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Why 2016 looks set to be the year the tide turns decisively in favour of fuel cell electric vehicles

Dr Henri Winand – CEO of Intelligent Energy, UK

Dieselgate is catalyst for change

There is little doubt that the fallout is continuing to be felt from the revelations of emissions-rigging in the automotive industry. The ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, combined with growing public concern in some of the world’s largest cities about particulate pollution and air quality, initially seemed to catch the motoring sector off guard.

But US congressional hearings and consumer anger, not to mention the endless waves of stories about thick, hazardous smogs engulfing urban centres and prompting red alerts, have since focused minds.

What started out as a major crisis for the industry that threatened to pull in a number of the sector’s biggest names, is now quickly being turned around and recast as a ‘call to action’. Indeed, there are clear signs that the news is serving as a catalyst for change, and injecting fresh impetus into efforts to move towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly forms of transport.

Audi determined to catch up on FCEV leaders

Further evidence that the furore has paved the way for a step change in the automotive sector could be seen at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, where Audi unveiled its highly anticipated hydrogen fuel concept car.

By raising the curtain on its Q6 h-tron quattro at one of the premier industry events, Audi was exhibiting its determination to catch up with the likes of Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai – all of whom are already busy putting their hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) into production.

Audi’s arrival on the hydrogen scene is another sign that momentum is beginning to build behind a movement seeking to take us away from traditional fossil-fuel vehicles to the cleaner cars of the future.

Audi first showcased its hydrogen fuel cell technology in the shape of an A7 h-tron at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2014,[1] but back then there was a feeling that it was a car for the future, not the present day. In the wake of Dieselgate, which has heightened public concern around issues of air quality and pollution, that is no longer the case.

Competing to develop zero-emission vehicles for mass market

Today the question is not if, but when the technology will be commercialised. Since the media storm around emissions and COP21 (the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris), the mood music has changed – consumer appetite for cars which harm the environment and impact on people’s health is rapidly diminishing – and automakers are now in a race against competitors to develop zero-emission vehicles for the mass market.

Speaking at the Detroit Motor Show, the head of R&D at Mercedes-Benz, Dr Thomas Weber, said the company was on course to launch its first hydrogen production car – the GLC F-Cell – next year, while BMW recently confirmed plans to roll out its first fuel cell model between 2020 and 2025.

A meaningful entry into the market by Audi and its high-end German peers could be very good news for fuel cell electric vehicles, as it will bring hydrogen to the luxury, executive market, which is less price sensitive than Toyota’s traditional customer base.

This will help FCEVs compete with the likes of Tesla, which has captured both imaginations and the upper end of the battery electric vehicle market. It will also help to drive critical mass for the sector, and transform the way in which we see the class of alternatively powered vehicles.

Intelligent Energy has developed innovative PEM fuel cell stacks for its automotive business.

Intelligent Energy is developing innovative PEM fuel cell stacks for its automotive business.

Intelligent Energy developing fuel cell technology

The range issues associated with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) has made hydrogen FCEVs and hybrid offerings that combine both batteries and fuel cells, look like increasingly attractive options. This is why Intelligent Energy continues to develop and refine this practical form of electric propulsion, which has the potential to displace fossil fuels and end our reliance on traditional internal combustion engines.

We are not alone in our ambition – Toyota has stated publicly that it aims to have phased out all internal combustion engines by 2050.[2]

Backed by £6.3 million (US$9 million, €8 million) in funding from the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), Intelligent Energy is currently leading a groundbreaking consortium to introduce fuel cell zero-emission range-extended (ZERE) electric vans into the light-duty fleet vehicle market.[3]

Intelligent Energy has led a consortium to introduce zero-emission fuel cell electric taxis to London. The consortium developed and integrated robust, high-efficiency, fuel cell electric powertrains into TX4 taxis from The London Taxi Company.

Intelligent Energy has led a consortium to introduce zero-emission fuel cell electric taxis to London. The consortium developed and integrated robust, high-efficiency, fuel cell electric powertrains into TX4 taxis from The London Taxi Company.

By integrating Intelligent Energy’s high-efficiency, air-cooled Proton-Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells into existing battery electric vehicles, we are developing zero-emission vans with double the usable driving range. This provides a transitional platform for hydrogen fuel cell technology, and demonstrates the benefits it can deliver to the fleet automotive industry.

Tide could turn in favour of hydrogen fuel cells

The technology to unleash a clean revolution in the automotive sector is already here, and with Audi becoming the latest in a long line of car manufacturers to acknowledge that fact, competition to make the most from fuel cell electric vehicles is beginning to seriously heat up.

While 2016 is still young, all the signs are there to suggest that, in the motoring industry at least, it will be the year when the tide could turn decisively and irreversibly in favour of hydrogen fuel cells.

References

1. 2014 LA Auto Show: Audi A7 Sportback H-tron Quattro is a plug-in hydrogen hybrid

2. Toyota plans to stop selling traditional gasoline cars by 2050

3. Four UK projects in £80 million boost for greener buses, cars, vans and engines

More information

Intelligent Energy, Motive

Dieselgate on Wikipedia

Guest Blog by Dr Henri Winand: Learning from India’s power revolution

 

Posted 21/03/2016 by Steve Barrett

Tagged under: Power generation , Fuel cells , Fuel cell electric vehicles , FCEVs , Hydrogen energy , Clean energy

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