FC Expo 2013

Event Report: FC Expo 2013

Date publishedFormat
13 Mar 2013PDF (725 kb)

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FCEV Big Sight Roof

The FC Expo is the world’s largest fuel cell and hydrogen event. This year’s show was the ninth edition and more than 250 companies exhibited at the show with footfall exceeding 120,000 visitors. Japan has long been a cradle of fuel cell development and the show brings together a truly global spread of both exhibitors and visitors. A testament to this was the six international country pavilions at the FC Expo, showcasing companies and products from Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Taiwan, and the USA. Furthermore, the Expo’s keynote session gave equal precedence to Germany and the USA as well as Japan – all three are long-standing fuel cell development markets – with talks from Klaus Bonhoff of NOW GmbH, the German National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology, and Sunita Satyapal, the director of the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Fuel Cell Technologies Office. It is appropriate then to first look at the international aspect of the Expo.

Canada

Canada pavilionOn the Canadian pavilion, Greenlight Innovation was introducing its electrolyser test equipment. The company has sold market leading fuel cell test equipment for many years and is now following the growth in interest for electrolysers and is facilitating development through the design of its test equipment, which can test systems between 5 and 10 kW and at pressures up to 50 bar. Greenlight has recently sold electrolyser test systems to research organisation Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany.

Hydrogenics was promoting its power-to-gas electrolysers. It can offer load-following products that can enable the storage of renewable electricity as hydrogen. The gas can then be used in a variety of applications, such as for a transport fuel, injection into the gas grid, or for methanation. The company is interested in the potential for wind and solar development in Japan and the prospects for storage. Just adjacent to the Canadian booth was Hydrogenics’ partner for backup power, CommScope. Its backup power solutions range from 2 kW up to 30 kW and have enjoyed commercial success in the USA. It is hoped this can be replicated in Asia, where clean efficient and reliable backup power is needed in many countries.

Finland

On the Finnish pavilion, VTT was promoting its research activities. The centre provides development services to both domestic and foreign companies, commercialising successful technologies and licensing intellectual property. Its recent successes include flexible battery technology and printed enzymatic fuel cells, which are finding application in the cosmetics and medical industries, offering wound-healing properties. Elcogen was showcasing its SOFC cells and stacks, currently available up to 500 W, with a 1 kW system in development for release later in the year. Its SOFC operate at relatively low temperatures, between 600 and 700°C, meaning the company can use lower cost materials than typical SOFC systems.

ConvionConvion Oy is a new company funded by venture capital and minority-owned by Wärtsilä, which formed to commercialise SOFC systems developed by Wärtsilä. Its natural gas fuelled systems range from 50 kW up to 300 kW. Convion currently uses stack technology from Topsøe and Versa Power, and is focusing on increasing energy efficiency and reliability. It is partnering with Hitachi Zosen in Japan to market its systems, and is interested in finding partners for accessing other countries, not just in Asia, but in Europe and the USA too.

France

France pavilionFrench companies were well represented at this year’s FC Expo, exhibiting a wide variety of products. Raigi is a manufacturer of hydrogen storage tanks and the company has a long history of developing gas storage for the LPG industry. Its technology uses a liquid polymer liner for the tank that allows the terminals to be integrated during the manufacture of the liner itself, providing a better seal and enhanced durability. The hydrogen tanks have a lifetime of 60 years, so could feasibly outlast the systems in which they are used – as a result, total lifetime cost is not a major issue. Its tanks can withstand pressures of up to 180 MPa (1,800 bar) before they rupture, and they undergo rigorous safety testing. They are designed to release the gas safely in the case of fire and can also safely handle the impact of high velocity bullets. Projectiles such as this do not cause the vessel to explode, or become stuck in the wall of the tank, but safely enter the tank, leaving a hole through which the gas can escape.

McPhy was showing its recently acquired electrolyser technology, developed by PIEL. The company was showcasing a 10 m3/hour alkaline electrolyser, though it is developing larger systems of up to 65m3/hour (500 kW scale) for release later this year. These systems are being aimed at the emerging energy storage sector and can ramp up from 10–100% within four seconds. Ultimately, McPhy plans to develop megawatt-scale electrolysers for this application.

Symbio stackSymbioFCell’s fuel cell technology, on show at the French pavilion, will be powering a racing car at the 2013 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, taking place on 22nd June this year. Symbio is developing fuel cells for integration into industrial vehicles, such as excavators and delivery vans, but the best near-term potential lies with its development of fuel cell range extenders for Renault. Symbio is working with the automaker to integrate fuel cells into the Kangoo electric vehicle and has an order from the French postal service for a small fleet of the vehicles. In range extender applications smaller 10 kW fuel cells are used, but for the prime power and racing applications larger 300 kW systems are required.

Germany

German pavilionGermany is relatively scant of natural oil and gas reserves and is reliant on imports for around two thirds of its needs – the total bill for which came to €60 billion in 2012, an increase of €6 billion from 2011. With its recent decision to abandon nuclear power and in the face of ever-increasing oil prices, the country is pushing for the progression of alternative energy solutions. Germany has embraced fuel cell and hydrogen technologies with enthusiasm in recent years, largely thanks to its government–industry–research National Innovation Programme Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP), which launched in 2006 and aims to speed up the adoption of FCH technologies in the country. More than 100 fuel cells are in use in backup power applications in the NOW-supported Clean Power Net project. Impressed with the technology displayed, the Brandenburg police has launched a tender for 116 fuel cells for its telecoms base stations.

Germany is considered an important early launch market for fuel cell cars. The country currently has sixteen 700 bar hydrogen refuelling stations, the majority of which are publicly accessible, and it is committed to bringing the total to 50 by 2015. Many working in the fuel cell industry are wary of possible public perceptions of hydrogen safety, so it was reassuring to see the results of a recent consumer survey from NOW. 77% of consumers quizzed do not consider living next to a hydrogen refuelling station to be any more dangerous than living next to a conventional station, and 87% took it for granted that hydrogen vehicles will be safe once they are officially sold.

Sunfire was exhibiting on the German pavilion, introducing people to its new business strategy following the completion of its merger with Staxera in December last year. The company will focus on three efficient conversion technologies: power-to-gas, power-to-liquid, and gas-to-power. It’s gas-to-power arm is the SOFC business, which it will be intensifying and expanding. The company’s SOFC stacks are used in Vaillant’s micro-CHP units, which are currently being demonstrated in the Callux programme. More than twenty units were installed last year and a further 100 (approximately) will be installed this year. The company is also developing a 20–100 kW CHP stack technology under a customer project, and a 0.5–2 kW stack for off-grid applications such as telecoms backup.

eZelleron new stackeZelleron has made several improvements to its micro-tubular SOFC technology in the last year. The company has seen demand for a range of power sizes and can now produce products up to 3 kW in size. eZelleron is confident that it can produce units larger than this, though additional development would be required.

Fraunhofer ICT is currently working on an APU project for light duty vehicles – FCCFAPU (Fuel Cells Operating on Conventional Fuels as Auxiliary Power Units) – which aims to develop a system with a HT-PEMFC stack and steam reformer that can operate on conventional fuels such as petrol or diesel. Fraunhofer ICT is also collaborating with the German Bundeswehr, and is providing two demonstration units: the first is a unit to power an unmanned ground vehicle; the second is a 2 kW portable system that can be carried between two men and which will be demonstrated alongside a number of other technologies in a live field test in Slovakia in June.

The company also has an ethylene-glycol-fuelled 10 W fuel cell demonstrator. Ethylene gylcol has a low flammability under standard conditions and can be transported with little difficulty, making it an appealing proposition.

Further down the supply chain, Becker showed its latest blower, which features a software solution in the frequency converter that negates the need for a mass flow meter. Mass flow meters are used to maintain a constant volumetric gas supply to the fuel cell cathode, but they are an expensive component and can result in pressure drops. Fuel Cell Today is pleased to see continued innovation in fuel cell component reduction.

Taiwan

Young GreenYoung Green Energy has a new and improved version of its 20 W portable fuel cell, which has been popular with emergency response customers. The new system is a more compact shape than its predecessor, and the sodium borohydride cartridges it uses have doubled in power density – from 25 Wh up to 50 Wh. The unit will not cost any more than the existing model, which sells for $400, and may possibly be cheaper; cartridges are $5 each. At the moment Young Green Energy is only selling to commercial customers, not individuals, but sells into markets across Asia, North America, and Europe – the product is CE certified. The company continues to work extensively on its core technology – in particular a 100 Wh version of its cartridges. Also under development is a 1 kW portable system.

Kaori Heat Treatment, who supplies SOFC hotboxes to Bloom Energy, has seen continuous growth in the last four years, largely thanks to the on-going successes of Bloom. Demand from Bloom this year is stronger than ever – at least two large data centre orders are to be fulfilled this year with eBay’s 6 MW project in Utah a notable example. Bloom Energy is quite secretive in its operations but Kaori has been told to expect further growth within the year, and Fuel Cell Today is pleased to see that the company’s momentum is continuing.

Taiwan has emerged as an important player in the fuel cell supply chain, and companies such as Young Green Power and Asia Pacific Fuel Cell Technologies, whose fuel cell scooters have been very successful, are presenting high quality Taiwanese fuel cell end products.

USA

Dr Sunita Satyapal has been the director of the DOE’s Office of Fuel Cell Technologies for the last two and a half years. In Expo’s keynote plenary session, she highlighted some of the similarities between her home city of New York and its sister city Tokyo – both of which are global hubs and both of which have recently been challenged by natural disasters. In both instances these disasters have highlighted the need for reliable, uninterruptible power supplies. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many fuel cell manufacturers reported that their systems had remained online throughout the entire period in which the grid was unavailable – which in many instances lasted for several days. Existing diesel and battery backup systems simply could not compare.

DOE Secretary Steven Chu has expressed mixed opinions on fuel cell technologies, in particular cars, during his tenure so it was pleasing to hear that in FY2012 the Fuel Cell Technologies Program was granted more than its entire funding request, totalling $103,624,000. With the aid of DOE funding, the Program has seen a 35% reduction in the projected high-volume cost of fuel cells to $46/kW – this represents a more than 80% reduction within the last decade, and durability has also doubled since 2006. Electrolyser stacks have also reduced in cost by more than 80% since 2006.

The DOE has completed the world’s largest single FCEV and hydrogen fuelling demonstration, with over 180 vehicles and 25 stations included. The results of the demonstration came very close to meeting the DOE’s targets for FCEV, and this is a promising indicator of the feasibility of the vehicles.

In the near term, hydrogen production will come predominantly from natural gas reforming; the DOE aims for the mix to become more renewable over time though, in a similar ethos to the initial findings of the UK H2Mobility project, this cannot be to the detriment of retail cost. The DOE’s long-term price target for hydrogen as a vehicle fuel is $2–4 per gasoline gallon equivalent (gge). Interestingly, one of the main cost contributors at the moment comes from compression. In terms of distribution, the USA already produces more than 9 million metric tons of hydrogen annually and has over 1,200 miles of hydrogen pipelines already in use. There are approximately 50 hydrogen stations, but only a handful are open to the public.

On the USA pavilion ClearEdge Power exhibited its expanded range of fuel cell systems following its acquisition of UTC Power, announced at the end of last year. It now offers the ClearEdge Model 5 and the ClearEdge PureCell Model 400, rated at 5 kW and 400 kW respectively. Its project in Gussing, Austria is progressing and the company is working towards attaining a CE mark for the Model 5, allowing it to be sold in the European Economic Area. The acquisition of UTC Power means that the two technologies owned by ClearEdge, HT-PEMFC and PAFC, can leverage certain shared economies of scale, and it is hoped this will allow for cost reduction in the future. Catacel was promoting its range of structured compact reforming technologies on the pavilion, designed for steam methane reforming applications. The company offers custom developed solutions for the fuel cell industry. NexTech materials was also showing its range of SOFC raw materials including Gd and Ln powders, along with its range of hydrogen sensors.

Japan

Japanese companies were well represented at the FC Expo with many exhibitors displaying products at their local trade show. Fuel cell systems from the Japanese residential micro-combined heat and power Ene-Farm scheme were on show alongside other larger stationary systems and a large number of fuel cell vehicles from domestic manufacturers. These are discussed in more detail below. Also of note was the large number of fuel cell component manufacturers exhibiting a wide range of balance-of-plant technology, from blowers to sealing rings. Tanaka Precious Metals also had a strong presence at the Expo, displaying its latest range of fuel cell catalysts; the company recently opened a dedicated fuel cell catalyst manufacturing plant. Companies exhibiting technology for metal forming and plastic moulding were also on show, completing the diverse offering of products at the Expo.

Stationary applications

Tokyo Gas Ene-FarmThe Ene-Farm programme is the largest (by units) deployment of stationary fuel cells in a single consumer application in the world. Each year the Japanese government allocates an amount of money to subsidise the scheme, which at a set rate per unit, equates to a specific number of units. To highlight the popularity of the scheme with the public, the subsidies during the past few years have been oversubscribed and the government has had to allocate additional funds in order to maintain sales momentum. The 2012 fiscal year was no different and within two months of the budget being set, it had sold all 12,500 units. In July 2012 the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) arranged an additional subsidy for 2,000 units, but this sold out within one week. Additional funds were then made available and the total number of units sold in the year reached around 20,000. For FY2013, an initial subsidy has been prepared which can fund more than 50,000 units; Fuel Cell Today is confident that this figure will be achieved judging by the popularity of previous years.

The latest Ene-Farm models can operate in a range of electrical output modes, providing between 250 W and 750 W of electricity. This new range has been optimised since the technology was introduced, when the fuel cells could operate between 300 W and 1 kW. The manufacturers believe this new range hits a sweet spot, being large enough for detached homes, but also small enough to attract apartment-dwelling customers.

The 2013 Ene-Farm models also boast a smaller footprint than their predecessors, with a reduction in depth of around 17% and the separation of the boiler unit which allows for more flexibility during installation. Having a separate boiler also provides system flexibility because customers can now choose from a range of boiler sizes and orientations to suit both their needs and available space. Evolutions of this type make Ene-Farm units appealing to apartment owners who typically have less installation space available.

The latest systems from Toshiba and Panasonic (represented through its project partner Tokyo Gas) were on show at the Expo and were attracting a lot of attention, especially from Japanese visitors, who of course are prospective buyers.

At the larger end of the spectrum, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is developing a 250 kW SOFC system, which is currently on test at a Tokyo Gas facility. The fuel cell is combined with gas and steam turbines to form an integrated triple combined cycle power plant, which boasts a 10% efficiency gain on conventional systems; this unit is aimed at the prime power market. In the future, MHI plans to scale up its technology and produce larger fuel cell plants for prime power applications – the biggest of these plants is a planned 800 MW! If even one of these were to go ahead it would be by far the largest single fuel cell installation in the world.

Portable applications

PowerTrekkSeveral consumer portable products were on show at the Expo. Most noticeably, Swedish manufacturer myFC was demonstrating large numbers of its PowerTrekk portable electronics charger with its Japanese distributor, Evernew. The product combines a battery with a PEM fuel cell, which is fed by water-activated sodium silicide PowerPukk cartridges. The company had originally launched the product in a staggered manner across European markets in July last year; however, a fire at the company’s manufacturing facility towards the end of last year completely stalled manufacturing and a wider launch has been delayed. Production has resumed, with the latest model featuring an improved water compartment. The PowerTrekk is now available in China, and will launch in Japan in May, with other markets to follow.

HydroPakNearby, Horizon Fuel Cell Systems Japan was displaying its well-known MiniPak, as well as a number of educational kits and toys. Also on show was its latest commercial product – the HydroPak. Variations of this product have been demonstrated for several years and it is now ready for the mass market. Compact in size, the system is fuelled by water-activated cartridges and it provides 50 W of power via a 12 V DC plug and two USB ports. Pricing and distribution will be announced in the coming months.

These sub-APU-scale systems for applications such as emergency response are an area of increasing interest for fuel cell manufacturers, and Young Green Energy has seen a tremendously positive response to its systems. eZelleron, whose micro-tubular SOFC technology was on show at the German pavilion, will predominantly be targeting portable applications for its technology.

Automotive applications

FCV-RThe long-awaited commercialisation of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) is finally just around the corner; the size of the HySUT  (The Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology) pavilion and the huge crowds that it attracted throughout the Expo are a testament to the excitement and enthusiasm that is associated with FCEV. Ride’n’drives of a total of twenty FCEV including the Honda FCX Clarity, Nissan X-Trail FCEV, and Toyota FCHV-adv, were available and each session quickly sold out.

Much enthusiasm was directed towards the pavilion’s Toyota FCV-R concept vehicle, which shows Toyota’s intentions to package its fuel cell in a smaller vehicle than its previous SUV demonstration cars. Although one of the most modern FCEV concepts, this is not likely to be the model that goes on commercial sale in a few years, rather an indication of the direction the company will be taking with its fuel cell programme. It is our understanding that specific details of Toyota’s first commercial offering will be disclosed within the next year.

2014 will be both the Expo’s tenth edition and the year before Japanese automakers commercialise FCEV. We expect the automotive presence to be even more pronounced, and we look forward to seeing what the automakers have in store, as well as to see and to hear of the latest developments and successes the industry as a whole enjoys throughout 2013.

 

Dan Carter & Jonathan Wing

info@fuelcelltoday.com

www.fuelcelltoday.com

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