This project seeks to place large numbers of vehicles with drivers who will use them for regular day-to-day activities and help develop early networks of refuelling stations to prepare the market for the commercial introduction of these innovative zero emission vehicles over the coming years.
Fuel Cell and Hydrogen (FCH) technologies hold great promise for energy and transport applications from the perspective of meeting energy, environmental and economic challenges. Many countries now have firm carbon emission reduction targets, and are seeking to improve energy security by reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Emissions from conventional vehicles are also causing significant air quality issues in many locations, particularly in urban areas.
Fuel cell electric vehicles have been identified as a promising technology to help achieve these strategic goals with minimal impact on the driver in terms of functionality or convenience.
The European Union has recognised that FCH technologies have an important role to play in a future low carbon economy and are part of the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), which sets up the EU research & innovation strategy for the coming years.
The contribution of hydrogen and fuel cells to achieve the EU sustainable growth ambition is foreseen in the following areas:
A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy converter in which hydrogen and oxygen react, in a controlled manner and without combustion, to water, thereby generating power and heat. The same process operates in reverse during electrolysis. A fuel cell is divided into two via a thin membrane – the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM). The membrane is coated on both sides with a catalyser and a gas-permeable electrode.
Hydrogen and oxygen can migrate from one side to the other through the fine gas channels. The catalyser separates the hydrogen into an electron and a proton. The positively charged protons can pass through the PEM, the negative electrons, however, cannot. Current is thereby generated. If the electrodes are connected, direct current will flow. Pure water (H2O) is the by-product of this electrochemical reaction. Many fuel cells are lined up to form stacks when deployed in vehicles, in order to boost the electric current output.
FCEVs and the associated refuelling infrastructure are currently in the very early stages of the market make-up. The current priority is to introduce vehicles in the markets where a strategy is in place to support their use with an appropriate infrastructure for hydrogen fuel supply, distribution and sale.
Inevitably in the early years, this infrastructure will build up slowly as the demand for vehicles grows. However, with time the number of stations will increase faster than the demand for hydrogen to ensure adequate hydrogen refuelling network coverage to allow FCEV sales to a broader market. This will require an estimated deployment of 100’s of stations per member country.
At the moment, hydrogen is often delivered to the fuelling station in the same way it is distributed to industry: in pressurised tanks on lorries. At suitable sites it can however be produced locally with the aid of renewable electricity on location, e.g. from wind, in electrolytic processes. Over the long-term in Germany, renewable energy sourced primarily from wind will be used to produce CO2-free hydrogen. This will be distributed by lorries or pipelines for example.
When hydrogen is in a tank, there is no danger of explosion. Hydrogen is an energy source that is indeed – as is the case with every other fuel – flammable in contact with air. Risk assessments show however, that hydrogen is no more dangerous than petrol or natural gas for example. In addition, hydrogen has also been used commercially for more than 100 years in large quantities safely, including in the chemical industry.
The energy content of the hydrogen tanks in the vehicles is typically less than that of regular petrol or diesel vehicles. The automotive industry has agreed globally on a pressurise of 700 bars for hydrogen in cars – the pressure of hydrogen storage systems is mechanically controllable. The hydrogen vehicles driven today in demonstration programmes have undergone the automotive manufacturers’ complete development cycle, including crash tests, and are cleared for road transport. The vehicles are therefore just as safe as conventional vehicles.
FCEVs offer the same driving range than petrol and diesel vehicles, typically between 385 and 700 km (240 and 435 miles) on a full tank, with a refuelling process similar to those of conventional petrol or diesel cars (around 3 to 5 minutes).
FCEVs also offer the same quiet, smooth and refined performance as battery electric vehicles. As with all electric vehicles maximum torque is delivered from zero rpm, which makes for very responsive performance when pulling away from standstill. Manufacturer development of the technology has ensured performance is maintained regardless of the local environment or climate.
Currently FCEVs are expensive compared to the conventional diesel and petrol cars. Production costs for FCEVs have fallen significantly in recent years but further decreases will be needed for FCEVs to appeal to the mass market. Once the fuelling infrastructure increases and the fuel cell manufacturers realise the economies of scale, sales of fuel cell vehicles are expected to take off (in the 2020 timescale), when sales of tens of thousands of vehicles per year are expected at an affordable cost to buyers.
Many countries have now signed up to support the development of National hydrogen plans for H2 gas as a transport fuel via Hydrogen Mobility Initiatives. These Hydrogen Mobility Initiatives have developed different strategies based on their local needs and brought together the key stakeholders of the sector: vehicle manufacturers, hydrogen refuelling station providers and Government representatives. H2ME will trial and compare these different strategies and draw lessons learnt from the benchmark. The four initiatives involved in H2ME are:
In addition to those involved with H2ME, there are a number of other hydrogen mobility initiatives across Europe.
In addition to cars and vans, hydrogen mobility is also being developed in other modes of transport. There are therefore many other past and present hydrogen mobility projects that are working to achieve similar aims across Europe. For further information please click on links below: