11-02-02 US and EU Government Support for Fuel Cells

US and EU Government Support for Fuel Cells

Date publishedFormat
02 Feb 2011PDF (322 kb)

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The past two weeks have seen high profile announcements concerning support for fuel cells from the governments of both the USA and Europe.

Starting in America with the Annual State of the Union Address, President Obama spoke about the need for investment in research and development to ensure the future of the US manufacturing industry. Likening it to the space race in the mid to late 20th Century, Obama said he didn't want history to repeat itself in the clean energy sector, as when the Soviet Union won the race by launching Sputnik into space. He challenged the clean energy research community to assemble the best teams in the industry to focus on the hardest problems, and promised to fund those projects; just as the USA did with the Apollo project, which won the race to the moon.

Touching on a recent research announcement from the California Institute of Technology, which highlighted advances in hydrogen generation efficiencies using ceria (also used in self-cleaning ovens) Obama linked that development with the production of hydrogen fuel for cars. He also announced the goal for the USA to be the first nation to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Admittedly this total would contain only a small percentage of fuel cell vehicles (slated for release by the major automotive manufacturers around that time), but the intent is laudable. The speech was well received by fuel cell companies and industry organisations alike, and Obama's intent to redirect funding from the oil industry to clean technologies and fund the research for tomorrow's technology can only be good for the industry.

In Europe, the EU also published a report stating that to achieve an oil-free and carbon-free energy supply for transport and reach its goals for security of supply, alternative fuels would be a necessity. The report interestingly highlighted the role for synthetic fuels, such as LPG and methane, to offer a bridging solution, while alternatives like biofuels could be gradually introduced into the refuelling network. Ultimately the goal of decarbonising transportation would be met with electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

This view from governments of hydrogen and fuel cells as part of the solution to achieve decarbonisation and energy security is exactly what is needed to encourage the necessary research and investment to make it a reality. We all know that current fuel cell cars are not comparable in price to those on your local garage forecourt and that your local petrol or gas station more than likely doesn't have a hydrogen pump, but these developments take time and commitment from all stakeholders.

In 2010 more than 200 fuel cell light duty vehicles were produced, an increase of more than 20% on 2009, so the industry is moving in the right direction and I believe current industry estimates of commercialisation by the middle of the decade do stand a reasonable chance.

Elsewhere in the transport news, Mercedes is planning a round the world trip taking in 14 countries on 5 continents. Also, due to the need for mobile refuelling in the locations it will be visiting, it has developed a mobile refuelling unit in conjunction with Linde which is contained inside a Mercedes Sprinter van.

Toyota has announced its FCHV-Adv fuel cell cars will be used by All Nippon Airways as part of a chauffeur service for long haul passengers running between Narita Airport and the centre of Tokyo. This is in addition to its bus service running between Haneda airport and central Tokyo, announced in December 2010.

Plug Power and Oorja continue to develop the materials handling space. Plug is supporting Sysco with GenDrive fuel cell units for 5 counter-balanced trucks, 76 stand-up reach trucks and 19 pallet jacks and Oorja is partnering with Earp distribution converting its entire fleet of pallet jacks with 24 OorjaPac Model III methanol fuel cell units.

Dan Carter     Manager



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