Fuel cells on the upswing
In this issue’s Tech Systems department, we report on a new self-heating, fast-charging battery that Penn State engineers say can make electric vehicles climate-immune. The lithium-ion battery can be charged in 15 min at all temperatures, even as low as -45°F.
Many industry experts re looking to lithium-ion batteries as the ultimate electric vehicle energy source, but the temperature challenge and other technical and cost hurdles still stand in the way of making them a viable enregy source for mass production.
However, another potential energy-storage solution, whose fortunes and focus have ebbed and flowed throughout the last few decades, might still challenge lithium ion’s supposed lock on all future EV applications. If recent activity is any indication, fuel-cell technology is gathering some momentum.
The global fuel-cell market size is projected to reach $24.8 billion by 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. It is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 20.9% over the forecast period. The stationary hydrogen powerplant segment is expected to emerge as the largest and account for more than 70% of market in terms of shipped units.
Fuel cells have the potential to be a very efficient form of alternative energy generation, but there are still challenges of high system cost and the lack of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure needed for mass adoption. For these reasons and others, the fuel-cell market will likely need more aggressive public-private partnerships and strategic alliances among OEMs and suppliers.
In June, Hyundai Motor Group and Audi AG announced a multi-year patent cross-licensing agreement covering a range of FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) components and technologies as well as joint efforts in developing FCEVs. The agreement also covers both companies’ affiliates, including Kia Motors Corp. and Audi parent Volkswagen AG.
Fuel-cell technology is also one of the focuses of an Aisin Seiki Co., Ltd. and Denso Corp. joint venture announced in August to develop electrification driving modules. They aim to accelerate the development of technologies with a focus on driving modules for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell, and electric vehicles, especially in China. Details are still being discussed, and the plan is for the new company to launch in March 2019.
While the industry’s big companies seem to have a renewed focus on fuel cells, many innovations could come from smaller and startup companies looking to fast track their offerings.
One such example is Revolve Technologies, which revealed in September it had successfully completed a project to develop novel fuel-cell technology using a printed circuit board (PCB) construction—a first for use in an automotive environment, according to the company. Compared with conventional systems, the PCB fuel-cell stack is said to drastically reduce system costs, deliver reduced weight for a given power output, and provide a more flexible form factor.
The Renault Kangoo ZE van with a PCB fuel-cell range extender was displayed at the Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle Event at the Millbrook Proving Ground in the UK. The fuel-cell range extender module is designed as an aftermarket kit for any commercial pure EV, but it could be adopted as original equipment in other pure EV segments. A principle benefit could be to help allay EV range anxiety.
Interestingly, Cenex was established in 2005 as the UK’s first Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell technologies. The independent not-for-profit consultancy is an example of the progressive private-public partnerships that many experts predict to be essential for attaining an economically viable shift to future clean-energy solutions such as fuel-cell technology.
|| Kevin Jost