Fuel cells have begun to get traction in various transportation systems. Recent announcements include Honda’s withdrawal from FIA Formula One racing to focus more resources on developing battery and fuel cell-powered electric vehicles and ZeroAvia’s announcement of the world’s first flight of a hydrogen-electric fuel cell-powered passenger plane. Fuel cells are being incorporated into heavy-duty buses, trucks, trains, planes, and ships. The following is a brief overview of the many global efforts to make fuel cell-powered transportation a reality.
Flying fuel cells
Fuel cell-powered trains and buses are beginning to enter service, and several manufacturers are close to market with fuel cell-powered trucks. But, it’s still early days for fuel cell-powered planes and ships. ZeroAvia has already flown the first hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial-grade aircraft. According to the company, there is no need for further research, just extensive engineering development and testing to produce hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft that can match current fossil fuel aircraft’s flight distances and payload capacities.
ZeroAvia used Intelligent Energy's proprietary, high power density Evaporatively Cooled (EC) fuel cells to power the flight. Intelligent Energy fuel cells have been designed for high volume manufacturing while delivering low-temperature operability and utilizing a simplified plant balance. Overall, a compact power system with fewer components, improved reliability, and reduced system cost. The fuel cells are designed for automotive standards. The next stage in ZeroAvia’s development program is the production of a six-seat commercial aircraft capable of flying 250 miles.
In the U.S., Plug Power Inc. is working with Universal Hydrogen, an end-to-end fuel logistics company, to make the hydrogen-powered commercial flight a near-term reality. Under this partnership, the companies plan to develop, build, and certify a commercially-viable hydrogen fuel cell-based propulsion system designed to power commercial and regional aircraft.
Bringing together Universal Hydrogen’s aerospace expertise with Plug Power’s fuel cell stack technology and systems capabilities, the partnership aims to certify and fly the world’s first 2MW hydrogen-electric aircraft powertrain. The carbon-free propulsion system incorporates a lightweight Plug Power ProGen-based hydrogen fuel cell stack designed for aerospace applications and Universal Hydrogen’s modular hydrogen distribution and fuel delivery system. This technology will enable a converted mid-sized regional turboprop aircraft (such as the Dash 8 or ATR42/72 families) to fly missions up to 1,000 km. This range serves over 90 percent of existing routes and is far longer than what would be achievable with battery power alone.
Floating fuel cells
Norway’s Prototech supplies its ammonia-fueled solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) for several marine demonstration projects, including a 1.2MW fuel cell installed on a chemical tanker. Prototech’s technology is suitable for many different fuel types, including green ammonia and LNG, giving ship operators the flexibility to choose fuels according to availability. The project aims to develop a technology that can provide emission-free operation over long distances. Battery solutions are currently unsuitable for operating on the world fleet’s deep-sea, long-haul segment.
BKK, Equinor, and Air Liquide are leading a new initiative to build a complete liquid hydrogen supply chain in Norway for maritime applications. The project has been awarded a grant of 33.5 million NOKs from the governmental PILOT-E scheme, whose objective is to promote rapid development and deployment of new, environment-friendly energy technology products and services. The project participants aim to make liquid hydrogen available for commercial shipping within the
first quarter of 2024 and encompass the entire value chain from production, storage, and transportation to end-users in the maritime sector. The other project members include NCE Maritime Cleantech, NORCE, Norled, NorSea Group, Viking Cruises, and Wilhelmsen. Clean and sustainable shipping is vital to reaching national and international emission targets. Today, liquid hydrogen is considered one of the optimal zero-emission fuels for ships with high energy demands. It has already been selected for Norway’s first hydrogen ferry, which will be in operation for Norled on the Hjelmeland connection starting in 2021.
Canada’s Ballard Power Systems has introduced a modular fuel cell system for marine vessels in North America. The 200kW modular design targets passenger and car ferries, fishing boats, and similar-sized vessels. The new FCwave system features; 30,000 hours operating lifetime, over 55% efficiency, is lightweight at 4.4kg/kW and is undergoing Type Approval with DNV-GL in Norway.
A Japanese consortium is also targeting passenger and car ferries and fishing vessels. NYK Line, Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corp. Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd, Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, and ENEOS Corp. have partnered to develop a commercial fuel cell-powered vessel in the 150-ton class (about 100 passengers). Development of smaller fuel cell-powered vessels (under 20 tons) is well underway in Japan. This new effort will develop larger power plants to support larger ships on longer journeys.
Fuel cell trains and buses entering service
While fuel cell-powered aircraft and ships are still under development, fuel cell-powered trains and buses will enter revenue service. Eight ExquiCity tram-buses built by Van Hool NV and powered by 8 Ballard FCveloCity-HD 100kW fuel cell modules are in revenue service in the Bus Rapid Transit System in Pau, France. Each tram-bus is over 18 meters (60 feet) long and has a capacity for 125
passengers and can operate more than 300 km (185 miles) between hydrogen refuelings.
In addition to environmental benefits, hybrid fuel cell tram-buses offer several important advantages, including a high level of operational flexibility and productivity (no need to install expensive electric powering infrastructure); a high level of passenger comfort and safety; and lower cost than a traditional tram. There are several architectures used for fuel cell electric buses:
Standard buses (12 or 13 meters)
o buses with a small battery and a large fuel cell (for instance, 120kW)
o buses with a supercapacitor (instead of a battery) and a fuel cell (for example, 75kW)
o buses with a large battery and a fuel cell as a range extender
Articulated buses (18-meter buses)
o buses with a larger battery and a fuel cell as a range extender
Also, in Europe, Alstom’s hydrogen fuel cell-powered train has passed testing. It is ready to run on the Dutch network providing the same service performance as traditional regional diesel trains. Called the Coradia iLint, Alstom’s fuel cell train is already in service in Lower Saxony, Germany. The German Federal Railway Association has homologated the Coradia iLint. Alstom has already sold 41 of these hydrogen-powered trains in Germany. And in Vienna, the Coradia iLint is planned for regular passenger service for ÖBB, the Austrian Federal Railways.
Trucking with fuel cells
Cummins Inc. recently acquired fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies provider Hydrogenics Corp, demonstrating the growing interest in fuel cell-powered buses and trucks. Hydrogenics is now part of Cummins’ Electrified Power Business Segment, which focuses on school and transit buses and medium to heavy-duty trucks. In addition to acquiring Hydrogenics, Cummins also recently announced an investment in Loop Energy, a fuel cell electric range extender provider, and signed a memo of understanding with Hyundai Motor Company to collaborate on hydrogen fuel cell technology across commercial markets in North America.
And Hyundai is entering the fuel cell heavy-duty truck market, shipping the first ten units of its XCIENT Fuel Cell, the world’s first fuel cell heavy-duty truck, to Switzerland. The XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks will enter the North American market in 2022. Hyundai will roll out 50 trucks this year and a total of 1,600 units by 2025. Powered by a 190kW hydrogen fuel cell system, XCIENT Fuel Cell can travel approximately 400km on a single charge.
Ballard Power Systems has signed an agreement to collaborate with MAHLE on developing and commercializing zero-emission fuel cell systems to provide primary propulsion power in various classes of commercial trucks. Ballard will supply the fuel stack expertise. MAHLE will lead the development of the complex air intake system and in the temperature control of fuel cell systems and air filter solutions for fuel cells.
Toyota and Hino have agreed to jointly develop Class 8 fuel cell trucks for the North American market. The effort will combine Hino’s XL Series chassis with Toyota’s fuel cell technology. It expands on an existing collaboration to develop a 25-ton fuel cell electric truck for the Japanese market. In addition, Toyota has partnered with Denso to start verification testing of a fuel cell-powered truck that also acts as an emergency generator for 72 hours during disasters. The vehicle will also provide water as a by-product of power generation.
That completes this three-part FAQ into fuel cells. You might also enjoy reading part one, “Fuel Cell Technologies and Operating Characteristics” and part two, “Fuel Cells for Backup Power, Microgrids and Renewable Energy.”