It is well known that from 2015 onwards automakers across the world will begin to bring fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) to market. However, these cars are of little use if a customer has nowhere to refuel. This chicken and egg problem of vehicles and infrastructure has plagued discussions of FCEV commercialisation since they began. Luckily, partners on both the vehicle and fuel supply side are now working to create a viable ecosystem into which FCEV can arrive and propagate.
The current wave of progress began in September 2009, when seven of the world’s largest automotive OEMs – Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Renault-Nissan, and Toyota – signed a joint letter of intent addressed to the oil and energy industries and government organisations. It signalled the OEMs’ intent to commercialise a significant number of fuel cell vehicles from 2015 and urged for the development of hydrogen infrastructure, primarily in Europe and especially in Germany, to allow for this market introduction.
A year and a half later in January 2011, the three major Japanese automakers – Honda, Nissan, and Toyota – signed a memorandum of understanding with ten Japanese oil and energy companies. It agreed three main points: that the automakers will continue to reduce manufacturing costs and popularise FCEV; that the automakers and fuel suppliers will work together to expand the introduction of FCEV and the hydrogen supply network, and that the hydrogen fuel suppliers will construct a network of approximately 100 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2015. These stations will be clustered in Japan’s four main metropolitan areas: Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka.
With 2015 now just two years away, what impact have these letters and memoranda had? How close are Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world to realising viable early markets for FCEV?
According to the LBST and TÜV SÜD operated information website H2stations.org, 27 new hydrogen stations were opened worldwide in 2012, bringing the total number of hydrogen stations in service to a total of 208 as of March 2013 – 80 in Europe, 49 in Asia, 76 in North America, and three elsewhere. A fifteen percent increase in hydrogen refuelling stations in the space of a year is indicative of an industry drive towards market preparation for FCEV. Of the 27 new stations, eight are in North America, three are in Asia, and sixteen are in Europe, of which five are in Germany. The European FCEV movement has been led by Germany, with invested parties largely represented in the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP). Three of the five new German stations are CEP stations, in Hamburg, Berlin, and Dusseldorf. In June 2012, the German Federal Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer together with industry partners Daimler, Linde, Air Products, Air Liquide and Total signed a letter of intent to increase the network of hydrogen stations in Germany to 50 by 2015, supported by €20 million in funding from the National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Innovation Programme (NIP). According to H2stations.org, Germany currently has 14 public stations in operation and the country is on its way to achieving its goal. Once built, these 50 stations provide the skeleton infrastructure needed to support initial FCEV rollout across the nation. Elsewhere in Europe, Scandinavia is continuing to solidify its position as an important launch market for FCEV with contracts securing fifteen Hyundai ix35 FCEV in Copenhagen and two in Skåne, Sweden.
In early February 2013 the initial findings of the first phase of the government–industry UK H2Mobility project were revealed. The study sees ≤1.6 million FCEV on UK roads by 2030, with annual sales of more than 300,000. It further found that 10% of new car customers would be receptive to FCEV when first introduced and that an initial rollout of 65 hydrogen stations in heavily populated areas and along national trunk routes would provide sufficient coverage for these early vehicle sales. Hydrogen should be cost‐competitive with diesel immediately, with 60% lower CO2 emissions than diesel by 2020; as the fuel mix becomes more renewable this improves to 75% lower by 2030 and would be on course for 100% by 2050. As vehicle sales grow, the number of refuelling sites would increase to 1,150 by 2030; by that time 51% of the fuel mix should be coming from water electrolysis, contributing to an annual total vehicle CO2 emissions reduction of up to three million tonnes by FCEV in 2030. Furthermore, FCEV could have a UK market share of 30–50% by 2050.
Last month it was announced that a consortium led by Air Products will deliver at least one new 700 bar hydrogen station in London and upgrade the existing two to 700 bar, as well as the station at the nearby Millbrook Proving Ground. These will be complemented by a number of Hyundai ix35 FCEV and Revolve HICE vans. Dr Klaus Bonhoff, director of NOW GmbH, noted in an October 2012 presentation to the FCH‐JU that similar studies are being considered for the French and Swiss markets.
In Japan an industry grouping, HySUT, is coordinating infrastructure deployment. As of March 2013, H2stations.org lists 26 operational stations in Japan – a quarter of the way to the country’s 100 station target. A $50 million government subsidy is being made available to support the construction of new hydrogen stations in 2013. The subsidy will cover up to 50% of a station’s capital cost; HySUT states the current cost per station is in the region of $5 million, so the subsidy could support 20 new stations. If the subsidy continued at this rate, and presuming that the maximum number of applicable stations are built, then Japan would have 86 stations by the end of 2015. However, the per-station subsidy may reduce from 50%, with private companies picking up the deficit; this would put the 100 station target within reach. The commercial standard that the new stations are being built to allows for hydrogen pumps to be installed at existing stations, which may help with capital cost further; however a setback distance of eight metres from the roadside is still required unless blast fencing is installed. In January 2013 JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. announced plans to construct 40 stations by 2015 and Iwatani announced at the FC Expo in February 2013 that it would be building 20 by the same date; together the two companies will build 60 of the 74 stations needed to meet the 100 station target.
California continues to lead the USA in the adoption of FCEV. The Office of California Governor Edmund G. Brown published its ‘2013 Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) Action Plan’ in February 2013, which includes a roadmap towards putting 1.5 million ZEV on Californian roads by 2025. It mandates that by 2015 major metropolitan areas in California are to be ‘ZEV ready’, including suitable funding for infrastructure for both FCEV and BEV/PHEV, as well as streamlined permitting. The plan incorporates the findings of the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s recent study, which suggests that 68 hydrogen stations would be needed for an initial launch of vehicles in 2015. This Californian mandate is an important step forward for the country as a whole: because the California Air Resources Board predates it, the US Clean Air Act allows California to determine its own air quality standards – other states may choose either federal standards or Californian standards, but not set their own. This allows willing states to adopt more progressive Californian standards, and this unique model could speed up FCEV adoption within the USA. A nationwide infrastructure feasibility study, H2USA, will launch soon following in the footsteps of existing projects in Germany and the UK.
The speed at which hydrogen infrastructure developments are materialising is becoming ever more rapid as we enter the penultimate year before the launch of the first commercial FCEV; if this trajectory continues viable launch markets for FCEV should be just around the corner.
Jonathan Wing Market Analyst
Photo: Refuelling a B-Class F-CELL (Source: Mercedes-Benz Europe)