESIS Hydrogen RE features adequate space for the installation of two injectors per intake chamber. Because hydrogen has an extremely low density, a much greater injection volume is required compared with gasoline, thus demanding the use of more than one injector.

    Typically, this can be difficult to achieve with a conventional reciprocating piston engine because of the structural constraints that prevent mounting injectors in the combustion chamber. However, with its twin hydrogen injectors, the RENESIS Hydrogen RE is both practical and able to deliver sufficient volume.

    Mazda RENESIS Hydrogen Rotary Engine
    Maximum power154 kW (210 hp)
    @ 7200 rpm
    81 kW (110 hp)
    @ 7200 rpm
    Maximum torque222 Nm
    @ 5000 rpm
    120 Nm
    @ 5000 rpm

    For future versions of the rotary hydrogen cars, Mazda plans to incorporate the RENESIS hydrogen rotary engine with the emerging Mazda Hybrid System and an electric-motor-assisted turbocharger to enhance efficiency as well as the driving experience (zoom zoom).


    The Mazda Hybrid System is a mild hybrid solution consisting of an electric motor, an inverter and a 144V battery. The system features include stop-start, power assistance when the engine is at low rpm, and regenerative braking. The electric-motor-assist turbocharger system is used at low rpm, beginning at approximately 1000 rpm. Here, an electric motor assists the turbocharger to increase induction efficiency. At high rpm, the turbocharger is driven in a traditional fashion, by the flow of exhaust gas alone.

    Mazda may have this on demonstration in the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show in a few weeks.

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    Ford Clean(er) H2ICE w/ LNT

    October 13, 2004

    Ford unveiled its latest iteration of a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine at the Challenge Bibendum in Shanghai.

    The new supercharged 2.3-liter hydrogen engine with Lean NOx Trap (LNT) aftertreatment meets the stringent SULEV-Bin 2 emissions standards (0.02 grams/mile). The engine is based on Ford’s global 2.3-liter, inline-4 engine used in the Ford Ranger, the European Ford Modeo, and a number of Mazda vehicles. It is optimized to burn hydrogen through the use of high-compression pistons, fuel injectors designed specifically for hydrogen gas, a coil-on-plug ignition system, an electronic throttle, and new engine management software.

    Because there are no carbon atoms in hydrogen fuel, combustion of hydrogen produces no hydrocarbon (HC) or CO2 emissions (although small amounts are produced due to the presence of oil in the engine for lubricant)—it does still, however, produce NOx, albeit in low quantities. So low, in fact, that in 2001, a paper out of Sandia National Labs presented to the SAE showed results that no aftertreatment would be necessary for an H2ICE to achieve SULEV status. Ford has a different position, and as early as 2001 with its P2000 concept car pointed to the use of moderate NOx aftertreatment with H2ICE.

    Lean NOxTraps (LNT) represent one of several approaches to emissions control devices for diesel and gasoline direct injection engines. LNTs essentially capture nitric oxide emissions and convert them into harmless nitrogen gas. The trap periodically is “emptied” (and the stored NOx converted to N2) while the engine is running to keep the system well within emissions standards.

    Ford engineers are in the process of optimizing this new engine’s calibration to deliver performance similar to a gasoline-powered engine. Limited production for real-world demonstration could come within 12 to 24 months.

    First tests of the new hydrogen engine with LNT aftertreatment, produced nitrogen oxide results below the SULEV or Tier2-Bin 2 standard, the world’s cleanest. Subsequent tests were just as promising. Ford’s target is to meet these challenging emissions requirements, produce virtually no CO2 and deliver gasoline-like performance.

    Ford has used the supercharged 2.3-liter H2ICE platform before—in its Model U concept car, and in the H2RV (Hydrogen Hybrid Research Vehicle). The difference here seems to be the addition of the aftertreatment, and further development of the performance of the engine.

    Earlier versions of the engine developed 88 kW (118 hp) at 4,500 rpm.

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    Michelin/PSI Concept HY-LIGHT Fuel Cell Vehicle

    October 12, 2004


    Michelin, working in partnership with the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) developed a concept hydrogen fuel-cell car, the Michelin HY-LIGHT, unveiled at the Challenge Bibendum in Shanghai.

    The HY-LIGHT features twin electric motors mounted in the front wheels and an active electric suspension, combined with supercapacitors for storage of the electricity generated by braking. The electricity from these capacitors can boost the output of the motors from 30 kW (41 hp) to 45 kW (60 hp) for a short time.

    PSI developed the fuel cell, which operates at an efficiency level of about 60%. Michelin created the whole power train, the electric motors and the chassis management system, based on an active electric suspension: Michelin’s Active Wheel, introduced a few weeks ago in Paris.

    With the Michelin Active Wheel there is no longer any separate link between the vehicle’s powerplant and the wheels. This eliminates the need for a number of subassemblies, such as the transmission, clutch, differential, anti-roll bar, vertical drive shaft and universal joints. Among the benefits of the Michelin Active Wheel system are lower weight and simpler transmission of movement.

    Hydrogen and oxygen are stored in tanks fitted into the structure of the vehicle and well protected against shocks; no details on the manufacturer or the storage capacity or pressure.

    The HY-LIGHT carries up to four passengers while only weighing 850 kilograms (1,874 pounds). Top speed is 130 km/h (80.8 mph), acceleration is 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 12 seconds and range is around 400 kilometers (249 miles) (all aided by the low weight of the vehicle).

    For their concept scenario, Michelin and PSI specified hydrogen production through electrolysis from electricity generated by solar panels, and had the Electrical Power Company of Fribourg design and build a prototype fueling installation.

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    Hydrogen Math

    October 06, 2004

    Two researchers from the University of Warwick (an economist and an energy consultant) have calculated that to generate sufficient “green” hydrogen to fuel all of the UK’s current number of cars and trucks would require the construction either of 100,000 new wind turbines or 100 new nuclear power plants.

    University of Warwick Economist Professor Andrew Oswald and energy consultant Jim Oswald have laid out their calculation in an article entitled The Arithmetic of Renewable Energy to be published in the next edition of Accountancy magazine. (Details of the calculations are in the article.)

    This is not a deep engineering study that should be the basis for policy initiatives; it’s a rapid calculation using some very sweeping assumptions. Nevertheless, it serves an illustrative function: one of the huge problems in reaching a proposed hydrogen economy is the abundant production of the gas.

    Nuclear power increasingly is being examined in the UK (earlier post on James Lovelock) as well as in the US (earlier post) as a longer-term solution for hydrogen production. The US is also focusing on bio-derived sources for H2 that I’ll cover in a subsequent post.

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    Ford H2ICE Shuttle Bus

    September 29, 2004


    Ford added to its prototypes that burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine (H2ICE) today with the unveiling of a new H2ICE Shuttle Bus. The Ford H2ICE E-450 combines a Ford E-450 chassis cab with a shuttle bus body and a modified 6.8-liter Triton V-10 engine fueled with hydrogen. Ford will put two of the H2ICE E-450s into service as shuttle buses at the 2005 North American International Auto Show to demonstrate their capability.

    The hydrogen-burning E-450 seats up to 12 passengers and their luggage, including the driver. The vehicle is equipped 5,000 psi (350 bar) hydrogen fuel tank. Ford expects the H2 shuttle bus to have a driving range of to 150 miles depending on conditions and vehicle load.

    Earlier this year, Ford also rolled out a prototype of an H2ICE version of the Focus, and began testing an H2ICE version of its F-350 truck (earlier post), also based on the Triton V-10.

    With these rollouts, Ford appears to be siding more closely with automakers such as BMW who are looking to hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines as a transitional platform to hydrogen fuel-cell-powered cars.

    Their positioning around the rollout of this new shuttle bus is perhaps more interesting than the specifics of the bus itself. Here is Ford’s view:

    Ford is active in the development of alternatives to traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. For years, Ford and the industry focused on battery-electric vehicles as the answer. But as years passed, battery technology never progressed or showed hope of progressing to reach a level near the efficiency of gasoline power. The industry has shifted its eyes and efforts toward gasoline-powered hybrid-electric, “clean diesel,” direct injection gasoline and diesel, and eventually, hydrogen-powered vehicles.

    Hydrogen fuel cells are now almost universally recognized as the eventual heir to the internal combustion engine. Yet, even with tremendous progress in recent years, additional work is required to satisfy customer expectations in terms of durability and affordability.

    As the development of the fuel cell continues to mature, the industry, governments, energy companies, and interested non-governmental organizations ponder how customers will fuel hydrogen vehicles of the future. Today's highway is lined with gasoline stations not equipped for hydrogen needs.

    While the development of fuel cells continues, Ford believes H2ICE is a technology that will make hydrogen-power more practical. Ford also is utilizing H2ICEs to developing stationary backup or supplemental power systems and off-street applications such as airport ground support vehicles. Making H2ICE accessible sooner will help spur growth in the development of a hydrogen infrastructure paving the way for fuel cells in the future.

    The focus on hydrogen is fine from a developmental point of view, but the danger is that other promising—and necessary—shorter-term avenues for dramatically improving fuel economy and lowering emissions can be overlooked in the focus on the more distant goal.

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    Ford Launches Production H2 Focus FCV-Hybrid

    September 28, 2004


    Ford today announced the first production of its new Focus hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Focus FCV-Hybrid. (Earlier post on production of the demo fleet.)

    This differs from prior demo cars in three ways. First, it’s the most sophisticated, according to Ford. Second, it came off a production line, not out of a lab. Ford intends to crank through 30 of the Focus FCVs initially for field testing. Also being tested and refined, though, will be the manufacturing techniques.

    Third, unlike an earlier version of the Focus FCV, this model is a hybrid. Rather than combining a combustion engine with an electric motor, it uses an electric motor powered by two sources. A Ballard Power Systems hydrogen fuel cell provides the primary motive power, while a Sanyo nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack and a Continental Teves Electro-Hydraulic regenerative braking system provides the additional source of electric power. Continental Teves also supplies the regenerative braking system in the Escape Hybrid SUV.

    “This Focus FCV combines our hybrid expertise with advanced fuel cell technology resulting in a vehicle that combines the improved range and performance of a hybrid with the overall benefits of a fuel cell,” said Dr. Gerhard Schmidt, Ford Motor Company vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering.

    Here are a few points of comparison between the two.

      Focus FCV-Hybrid Focus FCV
    (kW and hp)
    65 kW
    87 hp
    67 kW
    90 hp
    (Nm and ft-lbs)
    230 Nm
    170 ft-lbs
    190 Nm
    140 ft-lbs
    Curb weight (kg) 1,600 1,727
    H2 Pressure (psi) 5,000 3,600
    Fuel Cell Stack Ballard Mark 902 Ballard Mark 900
    Driving range
    (km and miles)
    260-320 km
    160-200 miles
    160 km
    100 miles
    Top Speed
    (km/h, mph)
    128+ km/h
    80+ mph
    128+ km/h
    80+ mph

    There is a clear difference in the driving range. While increasing the storage pressure of the hydrogen by 40% accounts for some of that (as does reducing the weight), it is the combined addition of the hybrid electric drive that allows the FCV-Hybrid to double the driving range of its FCV cousin under the appropriate conditions.

    The new Focus FCVs will be deployed in fleet trials in Orlando, Fla., Sacramento, Calif., Taylor, Mich., Berlin, Germany and Vancouver, B.C.

    Ford looks like it may be getting more aggressive with its hybrid systems. (See the post above.)

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    Shanghai Automotive—Going for the Gold, but What About Green?

    September 26, 2004

    Fortune profiles the work and aspirations of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC): JV partner with both GM and VW, and a growing powerhouse in its own right.

    The joint ventures have proved a bonanza for SAIC, which has more than doubled in size since 2000. Last year it produced 612,216 cars with VW and GM, a startling increase of 57% from 2002. That has catapulted SAIC onto FORTUNE’s list of the world’s largest companies at No. 461, with revenues last year of $11.8 billion and profits of $689 million.

    There’s nothing shy about SAIC. It has an enormous appetite for growth and is already casting its eyes beyond China’s borders. Officials have immodestly declared their intention to become one of the world’s six largest automakers by 2020, joining GM, Toyota, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, and VW. To get there, they expect to quadruple vehicle production. Analysts believe those ambitions are realistic. “SAIC will become one of the top ten car companies in the world within the next ten to 15 years,” says Graeme Maxton of Autopolis, an industry consultant in Britain. “It is likely that teenagers in Europe or the U.S. will be considering a Shanghai Auto car within the next decade.”

    Last year SAIC was the biggest car seller in China. Earlier this year, it overtook FAW to become the largest vehicle seller in the country. This all begs the question: what will its vehicle mix be as it continues to grow? What is its Green strategy? China appears keenly aware of the knife-edge it is walking—or running—as the development of the economy drives energy usage, auto purchases and brings with that the attendant issues of emissions and energy supply.

    Both Chinese auto makers and consumers are putting unprecedented importance on environment-friendly and fuel-saving vehicles as gasoline prices continue to rise. People’s Daily

    But given that SAIC has yet to produce a model under its own marque, it’s still a bit of an unknown. Earlier this year (post) GM suggested that it might build its first hybrid passenger car with SAIC—but, as we’ve seen, “hybrid”could mean anything from power support to a full parallel drive.

    We may get a better sense of this next month, as the annual Michelin Challenge Bibeundum is held in Shanghai. The Challenge Bibendum is an international competition for environmentally-friendly vehicles. This is the first time the Challenge (started in 1998) has been held in Asia, and the major Chinese automakers will all be there.

    In 2003, SAIC and scientists from Tongju University showed China’s first hydrogen fuel cell car, the Chao Yue I. A second generation, the Chao Yue II appeared earlier this year. (Both cars used fuel cells from Shanghai ShenLi High Tech.) Chao Yue II will be in the Challenge next month.

    Accordinto to the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, the Chao Yue II has dramatically reduced hydrogen consumption from Chao Yue I’s 1.39kg per 100 km to the current 1.03 kg per 100km. Acceleration from 0-60 mph has improved from 46.7 seconds to 26.7 seconds. The new prototype reaches a maximum speed of 118 km/h (73mph) with a cruising range of 197 km (122 miles). However, the new version uses a Chinese fuel cell, battery and engine, shaved 150 kg off the weight, and improved the output by 6kW (8 hp).

    More to do? Of course. But one thing upon which everyone agrees: the size and impact of the Chinese market is worth it.

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    Kia’s New Sportage Fuel Cell SUV

    September 21, 2004


    Kia is introducing a fuel cell prototype of its new Sportage SUV at the Paris Motor Show this week. The Sportage is similar in most aspects to the second-generation Tucson FCEV unveiled by Hyundai earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show.

    Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai, and although it operates separately in the marketplace, it shares, among other things, R&D facilities.

    The specifications, components and even the corporate comments about the Tucson and the Sportage FCEVs map almost directly, down to the observation that each company developed both the fuel cell vehicle and the new generation conventional versions (Tucson and Sportage) in parallel engineering programs.

    The Sportage FCEV (code-named FKM), uses fuel cells from UTC Fuel Cells of Hartford, and a drive train unit from Enova Systems. (The code name for the Hyundai Tucson FCEV was FJM.) Enova (earlier post) is a strategic partner of Hyundai, and has been working with the automaker for years on the development of all electric, hybrid electric and fuel cell drive systems.

    This version of the UTC fuel cell delivers an extra 5 kW of power, bringing the total to 80 kW (107.28 hp). The vehicle has a top speed of 150 km/h (93.2 mph). The Sportage FCEV also uses a new lithium ion polymer 152 volt battery giving the Sportage FCEV higher performance, an extended driving range and cold-weather steering capability to operate in sub-zero temperatures. The 152-liter hydrogen storage tank (350 bar/5,000 psi) supports a driving range of 300 kilometers (180 miles).

    The Sportage FCEV uses lightweight aluminium body shell components, rather than the all-steel construction of the conventional Sportage, allowing the FCEV to maintain a power-to-weight ratio that is similar to the new production model SUV.

    Hyundai and Kia are making a strong push across all segments of the automarket, including advanced alternative platforms.

    “Now we will be able to build fuel cell electric vehicles in higher volumes for fleet testing and the latest Sportage FCEV drives us closer to the commercialization of fuel cell vehicles,” commented Kim Sang-Kwon, President of Research and Development for the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group.

    “Migrating our fuel cell technologies into a smaller, more compact vehicle presented many design challenges...With the new Sportage FCEV, Kia takes a big step towards our goal of developing a commercially viable zero-emissions vehicle based on fuel cell technology by 2010.”

    Kia has so far been a bit of a lower-end sibling to Hyundai, racked with worse quality problems. The combined Hyundai/Kia management is working hard and fast to rectify that (as well as Hyundai issues.)

    BusinessWeek ran a profile of Hyundai’s ambitions in its 6 Sept 04 issue. (Available online without being a BW subscriber, although you must register for the site.) Not much of a focus on the company’s strategy for sustainability, but some interesting insights into corporate culture, and some specific quality initiatives.

    In a way, the mirroring of advanced vehicle development between these two can serve as a sort of research multiplier. One of the ways automakers seek to refine these emerging systems is by getting numbers of them out in trials. Hyundai has already committed some 32 Tucson FCEVs to such field work. If Kia can mirror that, the combined company has a larger—hence more valuable—base of data and experience from which to work.

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    BMW H2 Screamer Sets 9 Records

    September 20, 2004


    A BMW prototype—the H2R—has set 9 records for cars powered by hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines. The H2R set the records during a series of speed trials at the Miramas Proving Grounds in France, prior to heading to Paris for the start of the Paris Motor Show later this week.

    BMW Research and Technology (BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH) developed the H2R in only ten months, leveraging much of the work BMW has already put into combustion engines in general, and hydrogen combustion engines in particular. (BMW has been working with hydrogen since 1978, and produced its first prototype in 1979.)


    BMW wanted to make more than the point that it was in the lead of developing a hydrogen combustion engine to high-performance production standards. It was also reinforcing its stance that the internal combustion engine, given the sum total of all its features and characteristics, offers the largest number of advantages and benefits all in one as a platform for clean and efficient transportation energy. As represented in the diagram to the right, BMW is targeting hydrogen combustion platforms that deliver equivalent torque but better output (horsepower) than diesel or gasoline engines.

    In this view, H2 becomes the next logical power fuel for the combustion platform, as well as the clean fuel. BMW looks to fuel cells to provide auxiliary power (i.e., to function as APUs) in its hydrogen combustion vehicles.

    The H2R records, thus, function as proof points along the way. Among the records set were the following:

    • 1 kilometer standing start reached 135.557 km/h (81.3 mph) in 26.557 seconds

    • 10 kilometer standing-start reached 245.892 km/h (147.5 mph) in 146.406 seconds

    • Flying-start kilometre reached 300.190 km/h (180.1 mph) in 11.993 seconds

    The H2R powertrain uses the BMW’s six-liter 12-cylinder engine featured in the 760i as its foundation. The main modifications to the engine involve adapting the fuel injection system and management controls to the special features and requirements of hydrogen. (BMW first showed a hydrogen-fueled version of the V-12 in 2003.)

    BMW used its production Valvetronic technology as the basis for controlling the different demands of this gas charge cycle. The Valvetronic system controls not only the duration of valve movement, but also the actual valve lift. It works with BMW’s VANOS (variable adjustment of the camshaft) system that provides infinite camshaft adjustment to meet specific engine requirements. Incorporating a hydraulically controlled adjuster unit in the camshaft drive, Vanos in the H2R modifies the beginning and end of the valve opening period for fully variable valve management suited to hydrogen combustion drive.


    The H2R won’t be on the market, but the technology will be relatively soon. BMW plans to bring a bivalent (running on both gasoline and liquid hydrogen) vehicle to market as part of its present 7 Series. If one of the tanks is empty, the vehicle automatically switches to the other.


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    VW Runs H2 Touran in Rally

    September 17, 2004


    VW is running a H2 fuel cell version of its best-selling Touran compact van in the third annual California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) Road Rally.

    Other rally participants include the DaimlerChrysler F-Cell; Ford Focus FCV; GM HydroGen3; Honda FCX; Hyundai Santa Fe FCEV; Nissan FCV; and Toyota FCHV.

    The Touran HyMotion uses an 80 kW electric motor powered by a PEM fuel cell. The motor accelerates the hydrogen van from 0 to 60 mph in 14 seconds, and reaches a top speed of 84 mph.

    It stores its hydrogen gas at 350 bar (5,000 psi)—half that of current production state-of-the-art, which is 700 bar or 10,000 psi. The hydrogen Touran has a range of approximately 96 miles. Its 1.9 kWh nickel-metal hybrid battery is recharged via the fuel cell or regenerative braking.

    In 2000, Volkswagen showed a hydrogen fuel cell version of its Bora sedan at the opening of the CaFCP offices. The Bora HyMotion used liquid hydrogen stored onboard at cryogenic temperatures (-253°C). The car had a range of 215 miles.

    Although it has consistently been one of the early demonstrators of hydrogen propulsion, and is now building demonstrations of vehicles enhanced with hydrogen fuel cell APUs (earlier post), VW regards it as much more of a long-term solution. What VW would prefer to talk about, in the short- to medium-term, is its strategy of synthetic fuels combined with its advanced diesel and gasoline engine technology.

    Indeed, whenever it is involved in a hydrogen event, be it HyForum in Beijing this summer, or the CaFCP Road Rally, VW will hit its talking points on synthetic fuels.

    From its participation in HyForum this summer:

    It is likely that the remaining problems as regards hydrogen storage and infrastructure will be solved in the long term. If the technical and economic obstacles can be overcome, Volkswagen expects to see vehicles with fuel cells powered by hydrogen produced using renewable energy resources alongside vehicles driven by an internal combustion engine. However, mass production is not likely within the next 20 years.

    Liquid synthetic fuels thus ideally complement the hydrogen economy of the future. If hydrogen produced using renewable energy sources is added to the BtL [Biomass-to-Liquids] processes, the positive CO2 balance doubles. The first step in the BtL process can also be used to produce hydrogen. This technology thus gives fuel cell systems and the hydrogen economy the time needed to mature and become competitive vis-à-vis advanced internal combustion engines.

    The other automaker that has a similar voluble focus on synthetic fuels in DaimlerChrysler. Their positions make sense; especially when one factors in likely future issues with petroleum supply.

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    VW Fuel-Cell APU with On-Board Reforming

    September 15, 2004

    Volkswagen has tapped IdaTech to design and manufacture an integrated fuel processor system operating on diesel fuel to be used in a fuel-cell-based Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). Fuel-cell APUs are of increasing interest for cars, vans and trucks that require a great deal of additional electricity (for communications, air conditioning and so on). Rather than burning gasoline or diesel to produce the power, the APU-enhanced vehicles rely on the electrical output of the fuel cell.

    The fuel processor system apparently will become part of a demonstration project that VW is building using the T5 Transporter— a multipurpose van. In April of this year, the German state of Lower Saxony launched a fuel cell initiative at which VW showed an earlier version of the T5 equipped with a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell APU using liquid hydrogen.

    The Idatech fuel processor eliminates the need for a discrete hydrogen fuel source on the vehicle by providing on-board reforming of the primary fuel: diesel.


    The IdaTech fuel processor (see schematic at right) first vaporizes the incoming diesel fuel in a combustion chamber. A catalyst then reforms the vaporized fuel into several gases, including hydrogen.

    A palladium-alloy membrane then purifies the reformate by essentially passing through only hydrogen, which then feeds into the APU. The purifier also rejects trace contaminants such as sulfur compounds, unsaturated hydrocarbons, and amines. The separated impurities combine with ambient air and are fed back as fuel gas to the combustion chamber.

    The resulting product hydrogen is typically greater than 99.95% pure, with <1 ppm CO and <1 ppb total sulfur compounds. Typical PEM fuel cells requires <10 ppm CO and <50 ppb total sulfur.

    In the run up to hydrogen fuel vehicles, VW is concentrating on its diesel platforms and on synthetic biofuels as its primary approach to green cars. (An earlier post on a VW gas-hybrid test here.) The APU application of fuel cell technology is complementary to this approach.

    Until such time as fuel cell technology has reached full maturity, Volkswagen is also using the synthetic bio-fuel SunFuel as part of its fuel strategy. We are convinced that the coming decades will see a co-existence of combustion engine and fuel cell and are therefore promoting both fuel cell technology and the development of new usage concepts for biomass.

    Together with Swiss Paul Schere Institute (PSI), VW unveiled its first fuel cell car in November 2000, the Bora HyMotion. Fuelled by liquid hydrogen it has a top speed of 84 mph and a range of about 210 miles. Volkswagen has also been involved with the European Union funded CAPRI project to produce a methanol fuel cell vehicle.

    Other information:

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    Next-Generation Nuclear for H2 Too

    September 14, 2004


    Chemical and Engineering News features the multiple approaches to next-generation nuclear power and provides a useful framework for understanding the differences. (Overview chart at right from DOE. Click to enlarge.)

    In the US, the longer-term focus seems to be on Very High Temperature Reactors (VHTR)—generation IV systems as compared to the mostly generations I and II currently in service—with their concomitant ability to produce hydrogen for fuel purposes.

    VHTR, helium- and lead-cooled fast reactors, and the molten salt reactor are all designed to generate electricity and also to operate at sufficiently high temperatures to produce hydrogen by thermochemical water cracking. At present [in the US], about 97% of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels by steam reformation of methane. Around 3% is produced by electrolysis of water, but the electricity costs for the process are relatively high.

    “The direct thermal decomposition of water is impractical, as it requires temperatures in excess of 2,500 °C,” [Tim J.] Abram [manager of advanced reactor systems at British Nuclear Fuels] says.

    THERMOCHEMICAL hydrogen production, on the other hand, can be achieved at temperatures of less than 900 °C. “The only feeds to the process are water and high-temperature heat, typically 900 °C, and the only products are hydrogen, oxygen, and low-grade heat,” Abram explains. “Nuclear power is particularly well suited to hydrogen production by such a process because of its near-zero emissions.”

    DOE, although supporting research on several generation IV reactor concepts, is giving priority to VHTR technology, notes William D. Magwood IV, director of the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy and chairman of the GIF policy group. The technology is known as the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP).

    “The NGNP would be able to make both electricity and hydrogen at very high levels of efficiency,” Magwood says.

    “The base concept of the NGNP is that of a very-high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor system coupled with an advanced, high-efficiency turbine generator and an even more advanced thermochemical hydrogen production system,” he continues. “We have very high expectations for this technology.”


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    Run Silent, Run Hydrogen

    September 13, 2004

    Hybrids and fuel cells are changing more than road transportation.

    Diesel-electric submarines have been around for years—in some ways, they are excellent examples of a hybrid vehicle. Primary power came from diesel engines; the boat would run either surfaced, or submerged at a shallow depth at which a snorkel could provide air for the engines. The diesels would also recharge batteries which the submarine would use for power when fully submerged.

    The downside was the submarine couldn’t stay submerged very long. (Think World War II submarine movies.) The diesel-electric submarines of WW II had a submerged endurance of 48 hours at 2 knots. Modern diesel-electrics extended that to four to five days of underwater operation.

    Now a new generation of diesel-electric and fuel cell submarines is dramatically extending that submerged capability.


    Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG (HDW) just christened a new H2 fuel cell submarine at its yards in Kiel, Germany. The new U33 is the third of four Class 212A submarines currently under construction or in sea trials. There are currently orders for seven more from different navies.

    The Class 212A submarines reportedly can operate submerged for one month. A slightly improved version—the 214—is on the way.

    Other countries are working on different fuel cell approaches. British Maritime, for example, is exploring a gas-turbine/fuel cell approach that offers 25-day submerged operations but at almost twice the speed of the 212.

    These developments could change the strategic dynamic underwater: not only could these submarines prove extremely effective in coastal waters, but as submarines go, they are cheap: $200-$300 million per boat, compared to the $1.6 billion pricetag of the new Virginia-class nuclear submarines.

    Accordingly, there is increasing concern in the US Navy, which, since the end of the Cold War, hasn’t focused as much on ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare)—i.e., finding and defending against a silent foe.

    ...a new and ominous threat is growing in the world’s critical coastal waters and maritime choke points: quiet, long-endurance submarines, some armed with lethal torpedoes and sea-skimming cruise missiles.

    The growing numbers and increasing sophistication of submarines offer foes a deadly weapon with which to neutralize the United States’ overwhelming combat power and deny its access to critical shipping lanes and seaports.

    These boats “are very similar to U.S. Navy state-of-the-art capability,” Rear Adm. Mark W. Kenny, the Navy’s deputy director for submarine warfare, said in an interview. Finding them, he added, could be “a crap shoot.”

    The problem has set off alarms within the Navy, which is scrambling to revive sub-hunting skills and technology left dormant since Soviet submarines disappeared as a threat more than a decade ago.

    The military strategy evolving under the Bush administration makes the problem more acute. Based on the Iraq war model, the Pentagon now envisions a hard strike, immediately followed by waves of reinforcements and logistics support ships carrying fuel, ammunition, armored vehicles and troops. This “just-in-time” support requires fast and dependable schedules with little margin for delay.

    What worries strategists is this:

    “All it would take is just one lucky sub to get a hit on a carrier, and we have a huge problem,” said Rick Burgess, a former anti-submarine warfare officer who is managing editor of Sea Power magazine.

    Other reading:

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    Maryland Leases GM H2 Van

    September 08, 2004


    Maryland is taking a first step toward the hydrogen economy by leasing a fuel-cell powered 5-seat minivan from GM. The GM vehicle will be assigned to a state agency and will run a fixed route in Prince George’s County.

    Earlier this summer, the US Postal Service leased a similar GM hydrogen fuel cell minivan for use in Washington DC. That marked the first commercial deployment of a GM fuel cell vehicle in the US.

    The minivans are HydroGen3 prototypes which are based on the Opel Zafira minivan. The Hydrogen3 vans started fleet trials in 2003 in Berlin and Tokyo.

    The HydroGen3 fuel cell stacks consist of a total of 200 interconnected individual cells that operate a 60 kW/82 hp asynchronous three-phase engine. The stack supplies a continuous rating of 94 kW, a peak of 129 kW and, depending on the load condition, generates an electrical DC voltage of between 125 and 200 V.

    The prototype accelerates from zero to 60 in around 16 seconds and has a top speed of 96 mph. The 700 bar (10,000 psi) storage tanks hold enough compressed hydrogen gas to yield a range of about 162 miles.

    More specs on the HydroGen3 here.

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    Ford H2 F-350 Truck

    September 07, 2004

    The Detroit News reports that Ford is testing an F-350 truck fitted with a 6.8-liter V-10 internal combustion engine (ICE) burning hydrogen instead of gasoline. This is certainly the largest H2 engine Ford has worked with to date, and indicates that Ford’s engineers are really pushing the power output from hydrogen engines.

    This is not a fuel cell vehicle; this truck uses an internal combustion engine which consumes hydrogen gas rather than gasoline or diesel fuel. Using Hydrogen ICE is also the approach BMW is taking with its current H2 efforts.

    Ford views the hydrogen internal combustion engine as a transitional technology. The F-350 hydrogen engine’s economically feasible because it’s based on existing engine designs—only the fuel has been changed.

    “You service it the same, change the oil every 5,000 miles,” said Bob Natkin, technical leader of Ford’s V-10 hydrogen engine program. The truck’s hydrogen fuel tanks are reinforced with carbon and can withstand a rifle round or a five-story fall, Natkin said.

    “If you want to build a hydrogen infrastructure, the way to do it is to get on with building hydrogen fuel systems for cars,” said Ray Smith, program leader for energy technologies and security at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “When the fuel cell guys get their economic act together, the transition will be relatively smooth.”

    Ford plans to have a fleet of H2ICE F-350s on the road for testing within 12 months. Driving range for the trucks is still a too-short 100 miles. Doubling the capacity of the hydrogen storage tanks will help, but not enough.

    Although the use of the fuel is more efficient than gasoline, engine performance is lower. Ford is using supercharging—forcing air into an engine—as a way to improve combustion and generate more power.

    With the F-350, the result is a truck that is quieter than many diesels and puts out 225 horsepower and 300 ft.-lb. of torque. That’s well below the output of Ford’s gas-powered V-10, which makes 355 horsepower and 455 ft.-lb. of torque, but Natkin says the hydrogen-powered truck has room to grow. “We just have to turn the (power) up,” he said.

    Ford has worked with smaller hydrogen ICE protptypes before—the most recent being the Model U concept car unveiled in 2003. Back in 2001, when Ford announced another H2ICE prototype, the P2000...

    Ford said the hydrogen-fueled engine could be in cars by 2006 if fuel stations that extract hydrogen from water are constructed across the country. UPI

    A little too optimistic on both the capabilities of the engines and the infrastructure. Nevertheless, it’s a good concept to pursue, especially as a catalyst for developing more sustainable methods for producing hydrogen, deploying a hydrogen fueling infrastructure and gaining more engineering experience with hydrogen storage.

    However, from the point of view of the twin drivers of the need for alternative solutions for mobility—emissions and petroleum dependency—the H2ICE work desperately needs to be supplemented with extremely aggressive development and implementation of clean diesel and hybrid (gasoline and diesel) technologies. Those are areas which can deliver substantive, quantitative improvement over the next decade as the pieces of a longer-term future solution are designed and built.

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    H2 Buses for Perth

    August 29, 2004

    News Interacative. Perth is putting the first three hydrogen fuel cell buses in the sourthern hemisphere into operation next month.

    The DaimlerChrysler Citaro buses are like those being tested in other cities including Amsterdam, Beijing, London, Luxembourg and Madrid. (Earlier post.)

    The State Government is contributing $8 million to the $10.25 million trial, with the rest coming from the Commonwealth.

    Perth project director Simon Whitehouse said that although the trial was expensive it was chickenfeed compared with the potential cost of oil in the future.

    “Not only is the price of petrol going to go up, it’s getting harder to get. It’s a case of when, not if, things have to change,” he said.

    BP will provide the hydrogen from its Kwinana refinery.

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    UPS Sprints Ahead with H2 Delivery Vans

    August 26, 2004


    Encouraged by the results of its road tests and ongoing technical developments, UPS is putting three Dodge Sprint hydrogen fuel cell medium-duty delivery vans into mainstream operation. UPS is deploying one van in Los Angeles, one in Sacramento and the third in Ann Arbor. These are the first medium-duty fuel cell vehicles in full commercial use in the US.

    According to DaimlerChrysler, compared to the first Sprinter, the new fuel cell Sprinters feature a 20% increase in powertrain efficiency; a 40% increase in range to 155 miles, and a 45% increase in peak engine power. They now have similar acceleration as a gas- or diesel-powered UPS vehicle.

    “Our two test programs showed the on-road reliability of fuel cell vehicles is excellent, equivalent to our current fleet,” said Chris Mahoney, UPS senior vice president of global transportation services. “But what’s truly exciting is how fast the technology is progressing.”

    Mahoney added UPS is excited by the prospect of a significant reduction in maintenance expenses since the drive train will last longer than a gas or diesel engine.

    The vehicles in their new configuration also offer a 10% increase in cargo capacity compared to the diesel-powered Sprinters now in use by UPS, and the fuel cell technology eliminates the need to house an engine in the front of the vehicle, making it easier to explore new automotive designs, he added.

    “The refueling infrastructure is the next critical need,” Mahoney concluded.

    The Fuel Cell Sprinter is the first fuel cell-powered Dodge. Based on the exisiting Dodge Sprinter, the FC Sprinter uses a Ballard fuel cell system.

    Daimler Chrysler, the EPA and UPS have been collaborating since 2003 in this area. As part of this program, UPS operated an Mercedes-Benz F-Cell (a fuel cell powered Mercedes-Benz A-Class) for six months in daily package delivery in Southeastern Michigan—the first commercial use of a fuel cell vehicle in the United States.

    UPS rival FedEx is testing a diesel hybrid delivery van assembled by Eaton and using a Mercedes diesel engine. (Earlier post.)

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    New Methods for BioHydrogen

    One of the major challenges to be met in a transition to a hydrogen energy and transportation economy is actually producing the H2 in an energy-efficient and emissions-limited manner. If we end up relying on coal-generated electricity to produce hydrogen from a natural gas feedstock (currently the predominant approach in the US), that still leaves us with a sizable emissions hurdle to overcome as well as continuing reliance on a limited fossil fuel (natural gas).


    Accordingly, researchers are increasing efforts to discover viable methods for producing hydrogen from renewable feedstocks (biohydrogen). At the 228th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia this week, scientists are highlighting some of that new biohydrogen work.

    Charring Biowaste for Hydrogen. A scientist from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is working with the inventor of a patent-pending process to turn agricultural biomass-wastes like peanut shells into hydrogen fuel and charcoal fertilizer. The inventor is also working with DOE scientists who hold a patent on a related technology.

    Volatiles and steam released by charring biomass produce hydrogen. The charring turns the biomass into charcoal pieces. This charcoal becomes a nitrogen-enriched fertilizer with the addition of ammonia formed by combining a third of the hydrogen with nitrogen. The remaining hydrogen can be sold as fuel, both for a hydrogen-based, clean diesel and to run fuel cells.

    One of the additional benefits of this approach is that the technique returns a large portion of harvested carbon to the soil, since plants are not completely burned.

    Sunflower Oil to Hydrogen. Researchers at Leeds University in England described a process that mixes sunflower oil with steam and puts the result through a catalytic process to produce hydrogen. An earlier paper on this work is here.

    As with biodiesel, a variety of oil stocks could in theory be used as the feedstock for this process: rapeseed oil, soybean oil, etc. Furthermore, the ongoing buildout of a biodiesel production infrastructure would support this deployment of this process, enabling more decentralized production of hydrogen.

    Hydrogen from Biomass. Another approach to converting biomass to hydrogen comes from two scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who are developing a new reforming technique. The technique (aqueous phase reforming with new catalysts) allows them to include sugars and sugar alcohols as potential feedstocks. An earlier presentation of their work is here.

    Hydrogen from Ethanol. Researchers from Waseda University, the University of Tokyo and Nissan described a new low-energy, ambient-pressure, room-temperature technique for reforming ethanol into hydrogen.

    Biohydrogen from Wastewater. Researchers from Penn State University describe a new bioreactor that uses dark fermentation to process wastewater into hydrogen. This is one of many papers in a program track that described hydrogen production as a useful byproduct of wastewater processing: BioEnergy Production: BioHydrogen and Electricity Generation Using Microbial Fuel Cells.

    Hydrogen from Water. Generating hydrogen from water using sunlight is one of the long-term goals for renewable energy. Researchers at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology have created a new mixed metal oxide semiconductor photocatalyst that shows significant activity for photochemical hydrogen production from water under illumination with either UV or visible light.

    And a group at Virginia Tech has created supramolecular complexes that could enable the photochemical production of hydrogen from water.

    I’m sure I missed some of the biohydrogen papers; there were well more than 100 on different aspects of hydrogen production alone. Some of the processes may be able to scale and to lead to actual solutions in the market, others will not. The global knowledge gained through this research process is critical, however, and thus the increasing research focus on hydrogen—including biohydrogen—is very encouraging.

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    Science Magazine: Toward a H2 Economy

    August 12, 2004


    Science, the weekly publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is focusing on the hydrogen economy in its August 13 issue. You can see short abstracts of the articles as a guest; full access requires membership, subscription, or heading to the local library.

    The result, at normal human-scale temperatures, is an invisible gas: light, jittery, and slippery; hard to store, transport, liquefy, and handle safely; and capable of releasing only as much energy as human beings first pump into it. All of which indicates that using hydrogen as a common currency for an energy economy will be far from simple. The papers and News stories in this special section explore some of its many facets.

    Consider hydrogen’s green image. As a manufactured product, hydrogen is only as clean or dirty as the processes that produce it in the first place. Turner describes various options for large-scale hydrogen production in his Viewpoint. Furthermore, as News writer Service points out, production is just one of many technologies that must mature and mesh for hydrogen power to become a reality, a fact that leads many experts to urge policymakers to cast as wide a net as possible.

    The Viewpoint by Demirdöven and Deutch and Cho’s News story describe different intermediate technologies that may shape the next generation of automobiles.

    Two generations down the line, the world may end up with a hydrogen economy completely different from the one it expected to develop. Perhaps the intermediate steps on the road to hydrogen will turn out to be the destination. The title we chose for this issue—Toward a Hydrogen Economy—reflects that basic uncertainty and the complexity of what is sure to be a long, scientifically engaging journey.

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    Ford Begins Producing Fuel Cell Cars

    August 11, 2004

    The Detroit News reports on Ford’s production line for 30 Focus fuel cell vehicles, being built for the DOE-sponsored trials.

    [Gerhard] Schmidt [Ford vice president of research and advanced engineering] said no one technology will meet all the needs of motorists in the future.

    “There is not one solution,” he said. “We will have some downtown areas that require fuel cell or hybrid. We will have some long-distance heavy trucks with diesels.

    “We will have more tailored solutions for specific markets and for specific customers. I’m absolutely convinced that we will have a diverse landscape of powertrain and propulsion systems. There will be no single winner.“

    I think that is quite true in the long term—and probably a good thing, because diversity will accelerate the overall adoption of more fuel-efficient and alternative solutions. But one of Ford’s short-term problems is its lineup today. While it is great that the company is rolling out the first full hybrid SUV (hybrid definitions here), that Escape doesn’t help Ford escape the fact it ranks last overall in fuel economy among the top six automakers in the US. Ford needs to do better more broadly across its lines, and more quickly.

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    Hydrogenics and Deere for Commercial H2

    July 29, 2004

    Hydrogenics entered into a five-year agreement with Deere & Company for continued R&D into hydrogen fuel cells in commercial vehicles. The agreement comes following earlier joint projects involving the integration of Hydrogenics’ fuel cell power module technology into Deere ePower vehicles.

    Hydrogenics develops and manufactures fuel cell and related new energy technologies for portable, stationary and mobile applications. To complement its fuel cell product development initiatives, it is also beginning to develop and to manufacture hydrogen generation products.

    Earlier this year, the company, in which GM has a minority stake, launched an off-road mobility initiative as it believes that sector offers earlier viable markets for hydrogen fuel cells than the broader consumer auto sector.

    There is a nifty demonstration video of a John Deere concept H2 utility vehicle zipping around over a gentle off-road path (looks like a golf course) accessible from the home page here.

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    EPA, CARB: 2nd Gen Honda H2 Good to Go

    July 28, 2004

    Both the EPA and CARB (California Air Resource Board) have certified the 2005 Honda FCX fuel cell vehicle as ready for commercial use.

    The second generation of the model, the 2005 FCX is the first to be powered by a Honda designed and manufactured fuel cell stack, and offers some performance improvements over the first model. The basic stats for each:

    2004 FCX 2005 FCX
    Peak Power (hp) 80 107 33%
    Max Speed (mph) 93 93
    EPA city/hway/comb
    (miles/kg H2)
    51/46/48 62/51/57 19% (comb)
    Range (miles) 160 190 19%
    Maximum torque (ft-lbs) 201 201
    Fuel Cell Stack type PEFC (Polymer Electrolyte) PEMFC (Proton Exchange Membrane)  
    Fuel Cell Max Output (kW) 78 86 10%
    Fuel type Compressed H2 Compressed H2  
    Fuel Storage High-pressure tank High-pressure tank  
    Max pressure (psi) 5,000 5,000  
    Capacity (liters) 156.6 156.6  

    (In terms of energy efficiency, one mile per kilogram (mpkg) of hydrogen is almost equivalent to one mile per gallon (mpg) of gasoline.)

    The improvements in power and range stem from the new Honda FC stack. It also allows the 2005 FCX to start and operate in temperatures as low as -20 C (-4 F). (Clearly a necessary hurdle to overcome.)

    “The 2005 Honda FCX achieves a significant milestone in the progress toward a hydrogen economy,” said Terry Tamminen, Agency Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. “This second generation fuel cell from Honda makes further simultaneous progress in key areas including performance, range, efficiency and cold weather operability while achieving zero emissions.”

    According to Honda, the new FC stack utilizes a new structure made of stamped metal separators and new aromatic membrane material, features 50% percent fewer components than its predecessor, and is easier to manufacture.

    There still remains much work to do in power, storage (range) and fuel infrastructure—but the steady pace of innovation and development is very encouraging.

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    Producing H2

    July 19, 2004


    There is much agreement that hydrogen is the probable energy carrier of the future—there is little agreement on how exactly that hydrogen will come to be. Unlike wood, coal or petroleum, hydrogen isn’t sitting waiting to be harvested, mined or pumped. Rather, it needs to be produced.

    The diagram at the right (click to enlarge) illustrates the major pathways of hydrogen production. The vast majority of current hydrogen (which is not an insignificant amount, used for making ammonia, for petroleum fuels production, and other industrial uses) currently comes from fossil (hydrocarbon) fuels: natural gas, oil itself, and coal. Basically, the gas is produced by splitting the hydrogen out of the original hydrocarbon structure (and then somehow disposing of the leftover carbon).

    In cleaner scenarios, the carbon would be sequestered; in other scenarios, it is an exhaust gas (CO2) that would contribute to climate change.

    Biomass is a possible feedstock for hydrogen. The other primary hydrogen feedstock could be water: H2O. The only current production method based on water as a feedstock that even registers on a global scale is electrolysis: the use of electricity to split the hydrogen and oxygen.

    Using water to generate hydrogen is capturing a great deal of research interest, particularly in association with renewable sources of energy to fuel the production process, and particularly for more distributed production of the gas. (Generating hydrogen right at the fueling station, in other words, rather than trucking it in from a mega refinery. An example of this in practice is the electrolysis station BP plans to build in Singapore as part of its trial.)

    There is work on using sunlight (photolysis) to generate hydrogen from water, either through organic means or through electrochemical. There is also work on thermo-chemical means—using extreme heat, produced from sources such as solar or nuclear energy, along with chemical catalysts. (Earlier post on a solar thermo-chemical process here.)

    So where to place your bets? On multiple sources. James Winebrake from RIT gave a terrific background presentation on hydrogen basics to a DOE workshop in June. (Slides here.)

    As an example, how could we fuel half of the current LDV fleet with hydrogen?

    • Current consumption in the light-duty market is 16 quads [a quad is one quadrillion BTUs—the energy of approximately 8 billion gallons of gasoline]
    • Assume a 2x increase in efficiency with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
    • For half of the fleet, we need 4 quads
    • This is about 40 million tons of hydrogen per year (4 times the current domestic hydrogen production)

    Using only ONE domestic resource, can we make this much hydrogen?

    For 40 million tons/year of hydrogen, we would need:
    95 million tons of natural gas (current consumption is around 475 million tons/year in all energy sectors)
    310 million tons of coal (current consumption is around 1,100 million tons/year)
    400-800 million tons of biomass (availability is 800 million tons/year of residue plus potential of 300 million tons/year of dedicated energy crops with no food, feed or fiber diverted)
    The wind capacity of North Dakota (class 3 and above)
    3,750 sq. miles of solar panels (approx. footprint of the White Sands Missile Range)

    In other words—on any useful scale, hydrogen for transportation is going to come from more than one source. (And that doesn’t address transportation or storage.)Pragmatically, what this means as we build up to a hydrogen platform, assuming that’s the winner that will emerge, is that we will have expanded dependence on natural gas. If there is a natural gas supply and price crunch as some foresee, that will result in additional emphasis being placed on coal as a source of hydrogen.

    From a power generation point of view, the problem with electrolysis in the short term is that it would rely primarily on fossil fuels (coal, natural gas) to generate the electricity to split the water. It’s when renewable electricity generation comes to play (wind, solar, hydro) that the whole scene starts looking really green.

    I’m looking to the trials, and especially to the mini-neworks proposed by Jeremy Bentham to provide some field perspective on what works and what doesn’t in hydrogen generation and fueling. And I’m looking to the researchers in biotech and nanotech to discover more efficient means for bio- and solar-generated H2.

    The vision of the distributed hydrogen economy is compelling; it will just take awhile to get there on a mass scale. In the meantime, we have emissions and energy supply issues that we must address through a variety of solutions, tactical and strategic. One danger in this whole arena is silo’ing—getting so wrapped up in one particular avenue or discipline that one becomes blind to everything else. This is a complex arena, requiring solutions from multiple fields. The trials and the mini-networks are excellent mechanisms for gathering data, but those results should be shared broadly.

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    H2 Benz to S’pore


    The Straits Times. DaimlerChrysler delivered the first of its fuel cell cars to Singapore’s National Environmental Agency as part of a larger two-year trial that will see 60 such cars in Singapore, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Berlin.

    DaimlerChrysler maintains that the earliest full commercial roll-out will be in 2010 or after.

    BP also opened its first Singaporean hydrogen refueling station, which will receive the gas by truck from BP refineries. It also announced that it would develop of second station by the first quarter of 2005 that produces its own hydrogen through electrolysis (using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.)

    BP is partnering with Ford on similar demonstrations in the US, and has said that it will build out fueling stations using a variety of hydrogen production technologies.

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    1st Indian Fuel Cell Prototype

    July 18, 2004

    Business Standard. The Reva Electric Car Company (which also manufactures the country’s only electric, battery-powered car) unveiled a prototype Hs fuel cell car.

    It will certainly take a few years before RECC’s fuel cell car becomes a production reality, but the very fact that a relatively small company, based in Bangalore – which is not exactly the centrestage for new developments in automotive technology – has had the courage and the perseverance to work on a cutting-edge product like this.

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    Besser Mit...

    July 15, 2004


    I saw this on a presentation from BMW, and had to laugh. Besser Mit Wasserstoff (German) translates to “Better With Hydrogen.”

    (I am delighted by the German word for hydrogen: Wasserstoff. Water material. Water stuff.)

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    SHEC Labs Extracts H2 from H2O with Solar Energy


    PhysOrg.com. Solar Hydrogen Energy Corporation (SHEC Labs) reports that it has demonstrated the production of Hydrogen from water using its proprietary Solar Thermal Chemical Process.

    Utilizing the hot Arizona sun and a new Solar Concentrator developed by the Lab, the research team was able to extract Hydrogen from water at a temperature of 850 degrees Celsius (1,562° Fahrenheit).

    This successful test was the second for SHEC-Labs. In Late May of this year the team produced Hydrogen from Natural Gas using a similar technology. SHEC-Labs is planning additional tests in the next few weeks, using a variety of catalysts and temperatures.

    SHEC is developing Thermo Chemical and Solar Electric Hydrogen Processes to extract hydrogen from water using the sun’s energy. This has the potential for becoming an economical method for the commercial scale production of clean renewable hydrogen. The process relies on a thermal-catalytic cycle which requires heat as an input. Instead of burning fossil fuels to create the necessary process heat (and generating greenhouse gases in the process), SHEC labs intends to employ the heat of the sun by using mirrors to focus sunlight onto a chemical reactor.

    Independent engineering companies have verified that SHEC’s process can produce hydrogen from water at temperatures significantly lower than 1000 degrees Celsius. Direct thermal water splitting in comparison normally requires temperatures of 2,000 degrees Celsius to begin the reaction and 5,000 degrees Celsius to optimize the reaction.

    If reproducible, verifiable and scalable, this would be of great benefit. One of the challenges of hydrogen is how to create it without expending great amounts of energy. Direct solar would do very nicely. I wonder about the the nature of the chemical reactor and the possible throughput for this process. How easily might it be distributed?

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    Ford Shows H2 ICE in Germany

    July 13, 2004


    Ford displayed a prototype Ford Focus C-max burning hydrogen at a German car conference. This is not a fuel cell vehicle—it is an internal combustion engine (ICE) car that burns H2. Ford developed the car at its Aachen Research Center in Germany. (Ford is also working on fuel cell vehicles.)

    Ford (at least, Ford Germany) views the H2 ICE as an important medium-term bridge technology to fuel cells, especially because increased demand for hydrogen in ICE would accelerate the buildout of the hydrogen infrastructure for fueling while necessary R&D on fuel cells continues.

    BMW is also taking the H2 ICE approach. (Earlier post.)

    The Ford Focus H2 ICE engine is based on the familiar 2.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline unit and supercharged so that it offers similar performance levels.

    The car stores hydrogen at high pressure in three separate tanks - two behind the rear seats and one under the floor. A regulator on the engine reduces the gas pressure from 350 bar to 5.5 bar at the intake manifold. Currently the car has a range of 125 miles.

    Press release and more information here (German).

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    H2 Storage in Glass Microspheres

    July 08, 2004


    On-board storage of hydrogen is one of the key challenges for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. A team of researchers at Alfred University has been working on a method for the storage and release of hydrogen in pressurized glass microspheres. Their discovery was that the release can be triggered simply by the use of light.

    A scanning electron microscopy image (300X, right) shows the size of the microspheres.

    From the Center for Environmental and Energy Research at Alfred University:

    It has been known for decades that hydrogen can be safely stored in hollow glass microspheres. The amount of hydrogen in each individual microsphere is very small, preventing the possibility of explosions by improper handling or during accidents. Development of a commercial process has heretofore been prevented by the lack of an easy method for removing the hydrogen from the microspheres as needed for fuel. Shelby and Rapp [the researchers] have potentially solved this problem through photo-enhanced diffusion.

    Shelby and Rapp’s research shows that doping glasses with certain additives results in a glass that will almost instantaneously change the rate of hydrogen diffusion. They have shown that the release of hydrogen from glass can be controlled by simply turning a light on and off. The response of the glass is almost instantaneous. This discovery may lead to the widespread use of hollow glass microspheres for the storage and transport of hydrogen.

    MSNBC coverage here. A poster from May 2003 on the work is here.

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    Shell H2 Boss On Making It Real

    July 07, 2004

    In a speech to the World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Japan, Shell Hydrogen CEO Jeremy Bentham highlighted the successes of current hydrogen infrastructure efforts and outlined his proposal for a new generation of “Lighthouse Projects” based on mini-networks to accelerate the awareness and adoption.

    Clearly, a global transition will not happen overnight. Rather, hydrogen fuel and FCVs will become established in geographic pockets. Over time, more and more clusters will develop and link up. Reflecting this, we believe it is time to move on from the era of the stand-alone, cost-shared demonstration project — remote from everyday life and driven by the traditional model of public/private research.

    The concept of a Lighthouse Project—a demonstration bridging research and commercialization to “light the way” to broader adoption—has been associated with the EU effort on hydrogen for several years. Its scope is large: ten years in duration, with an initial pricetag of more than € 1.5 billion.

    Bentham seems to be proposing something more distributed and more immediate—and if that is the case, I think it is a terrific idea.

    His proposal is to move away from isolated industry demonstrations projects to a series of mini-networks that already have both semi-commercial and subsidized elements. Each mini-network should include:

    • Fleets of 100 or more vehicles
    • Fueling from a mini-network of 4-6 integrated hydrogen/gasoline stations
    • Public Private Partnerships
      • More than one vehicle manufacturer
      • More than one infrastructure supplier
      • Fleet company
      • Government & regional/local authority
    • Both subsidized and semi-commercial elements
    • Focus on transportation in urbanized markets
      • E.g. Tokyo, Los Angeles, the Rhine region
      • Some stationary power elements
    • High visibility

    Bentham’s speech slides (which some extremely cool satellite maps overlaid with refinery and H2 production locations and related reach of coverage) is here.

    Transcript of Bentham’s speech is here.

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    Nissan Targets H2 Fuel Cell Vehicle for 2007

    July 03, 2004

    Channel News Asia. Nissan will spend ¥ 70 billion (some $642 million) to develop its own H2 fuel cell vehicle by 2007.

    With the project, Nissan would join its main rivals Toyota and Honda, which in 2002 became the world’s first auto makers to lease the low-pollution vehicles, the business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun said.

    While Nissan began selling cars powered by US-made fuel cells in 2003, the latest project would allow the Japanese auto maker, controlled by Renault of France, to develop a cutting edge cell on its own.

    This comes on the heels of Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn’s statement (earlier post) that: “There is no doubt about it, if the American consumers want more fuel-efficient cars we’re ready for it.”

    Interestingly, while Nissan is partnering with Toyota for the upcoming hybrid Nissan Altima, it appears to want to have its own intellectual property and ownership of the H2 car—a clear delineation of what the vendor considers tactical versus strategic.

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    Stuart Energy Networks H2 Stations

    June 24, 2004

    Stuart Energy Systems has been granted a US patent on its method for networking hydrogen energy stations. This provides some insight into the distributed nature of upcoming energy solutions.

    This “Energy Distribution Network” patent complements Stuart Energy’s previously-granted “Intelligent Hydrogen Fueling Station” U.S. patent, which gives Stuart Energy exclusive rights to market on-site, electrolysis-based hydrogen fueling stations, including PEM and alkaline, where user demand information is automatically exchanged between the user and system components. For example, a “smart card” or keypad is used to activate control of production and supply of hydrogen at a single station. The intelligent interaction between components of a hydrogen energy station and the user is essential to providing a convenient and familiar experience for the customer.

    The “Energy Distribution Network” patent contemplates a number of these hydrogen energy stations linked to a central controller that manages the overall hydrogen production. Since hydrogen is produced on-site, as opposed to central production as with today’s conventional fueling stations, a central controller is critical in managing the inventories of hydrogen in a network and providing related information to hydrogen users. The central controller will also match the electricity available to produce the hydrogen and balance the supply of electricity and hydrogen with the demand of the fuel users or certain power applications. The central controller will have command and control over these intelligent stations, which should give customers the ability to more effectively optimize their hydrogen station assets.

    Stuart Energy provides hydrogen energy stations under the Stuart Energy Station (SES) brand name. The SES consists of up to five modules: Hydrogen Generation, Compression, Storage, Power Generation and Fuel Dispensing. These stations can produce hydrogen for a variety of applications, including vehicle fueling and distributed

    power generation.

    Very interesting.

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    Organic Crystal Can Generate Pure H2

    June 18, 2004


    Scientists from the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa have discovered that a nonporous organic molecular crystal can be exploited for the purification of hydrogen gas.

    The crystal, consisting of pairs (called dimers) of bowl-like calixarene molecules joined together, absorbs molecules such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxygen, and nitrogen into the space within each dimer. The figure to the right shows a section (outlined in yellow) through a calixarene dimer revealing the hourglass-shaped void within where other molecules can be stored.

    When the researchers exposed the crystals to a stream of gas containing equal amounts of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, the crystals selectively absorbed carbon dioxide, leaving the hydrogen behind. As Science News reported: “It’s like going through a turnstile,” [Chemist Jerry Atwood of University of Missouri] said.

    The immediate practical importance of this discovery comes to play in producing hydrogen for use in fuel cells.

    Current techniques for reforming natural gas or methanol into hydrogen require a final separation process to remove impurities -- primarily carbon dioxide. Filtering hydrogen through calixarene crystals could offer a relatively inexpensive and more efficient alternative.

    The research is published in the Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Volume 43, Issue 22 (p 2948-2950), and can be reached at the link above.

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    VW: Synfuels Step to H2

    May 28, 2004

    At HYFORUM in Beijing this week, Volkswagen restated its emphasis on clean, synthetic fuels ((Gas-to-Liquid (GTL); Coal-to-Liquid (CTL); Biomass-to-Liquid (BTL)) as a transition to hydrogen down the road. Along with it comes another clear statement from an automaker about the risk of oil dependence.

    Concentrating on oil as a primary energy therefore involves considerable risks for the future, not least in view of the political instability of many oil-producing regions. Volkswagen has developed a drive system and fuel strategy to find an alternative that reduces this dependence.

    We need more statements such as that -- and louder -- from the major automakers. And action backing those statements.

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    India Merging onto the H2 Highway

    May 26, 2004

    The Indian government has established a national hydrogen energy board to prepare a national hydrogen energy road map.

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    S. Korea Determined

    May 25, 2004

    The South Korean government announced a $544 million push to develop new automotive technologies in an effort to become the world’s fourth-strongest car manufacturing country. Efforts will include hybrids, fuel cell vehicles and intelligent automobiles.

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    H2 Buses for Beijing

    The Chinese Ministry of Science and technology (MST) announced at HYFORUM in Beijing that China is buying three DaimlerChrysler hydrogen fuel cell Citaro buses by next September, according to Xinhuanet.

    “China is formulating its energy strategy for the next two decades and hydrogen energy -- as a kind of clean, efficient, safe and sustainable energy resource -- has been put on the nation’s energy development priority list,” Shi [Dinghuan, MST’s secretary general] said. “...hydrogen energy is in the direction of future development in that China has abundant hydrogen production with an annual production capacity reaching 8 million tons,” he added.

    Shi was echoed by Professor Mao Zongqiang, of Beijing's Tsinghua University, who said that, with the daily decrease of oil resources and surging prices, the advantages of hydrogen energy will stand out in the future when the high cost of pollution is taken into consideration.

    DaimlerChrysler has been promoting the Mercedes-Benz Citaro, powered by a Ballard fuel cell, in a variety of trials in Europe.

    DaimlerChrysler is introducing the first hydrogen-powered buses in Europe. Some 30 city buses based on the Mercedes-Benz Citaro are operating in ten major European cities: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Porto, Reykjavik, Stockholm and Stuttgart.

    Twelve metres long, the Citaro has a range of approximately 200 kilometres, a top speed of 80 km/h and a capacity for up to 70 passengers, depending on individual customer specifications. The 200 kilowatt fuel cell unit and the pressure cylinders containing hydrogen compressed to 350 bar, are located on the roof of the Citaro bus. The electric motor and the automatic transmission are located in the rear of the bus.

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    GM: Oil Volatility, H2 Opportunity

    May 20, 2004

    Larry Burns, GM’s VP of research and development and planning, and one of the outspoken proponents of GM’s hydrogen investment, to the FT:

    General Motors, the world’s biggest carmaker, expects a long-term oil price of $30-$35 a barrel, well above the target set by the largest oil exporters but lower than last week's US peak of more than $41.

    Burns... said yesterday that prices were also likely to become more volatile over the next few years.

    “The auto industry’s 98 per cent reliance on petroleum puts us in a very exposed position.”

    The high oil price will help GM executives justify heavy spending on alternative fuel technology, particularly hydrogen, on which $1bn has been spent so far.

    Burns said hydrogen-powered fuel cells were the biggest single item of spending in the advanced technology budget.

    However, the oil price is not likely to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen, he said, as the technology would not be competitive with petrol cars before 2010 at the earliest.

    But Mr Burns said hydrogen cars could become popular faster than predicted if catastrophic events required a move away from petrol.

    “We believe that world events could put us in a position where this has to happen a lot faster than forecasters expect,” he said. “Look at 9/11, blackouts in the north east [of the US], the Iraq war.”

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    Los Alamos Creates H2 Research Institute

    May 19, 2004

    AP Story:

    Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has worked on fuel cells for 25 years, has created an institute aimed at addressing technical issues better and broadening the use of hydrogen and fuel cells.

    The Institute for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research, announced Wednesday, is a partnership between the lab's divisions of chemistry and materials science and technology. Research will be done in existing facilities.

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    H2 With Lower Energy Cost

    May 10, 2004

    Fueling some of the arguments against hydrogen is the energy cost for creating it. In other words, a dirty coal-fired electrical plant generating the power required to create the clean hydrogen through electrolysis reduces the system-wide benefit of hydrogen.

    There are many approaches currently under investigation for the creation of hydrogen from renewable energy sources, or by cleaner non-renewable processes. This DOE site provides an excellent overview of the current work underway.

    The current issue of Small Times reports on nanotech work by Los Alamos National Lab that boosts the efficiency of solar cells by up to 37%, for an overall efficiency of more than 60%.

    Such developments in nanotechnology and photovoltaics represent one of the key enabling areas described by R. Smalley (earlier post). This is moving in the right direction.

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    First-Hand Reports from Euro H2 Marathon

    This GM website provides a great overview of a 10,000 km (6,000 m) Norway to Portugal run by a GM/Opel H2 fuel cell vehicle that started on 3 May. Journalists and celebrities are part of the driving team for the HydroGen 3, and are reporting on their experiences. Some samples...

    But on the very first day we start to have problems; fortunately they turn out to be harmless. Suddenly an alarm pipes up and the red “check” lamp flashes up on the right of the dashboard. But my co-pilot, Opel fuel cell engineer Alexander von Kropff, stays calm. He takes an unconcerned look at the display which continuously monitors the state of the fuel cells. “A voltage problem with the air compressor” is his professional opinion. We pull up. In a flash he plugs his laptop into a socket between the front seats, taps a few keys and downloads some new software into the Zafira’s motronic. And we’re ready to roll again. Welcome to the brave new automobile world. Brilliant: a bit of fancy computer work and the fault is repaired.

    But this happy state does not last for very long. A mere 160 kilometres after our last refuelling stop there’s hardly any hydrogen left. We slow down and make it until the clock says 182.3 kilometres. Alex von Kropff pulls out his laptop again and heats the tank up at a mouseclick. “That will increase the pressure in the hydrogen tank.” And we do indeed manage another two kilometres. But that really is the end of the line. Eight kilometres to the next scheduled refuelling stop and we are stuck.

    Shell Hydrogen and Linde AG are handling the fueling by providing trucks of hydrogen.

    Another 175 kilometres to the next refuelling stop, this one in Hammering. And the weather is still not really to our liking. The Opel only wants to take 70 percent of its liquid hydrogen on board. Reason? the wind is too strong. Is our fuel station easily upset by the weather? “In a manner of speaking, yes” says Dr. Gerd Arnold, head of the department for hydrogen storage and infrastructure at Opel. “When refuelling, gaseous hydrogen is released from the Zafira tank. If the wind is blowing the wrong way, sensors register the hydrogen escaping and immediately interrupt the process.” Safety first. If there were a network of hydrogen stations this would not be a problem, because the gas would be drawn off and locked in airtight tanks, Arnold explains.

    The demonstrations and trials that are part of the recent DOE investment are important -- practical experience will yield very useful data and insight, even into areas such as controls and interface.

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    H2 Demo Teams

    May 07, 2004


    $380 Million of the $575 Million currrent grant from the DOE is targeted for five “learning demonstrations” the purpose of which is to provide data to focus ongoing research efforts.

    I list the different teams in the chart at right. (Click on image to enlarge.) Subsequently, I’ll try to provide more detail about each of the test programs.

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    $170M for H2 Storage

    When Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced $575 M in funding for hydrogen research last week, he outlined four primary research areas: storage, demonstrations, fuel cell research and education.


    The Department of Energy has made hydrogen storage a “Grand Challenge” -- a call to the research and technical community for a specific scientific or technological innovation that would remove a critical barrier to solving an important problem.

    That problem, in the case of the H2 economy and transportation, is storing enough hydrogen to enable a greater than 300-mile driving range without impacting cargo or passenger space. $170 Million of the funding is going toward this Grand Challenge over the next 5 years.

    There are three primary centers for the work, each exploring a different technical path. Each has a lead National Laboratory and different combinations of university, research and industry partners. These are outlined in the chart at the right. (Click to enlarge.)


    In addition there are 15 individual projects in this area researching:

    • new materials for storage

    • carbon

    • chemical hydrides for storage

    • new processes

    • off-board storage

    • life cycle and cost analysis

    Broken out, it doesn’t seem like an awful lot of money. This represents, however, a big jump from the budget for 2002 in which the DOE had only $31 Million for its hydrogen energy programs.

    The leads and the partners in these projects are listed in the chart to the right. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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    Smalley on the Energy Stump

    May 02, 2004


    Prof. Richard Smalley of Rice University shared the Nobel Prize in 1996 in Chemistry for the discovery in 1985 of fullerenes -- stable spheres of carbon atoms, also called buckyballs. These have become the foundation for many rapid advancements in nanotechnology.

    (Nifty background on the research and the award from the Nobel Poster adapted for the Web here.)

    Last year, he began speaking out, sometimes with Matthew Simmons, the energy banker, on the urgency of solving the impending energy crisis. A sample of one his talks is here.

    He also makes the gloomy point that at the time we need science and technology more than ever, we are seeing a drop in the number of scientists. This point is also made by a new coalition of research universities and high-tech companies of which Smalley is a member.

    The coalition, which includes the American Association of Universities, as well as high-tech and scientific groups, said the $5 billion per year the federal government spends on basic research in the physical sciences and engineering has been flat for 30 years, adjusted for inflation, and has fallen by 37 percent as a percentage of gross domestic product.

    They want to see that figure double in five years. The Bush administration, however, has proposed a 2 percent cut in light of the rising federal budget deficit.

    The group noted that the Internet, magnetic resonance imaging, global positioning systems and lasers were all developed out of federally financed basic research.

    “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” Gus Grissom character in The Right Stuff.

    Here are some of Smalley’s needed enabling nanotech revolutions for energy directly related to mobility.

    1. H2 storage: lightweight materials for pressure tanks and/or a new lightweight, easily reversible hydrogen chemisorption system

    2. Batteries and supercapacitors: improvement by 10-100x for automotive and distributed generation applications

    3. Photocatalytic reduction of CO2 to produce a liquid fuel such as methanol

    4. Thermochemical schemes of producing H2 from water that work efficiently at temperatures lower than 900 C. Direct nuclear heat → hydrogen gas at high efficiency would be a very big breakthrough

    5. Superstrong, lightweight, materials for automobiles that can replace steel, titanium, and aluminum in as many places as possible

    And quite a few others in the broader areas of electricity generation, materials and conservation.

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    More H2 Seeds

    April 28, 2004

    In addition to the Ford/BP partnership (below), Toyota, Honda and Nissan are planning to put 65 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the California test fleet in the next 5 years, working with Air Products & Chemicals, which will build 24 H2 refueling stations. BMW is also working as part of this group, although it will be delivering its hydrogen ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles instead (similar to the 745h, below).

    Hyundai will place 32 FCVs into California and Chevron-Texaco will build up to 6 fueling stations. DCX has committed to up to 30 vehicles between California and Michigan.

    GM, long an advocate for hydrogen development, had no me-too announcement.

    The background for all this: a $350 million ante by the Federal government plus an addition $225 million in private funding to back H2 research projects.

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    Ford and BP Seeding the H2 Economy

    April 27, 2004

    Ford will place up to 30 hydrogen-powered vehicles and BP will build a network of fueling stations to support them in metropolitan Sacramento, Orlando and Detroit.

    The Ford and BP joint proposal calls for Ford to provide up to 30 hydrogen-powered Ford Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV). Assembly of the vehicles will begin in the fourth quarter of 2004, depending on the timing of successful contract negotiations with the U.S. DOE and various state and local entities.

    The Ford Focus FCV uses an 85kW fuel cell stack supplied by Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology. The FCV is hybridized with the addition of a nickel metal-hydride battery pack and a brake-by-wire electro-hydraulic series regenerative braking system.

    BP plans to install a network of stations demonstrating state-of-the art fueling technologies to support the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Some BP hydrogen refueling stations will evaluate technologies that have near-term commercial feasibility, such as reformation of natural gas, while others will explore more long-term technology options and assess the potential to produce renewable-based hydrogen that achieve U.S. DOE hydrogen fuel cost targets.

    Excellent. The market cannot become so infatuated with hybrids in the short term that we ease off the pressure for a long-term solution for sustainable mobility and energy.

    Ford also seems to be getting more aggressive with pushing its alternative fuel work — perhaps a recognition of the gains Toyota has made in terms of market perception. Bill Ford has talked the alternative fuel talk for years, and walked it with the funding that Ford has put into the different research areas. But being aggressive with product in the market — that’s a significant step forward.

    Separately, along that line, Ford is having a spat with Toyota over the spin of the licensing agreement for hybrid technology in the upcoming Ford Escape hybrid SUV.

    ...Ford has been bristling ever since stories came out insinuating it needed Toyota’s help to produce its Escape Hybrid, bowing later this year.

    “Toyota is trying to take some undue credit for our product,” Phil Martens, group vice president-product creation, tells employees in an internal memo.

    There’s plenty of room — and desire — for each car maker to go its own way if the hybrid market takes off. To that end, Ford has stepped up its engineering commitment, designating a team of 200 to work on hybrids under Wright. It has plans for a hybrid Mercury Mariner cross/utility by 2006 and will follow that up with a hybrid Ford-badged sedan. It already is hinting those second-generation technologies will be much more advanced — and borrow nothing from Toyota.

    All that just may make for a tighter hybrid-vehicle technology race. Toyota “wanted to own environmental vehicle leadership,” Martens says in his memo. “They underestimated us.”

    This could get pretty interesting.

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    Dual-fuel pickup: H2 and Diesel

    April 23, 2004

    From Saskatchewan comes news of the world’s first hydrogen-diesel pickup truck.

    This is not a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that runs on electricity; this truck uses hydrogen in its internal combustion engine. This latter approach to using hydrogen as a fuel is one that has some environmentalists concerned due to the total energy cost.


    Nevertheless, it is an approach being taken by other manufacturers, such as BMW, which has been showing its 745h hydrogen-gasoline prototype vehicle since 2001. BMW CEO Helmut Panke has said that the company will add such a hybrid configuration to the retail lineup in a few years.

    “By the time we have those cars [in the catalog], we will probably have a number of hydrogen fuel stations at our retail centres.”

    Which is another way to solve the fueling problem -- provide it yourself.

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    Arnold Keeps the H2 Pedal Down

    April 20, 2004

    While the California Air Resource Board hosted its technology workshop (below), California Governor Arnold Schwarenegger signed an executive order mandating the construction of 200 hydrogen fueling stations by the end of the decade.

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    H2 Contrarian: Yellow Light for the H2 Highway

    April 19, 2004

    Joseph J. Romm, former acting assistant secretary of energy during the Clinton administration, takes a strong stance in the Sacramento Bee against rushing to merge onto the Hydrogen Highway.

    (Sacramento is the capital of California, and hence the seat of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is outspoken about his Hydrogen Highway initiative.)

    ... a focus on hydrogen represents a misdirection of resources away from strategies that can achieve far more environmental and energy benefits for far less money for decades to come.

    Romm is the author of The Hype about Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate.

    More on the arguments pro- and con-H2 later.

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    H2 Highway #2

    April 18, 2004

    Via the Chicago Sun Times and Fuel Cell Works comes news that Illinois is joining California in beginning to build out the fueling infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

    The Illinois Coalition, city of Chicago, state of Illinois and the private sector are joining forces as the Illinois 2 H2 Partnership. They propose a model “hydrogen highway” along I-90 from the Indiana border to the Wisconsin line. No road construction is involved, just the creation of hydrogen-fuel filling stations that would enable alternative-powered vehicles to travel the route.

    Great! More! Faster!

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    H2 in CA

    April 14, 2004

    Decades ago, California was in the vanguard with air quality regulations and restrictions on emissions (much to the dismay of many, but to the betterment of the air). California is also being equally forward thinking in pushing for hydrogen-based energy solutions.

    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared that he will build a Hydrogen Highway as part of his energy plan for the state.

    Los Angeles Airport (LAX) will have the first compressed hydrogen fueling station for public use.

    And San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took delivery of two Honda FCX H2 fuel cell cars.

    Small but important steps.

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