Spectacular progress has been made in hydrogen fuel cells in recent years. However, aside from the fact that the cost remains high, the large-scale commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles will only be possible if there is a standardized distribution infrastructure which is sufficiently dense and governed by an appropriate regulatory framework.
It is also interesting to note that, according to a European study carried out by McKinsey, cost reduction prospects are much higher for fuel cells than for batteries. (They are working on bringing the total cost of ownership in line with that of the internal combustion engine by 2020.)
One of the key factors for the success of the hydrogen distribution infrastructure development process is close collaboration between stakeholders in the automotive and power sectors and the authorities. This collaboration must take the form of public-private partnerships on a global scale, based on shared and detailed road maps to monitor progress.
Illustration of this type (taken from CR WKS Berlin 2011, p.18)
Key: Worldwide mixed-economy partnership programs to encourage the introduction of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies into the market.
The main objectives for market penetration are as follows:
• Investment (CAPEX) for a turnkey H2 station: maximum €250,000 per 100 kg/day
• Operating costs (OPEX) for an H2 station are equivalent to those of a green hydrogen-CNG station: less than €6/kg (production and distribution included)
• Synchronized ramp-up of vehicles and infrastructures
• Clear and coherent tax schemes of the different governments
• Alignment of the hydrogen approach with those of other energy vectors
In addition to its use as fuel in fuel cells, hydrogen will play an important role in future energy production and distribution systems. It represents a high-performance storage solution for renewable energies which, for the most part, can only be used when they are produced (i.e. wind power or photovoltaics).
Transportation should be considered as part of an integrated energy system.
Source: Berlin WKS report, p.21
Important advances in storage capacity
Storing hydrogen in magnesium hydride in a very fine (nanostructured) powder could soon replace high-pressure storage. The density of hydrogen stored in this way is double that obtained below 700 bar. Hydrogen is absorbed under pressure of 5 to 10 bar with heat release. Gas is released at lower pressure when heated. The release speed must be further increased to be compatible with the demand for high acceleration on a vehicle. Heat transfers must be controlled either by storing the heat generated during filling and releasing it on emptying, or via an external source such as a combustion engine in a hybrid vehicle.
Preferably, these hydrides should be used in stationary systems such as hydrogen distribution stations for example.
Examples of projects
According to H2stations.org there are currently 208 stations throughout the world. The European Union is calling for the creation of a network of stations 300 km apart.
Air Liquide is implementing the H2E, Horizon Hydrogène Énergie program (€200 million over 7 years with twenty or so partners) which aims to create a hydrogen energy industry in Europe in markets in which hydrogen and fuel cells currently meet a need (i.e. captive vehicle fleets and portable generators).
This will involve proposing decisive innovations throughout the hydrogen energy industry: hydrogen production, storage, distribution and fuel cells.
The Group has already installed nearly 40 hydrogen distribution stations in the world where drivers can "fill up". The main innovation lies in managing very high pressure (up to 700 bar) and reducing filling time (under five minutes) while providing the same level of safety and ease as traditional fuel. By 2014, three new high-capacity hydrogen distribution stations (40 full tanks a day) will be designed and installed in Bremen in Germany, Birmingham in the UK and Brussels in Belgium.
Hydrogen for clean mobility: fill up in 3 minutes every 500 miles...
These stations are part of a European SWARM project: "Demonstration of small 4-wheel fuel cell passenger vehicle. Applications in regional and municipal transport": This project plans to roll out 90 hydrogen-fueled passenger cars in Europe. This is the highest number of vehicles ever rolled out for a demonstration project. The fleet will use a mixture of existing and new hydrogen refueling stations. The vehicles will be in use for three years in order to gather concrete data about their use. This will enable experts to issue recommendations for optimizing the marketing of private cars.
This project will contribute to the deployment of the hydrogen infrastructure in northern Europe and, also using existing stations, link Scotland with Scandinavian countries via England, Belgium and Germany.
On a technical level, things are progressing. Creating real networks does, however, come up against cost problems and public fears need to be allayed, particularly where the risk of explosion in confined spaces is concerned.