Zero emission vehicles could help reduce Europe’s carbon footprint, create jobs and preserve energy security if investment in an ambitious new energy partnership pays off.
Hail a taxi in London or a bus in Milan today and you might just find yourself on board a zero emissions vehicle funded through the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Initiative.
The public-private partnership between the EU and the private sector has been running since 2008 and has already funded research and demonstration projects designed to prove the viability of fuel cells and hydrogen in powering public transport.
Now, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 (FCH2) Initiative seeks to make fuel cell systems for zero emission vehicles ten times cheaper within 10 years and improve the electrical efficiency of fuel cells for power production by 10 %. With a budget of EUR 1.4 billion, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Initiative aims to radically change the way road transport is powered and make hydrogen a central plank of Europe’s energy future.
The public-private partnership is one of five Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) that will be funded through the EU’s flagship Horizon 2020 research programme which kicks off in 2014.
Experts say that London could achieve its 2020 carbon emissions targets for road transportation simply by switching to a ‘zero tail-pipe’ taxi fleet, but the number of vehicles powered by fuel cells remains small. Five fuel-cell powered taxis were used to transport VIPs during the London 2012 Olympics and there are just 26 pollution-free buses dotted around five European cities as part of the Clean Hydrogen in European Cities project.
‘Once you have generated energy from the sun or wind you can transform it using an electrolyzer, store it as hydrogen, and reuse it with a fuel cell when you need it. This could help bring more flexibility.’
Gaëlle Hotellier, Executive Vice-President and Head of Hydrogen Solutions at Siemens
Buses, taxis, and forklifts make ideal hydrogen-powered cars because they typically travel predictable, reasonably short distances and can refuel at a central depot thus eliminating the need for refuelling points along motorways.
However, greener passenger cars are the Holy Grail. This will mean reducing long-term costs and building refuelling infrastructure, all of which requires an investment of time and money today.
The search for greener ways to generate energy reliably has sparked strong interest in hydrogen which can be used to store energy generated by renewable sources such as solar and wind.
In tandem with this is growing excitement about fuel cells which can convert energy from different kinds of fuels – including hydrogen – into energy.
Hydrogen power is not new. NASA was using hydrogen as fuel for space shuttles in the 1970s, but cars are still primarily powered by petrol and diesel while gas and oil continue to be the mainstays of the domestic energy supply.
Turning hydrogen’s potential into consumer-ready technologies requires a coordinated effort, according to Pierre-Etienne Franc, Chairman of the Board of New Energy World Industry Grouping. He said the first Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Initiative had produced some tangible results but few are ready for market.
‘There are some solutions that are moving towards the market but are not there yet,’ he said.
More than cars
The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen 2 Initiative will focus on more than just transport. Demonstrating the viability of large-scale hydrogen production from electricity generated from renewables is a priority.
At present, wind and solar can be unreliable sources of power. One solution to this would be to store the energy created by renewables as hydrogen and use it whenever convenient.
‘Hydrogen is closing the loop between energy generation, distribution and demand, enabling clean load-balancing for conventional renewable power generation,’ said Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy, a firm specialising in the development of low-carbon fuel systems.
This is echoed by Gaëlle Hotellier, Executive Vice-President and Head of Hydrogen Solutions at Siemens, who describes hydrogen power as the ‘smart link’ between clean energy generation, large-scale storage, and use.
E3Car © Infineon Technologies
‘Once you have generated energy from the sun or wind you can transform it using an electrolyzer, store it as hydrogen, and reuse it with a fuel cell when you need it. This could help bring more flexibility,’ she said.
Hotellier believes hydrogen has the potential to play a positively ‘disruptive role’ in society by making renewable energy sources viable. The problem is that testing whether this works means securing cooperation from players in the technology, energy and utilities sectors.
‘If you look at it today, you don’t have a business case. We need to create overarching business cases across the entire business chain from production to end use. The goal is to make sure the solutions we deliver are practical and useful for consumers,’ she said.
Europe has multiple interests in overcoming the various technological and logistical hurdles that lie before the fuel cell and hydrogen age: energy security, job creation and reducing carbon consumption. With the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen 2 Initiative the EU is now heavily invested in making it happen.
Black cabs go green
VIPs attending the Olympic Games last year were escorted around London in fuel-cell electric taxis as part of a demonstration project funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Initiative.
UK power technology company Intelligent Energy provided a fuel cell system for a small fleet of iconic London cabs. The cars had all the passenger and luggage space expected of a city cab and boasted a 250-mile driving range.
The cars could last a full eight-hour day before being rapidly refuelled in less than five minutes. The taxis also benefitted from zero road tax because they emit no carbon dioxide and no particulates. They are still in use and can be found criss-crossing one of Europe’s busiest cities.
London was also one of five cities chosen for the Clean Hydrogen in European Cities (CHIC) project funded through the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Initiative. The demonstration project is part of ongoing efforts to move towards full commercialisation of hydrogen fuel cell powered buses.
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