Video: Researcher teams up with industry to help bring hydrogen-powered vehicles to market

If Marc Secanell Gallart had his way, the streets would be filled with hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. The technology already exists, and has for some time, says the director of the University of Alberta's Energy Systems Design Laboratory. But engineers like him are now only a few years away from reducing the cost of the fuel cell enough to compete with the conventional combustion engine.

The impact of fuel-cell technology could be huge, especially in reducing carbon emissions. Transportation of all kinds accounts for more than 30 per cent of the energy consumed in Canada, almost all of that from carbon-spewing fossil fuel.

"We have not gone far enough in reducing carbon consumption in the transportation sector," says Secanell Gallart. "We have to find some way to replace the internal , and fuel cells are one of the technologies that has the potential to do that."

Mercedes Benz and Ford are two of the companies benefiting from Secanell Gallart's research, especially the computer modelling needed to test each advance. These two vehicle manufacturers have already released hydrogen cars on a small scale but plan to go after a much larger share of the market in next two to three years as the number of hydrogen fill-up stations also increases.

The main challenge is the cost of the fuel cell, but Secanell Gallart is working on a way to bring it down by reducing the amount of platinum, a scarce and expensive element used as a catalyst in producing electricity. One clear benefit of this form of alternative energy is that the same technology used in creating a fuel cell is applied to manufacturing the hydrogen fuel that feeds it.

In this video, produced with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Secanell Gallart shows how a works and explains the benefits in partnering with industry to solve real-world problems.


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Citation: Video: Researcher teams up with industry to help bring hydrogen-powered vehicles to market (2015, March 3) retrieved 15 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-03-video-teams-industry-hydrogen-powered-vehicles.html
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Mar 03, 2015
"The main challenge is the cost of the fuel cell"

How many times will they feed us the same unadulterated BS?

The biggest problem is the economical production, storage and transportation of H2.

Mar 03, 2015
The biggest problem is the economical production, storage and transportation of H2.

There are hydrogen filling stations for cars. So there are storage solutions already in place. As for transport. If you want to you don't need to transport it at all but can create it in situ at those filling stations. All they'd need is power line.

Or you can just do it the way the suppliers of hydrogen gas do it and use trucks.

Mar 03, 2015
The biggest problem is the economical production, storage and transportation of H2.


Hydrogen is abudant and easy to store and transport in the form of natural gas.

The fuel cell vehicles will basically be fitted with reformers to generate the necessary hydrogen on-board from hydrocarbon fuels, catalytically, using the excess heat from the fuel cell itself. SOFCs are already capable of directly combusting hydrocarbons without reformers.

If fuel cell vehicles come about, they will run on hydrogen only nominally.

There are hydrogen filling stations for cars. So there are storage solutions already in place.


Having some hydrogen filling stations is not a full solution. Plain hydrogen as an energy carrier is a really difficult proposition on the large scale and most likely completely unworkable both economically and practically.

Mar 03, 2015
"There are hydrogen filling stations for cars. So there are storage solutions already in place. As for transport. If you want to you don't need to transport it at all but can create it in situ at those filling stations. All they'd need is power line."

Fine Anit, please explain to me exactly how that would reduce CO2 emissions. Since solar and wind are just a small fraction of the electric power produced producing H2 via electricity produces more CO2 emissions not less.

Mar 03, 2015
Here is my question about fuel cell/H2 powered transportation.

We all know the limitations of the internal combustion engine and the Carnot Cycle limitation of 50% max efficiency. Is it more efficient to take a given amount of fossil fuel and produce H2 for fuel cell use to power a vehicle than to use that fuel directly in an IC engine?

Mar 03, 2015
"SOFCs are already capable of directly combusting hydrocarbons without reformers."

That may be true in theory but they are high temperature devices and not yet perfected. In a car you need a device that will "start" upon command.

Mar 03, 2015
Green I agree with the premise that solar and wind could be used to produce fuel when their peak output is not needed. That power could also be used to produce ammonia which is also a viable fuel and easier to utilize as a transportation fuel than H2.

Mar 03, 2015
wind is currently dumping huge amounts of power on to the grid at off hours - and skewing the markets. Hey - take that excess wind - use it to generate hydrogen at off hours - and you solve that problem...


That's the idea, although it's better to synthetize methane instead, because the energy density of methane is four times greater and it can be liquefied more easily, is less explosive, less prone to leaking... etc.

Is it more efficient to take a given amount of fossil fuel and produce H2 for fuel cell use to power a vehicle than to use that fuel directly in an IC engine?


The reforming mechanism is roughly 80% efficient, but since the energy to run it comes from waste heat, it has no significant impact on the efficiency.

That may be true in theory but they are high temperature devices and not yet perfected.


Neither are PEM cells. Hence the research. PEMs need cheaper catalysts, SOFCs need to work below 600 C to use cheaper support materials.

Mar 03, 2015
In a car you need a device that will "start" upon command.


SOFCs are already on the market in stationary applications, where they do indeed start on command. It takes a minute to heat the cells up, but since the drivetrain is electric, you can drive on the same battery that you're using to start it. Hybrid operation is necessary to limit thermal stress on the cell structure from rapid power changes.

Interestingly enough, a SOFC needs an air pump, and the spent air gets heated up to such a degree that a turbine can be run on it at a reasonable efficiency, which then runs the air pump. There's more than enough power to pump the air and the excess can be made into electricity to improve efficiency, and if desired, more heat can be added by simply burning the same fuel as the fuel cell is using - for an instant power boost.

A bi-mode SOFC + microturbine can start instantly on turbine power alone.

Mar 03, 2015
Musk is building ultra rich play things and not real products but he is right about batteries vs H2 fuel cells unless there is some sort of fuel cell breakthrough.

Mar 03, 2015
Invent an automotive fuel cell that can run on natural gas at say 80% efficiency and you will have created a boon to mankind. There are stationary carbonate cells that can use natural gas but they are not suitable for transportation purposes. H2 fuel cells require ultra pure H2. Impurities shorten their useful life span.

Mar 06, 2015
but he is right about batteries vs H2 fuel cells unless there is some sort of fuel cell breakthrough.


The two have very different sort of difficulties to deal with.

Fuel cells already deliver all the key points: light, long range, quick refueling, high power. Where they lack is durabilty and price, but the cars themselves are otherwise just as good as any car. If the price is right, then durability isn't an issue - just swap out the stack every n kilometers.

Battery electric vehicles on the other hand are heavy, slow to recharge, limited in range and suffer from safety issues with batteries bursting into flames. There's the economic difficulties in battery swapping, the ridiculous amounts of power drain on the grid from rapid charging, the short lifespan of the batteries...

It's the BEV that needs a fundamental breakthrough - whereas the fuel cell vehicle just needs incremental improvements on already proven technology.


Mar 06, 2015
Fine Anit, please explain to me exactly how that would reduce CO2 emissions. Since solar and wind are just a small fraction of the electric power produced producing H2 via electricity produces more CO2 emissions not less.

Since these are storage areas you can capitalize on the cheap electricity thatis available during peak production hours of wind and solar. (Which is currently stuff that you either have to sell for negative value on the electricity market or just dump). It essentially creates a much needed buffer system for free. It makes larger renewable installations economically viable because they now have a way of selling their product independent of the weather or time of day.
Larger renewable installations (i.e. 'overdesigned' for the electricity demand) mean that more of the variable need (electricity/heating) can be covered by renewables at all times - even when sunshine/wind is low. Which in turn means you don't need as many coal powerplants running 24/7 as backup.

Mar 07, 2015
Yes Anti I can see the need to store excess production. That being true, why not just produce and store the H2 in a stationary plant? This plant could then use a fuel cell and the H2 to produce electricity when needed. This should lower CO2 emissions more and be a lot less expensive than creating a whole new transportation/distribution system to utilize excess renewable power.

Mar 09, 2015
you can capitalize on the cheap electricity thatis available during peak production hours of wind and solar. (Which is currently stuff that you either have to sell for negative value on the electricity market or just dump)


There's one remaning point about cheap peak renewable energy.

It's only cheap because it is already paid for, by being subsidized. Someone is still paying the full price of it and more, so the true cost of the energy to the society is still whatever the base price of power is for that particular source.

The problem of the subsidies is, that they're set up as a Dennis Moore tax.

It makes larger renewable installations economically viable because they now have a way of selling their product independent of the weather or time of day.


Without making Someone Else (tm) pay, through forced subsidies, it's still not possible for them to profitably sell their excess at prices profitable to the people who would make hydrogen out of it

Mar 09, 2015
Larger renewable installations (i.e. 'overdesigned' for the electricity demand) mean that more of the variable need (electricity/heating) can be covered by renewables at all times - even when sunshine/wind is low


That depends on the geographical area you're speaking of. In a single country like the UK or Denmark, or Germany, the power output drops frequently down to 0-1% at low times, so having more renewable power isn't reducing the amount of backup power needed by much.

If you strung up the entire northern and western Europe together with HVDC lines, that would reduce the variation from 100:1 to about 3-2:1 at least for wind power. Solar is still dead in the night.

why not just produce and store the H2 in a stationary plant? This plant could then use a fuel cell and the H2 to produce electricity when needed


It's got abysmal round-trip efficiency. If you just want grid power, there are better ways. The hydrogen has more value elsewhere

Mar 09, 2015
The situation is; suppose you own a particular wind farm that stays profitable at $85 / MWh if and only if you're able to sell all of the power that it outputs. If you have to dump any, or sell below margin, the price of the rest must increase, and that means it's more difficult to sell it at all.

So, you get the government to pay for all the output and sign a law that says everyone must use your electricity first without considering anything else, and you've solved the issue. After that it doesn't matter what anyone pays for your power - you can even afford to give it away for free.

But, you've broken the market mechanism, caused other essential power suppliers to bankrupt from the giveaway prices, forced consumers to pay for otherwise unnecessary grid upgrades, subsidies, wealth redistribution from the poor to the owning class, to deal with the intermittent surges of power.

And what did the society gain?

If you drop the subsidies, how would the picture be different?

Mar 09, 2015
Without the subsidies, you simply can't sell wind power on the grid because each windmill would be in competition. The grid would accept some amount of intermittent power, but only if there's less supply than there is need for it, so a producer can sell all their output at the lowest possible price. The moment someone else builds more, both become unprofitable.

So the only way for the intermittent power to enter the market without subsidies is by developing and building some extremely cheap way to store power. This is what should have been done in the first place because only after the solution to storage exists can there be a massive increase in renewable energy. Without it, we're just wasting time and money.

Hydrogen storage isn't it, though, because it's got something like 25% round-trip efficiency, which alone quadruples the source energy cost. The hydrogen must be used where hydrogen is needed to make any sense.

Cheap CAES or something else might do the trick.


Mar 09, 2015
" why not just produce and store the H2 in a stationary plant? This plant could then use a fuel cell and the H2 to produce electricity when needed "

Eikka I was not trying to say that H2 storage was a feasible way to store excess renewable power but that a stationary plant makes more sense than automotive use of H2. Fuel cell cars are just one giant expensive feel good PR stunt for those involved.

Mar 09, 2015
Fuel cell cars are just one giant expensive feel good PR stunt for those involved.

I dunno. Ever been to a major city? The air quality can get pretty bad due to the traffic - to the point where the life expectancy of people living there is significantly lower. (And another benefit would be the noise level. Fuel cell/EVs drive pretty quiet. They shouldn't be too quiet to not surprise blind people, but they can be made a good deal quieter than current cars and still be noticeable)

I don't see stationary systems and fuel cell cars as an either/or choice. They can both be used and complement each other (in effect you get two systems for the price of one: mobility and power reserves/variability buffers)

Mar 09, 2015
Until a cost effective storage method is devised perhaps we need to develop manufacturing processes that can utilize intermittent power. One prime example could be desalinization plants in dry sunny areas. These are energy hungry and do not need to run 24/7 to be useful. Perhaps some process that requires heat could be run on molten salts which could store heat for future use during cloudy days.

Mar 09, 2015
I could see how a automobile like the Volt could be useful in this application. If there is excess power available you charge it up. If not, you drive home on fossil fuel. The same would hold true if an all electric automobile could store enough charge to go 3 or 4 days without a recharge. Smart meters at charging stations could enable this.

Mar 09, 2015
If you are talking about Ivanpah, that is a total ecological disaster unless you are planning to open a Kentucky Incinerated Bird franchise. If you care to argue with that I will just ask you if you would allow a fossil fuel project to kill the same amount of wildlife.

I know of no cost effective way to store solar power yet. Batteries still look to be the best hope.

I have no particular love for fossil fuels or nuclear other than the fact that they are the most cost effective at the moment. If renewables are ever able to increase the worlds standard of living I will give a 110% support to them.

Mar 09, 2015
"And none of that to mention climate change, and the millions of deaths each year caused by pollution from burning fossil fuels."

What absolute BS!!!!!!

Tell me, how much has the life span of mankind increased in the last 100 years! Don't give me any green malarkey about how fossil fuels have killed millions.

Mar 09, 2015
Onions I have a really simple question for you to answer.

If the use of all fossil fuels was banned by 2025 would the average life expediency of the worlds population increase or decrease?

Mar 09, 2015
"You and I know that is a metric that is very difficult to speculate about. And why does it have to be by 2025."

Well unless you can give me a definitive answer as to the cost/benefit ratio of fossil fuels the whole discussion of their harm in meaningless.

Mar 09, 2015
Millions of people die from prescription drugs each year perhaps they should be banned also.

Mar 09, 2015
Onions you can provide all the links that you want but the final arbitrator of what is cost effective and feasible is the free market. You can bet your life savings that if a project requires government regulations and subsidies it is not cost effective.

Mar 09, 2015
Yes Onions you can link to all sorts of sites that "prove" that the oil and gas industries are subsidized. But the underlying fact is that they pay billions of dollars of real taxes each year over any government funds that they might receive whereas the renewable energy companies pay virtually no taxes and receive billions of dollars in rate subsidies and government handouts each year.

Mar 10, 2015
Except that you are wrong. At least according to a bank that is in the business - and has experts who's business depend on knowing the FACTS.


Except that you're talking of something completely different, and also in somewhere completely different. Middle East is much closer to the equator, which makes their solar prices much lower and their capacity factors much higher.

We were actually talking of the peak power, which comes at zero or negative grid price due to oversupply. This condition only exists because the power is being paid for by subsidies and nobody actually wants it.

If it wasn't, and someone did want to buy it to store it for later, they wouldn't just be giving it away.

Mar 10, 2015
MR166
Until a cost effective storage method is devised


Already done MR - http://cleantechn...cwa-ceo/


Again, Saudi-Arabia. Middle East. You might as well be marketing for geothermal power because it's cheaper than baseload in Iceland.

And the storage solution is molten salts, which isn't scalable beyond a few hours worth of peak shifting. It's no good for seasonal and yearly level storage, which is where the problem really lies.


Mar 10, 2015
Eikka I was not trying to say that H2 storage was a feasible way to store excess renewable power but that a stationary plant makes more sense than automotive use of H2. Fuel cell cars are just one giant expensive feel good PR stunt for those involved.


No, it's exactly the opposite. Cars need a chemical fuel to carry along, stationary plants don't. Stationary plants can use all sorts of different means that are more efficient and less expensive than hydrogen.

The exceptionally poor energy efficiency of hydrogen is a showstopping issue if you try to build a stationary storage solution of it, but it's less so with cars because the ability to easily carry lots of energy is more important than the overall energy efficiency.

Though as I already said, there are better options to hydrogen, such as methane.

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