Liveblog: FC Expo 2013

27 Feb 2013

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Now in its ninth year, FC Expo is the world's largest fuel cell and hydrogen event. More than 250 companies travel across the world to exhibit at the show, ourselves included. Fuel Cell Today will be reporting live from the show – tweets and updates will be posted below throughout each day, so please check back regularly!

Day one report | Day two report | Day three report | Full event report

 

Day one report

FCV-R

Day one of the FC Expo has finished and we had a very busy day at our booth. We had a lot of visitors, both from fellow exhibitors and people visiting the many different shows that form part of Smart Energy Week here at the Tokyo Big Sight in Japan. We still found some time to get out and see who else was attending, starting with The Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology (HySUT) booth, which is displaying three fuel cell electric vehicles. HySUT has the Honda FCX Clarity, and a cut-away full-size Nissan X-Trail vehicle showing where the fuel cell and hydrogen tanks are situated. Also we were able to see the Toyota FCV-R for the first time; this concept car shows Toyota’s intentions to package its fuel cell in a smaller vehicle than its previous SUV demonstration cars. This is not likely to be the model that goes on commercial sale in a few years however, but we understand that Toyota will announce more specifics on its planned commercial model in the coming year. The HySUT booth was filled with video cameras this morning as the local television station was broadcasting from the event to show the cars. This type of promotion to the public is important to ensure fuel cell and hydrogen technologies seem as familiar as possible and that they are nothing strange or to be afraid of.

Just around the corner from the cars we saw the latest Ene-Farm models on display from Toshiba and Panasonic (with Tokyo Gas). These latest models show a big improvement from previous iterations. They can be bought for less than ¥2 million for the first time and the Panasonic unit now features a separate boiler unit. This can be interchanged from a range of systems offering more flexibility to the consumer. They also contain 50% less platinum, and occupy less floor space than previous models. More detailed information can be found in our latest Analyst View, published today.

Toshiba Ene-FarmTokyo Gas Ene-Farm

Several portable products were on show today. 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 now resumed, with the latest model featuring an improved water compartment. The latest PowerTrekk is now available in China, and will launch in Japan in May, with other markets to follow.

PowerTrekkHydroPak

Nearby, 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 (many times larger than those of the PowerTrekk) and 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.

Tomorrow, we plan to visit the many country pavilions at the show, and we look forward to seeing what each has to say. We’ll be updating this page through Twitter throughout the day, and a day two report will follow.

 

Day two report

German pavilion

The FC Expo is the world’s largest fuel cell and hydrogen exhibition, and it is not surprising that it attracts a truly global audience. At the show this year there are six international country pavilion booths, representing companies from: Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Taiwan, and the USA. We spent today talking to some of the international exhibiters and attended the FC Expo keynote session in the conference tower, which included engaging talks by the director of the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Fuel Cell Technologies Office, Sunita Satyapal, and Klaus Bonhoff of NOW GmbH – the German National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology. Today’s report will look at these two markets, and the activities of the other foreign country pavilions.

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 the 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 is exhibiting its expanded range of fuel cell systems after its acquisition of UTC Power, announced at the end of 2012. It can now offer the ClearEdge Model 5 and the ClearEdge PureCell Model 400, rated at 5 kW and 400 kW respectively. It is still progressing its project in Gussing, Austria and is working towards attaining a CE mark for the European region. The acquisition of UTC Power means the two technologies owned by ClearEdge (PEMFC and PAFC) can leverage certain economies of scale and it is hoped this will allow for cost reduction in the future. Also on the pavilion Catacel is promoting its range of structured compact reforming technologies 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.

Germany

Germany 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 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 is 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 is non-flammable fuel and can be transported with little difficulty, making it an appealing proposition.

Further down the supply chain, Becker is at the German pavilion showing 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.

Canada

GreenlightOn the Canadian pavilion, Greenlight Innovation is 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 (pictured) 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 is also exhibiting on the Canadian pavilion and is 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 is 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

ElcogenConvion

On the Finnish pavilion, VTT is 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 is introducing its SOFC cells and stacks (above left), currently up to 500 W, but a 1 kW system is in development, to be released later this year. Its SOFCs operate at relatively low temperatures, between 600 and 700°C, meaning the company can use lower cost materials than typical SOFC systems. Convion Oy is also sharing the pavilion, this new company was formed to commercialise SOFC systems developed by Wärtsilä (above right). Newly funded by venture capital and minority-owned by Wärtsilä, its natural gas fuelled systems range in size 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, but is interested in finding partners to expand into other countries, not just in Asia, but in Europe and the USA too.

France

France pavilionFrench companies are 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 manufacture of the liner itself, providing a better seal and enhanced durability. The hydrogen tanks have a lifetime of 60 years, so could feasibly out last 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 before they rupture and 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, but safely enter the tank, leaving a hole through which the gas can escape.

PIELMcPhy is showing its recently acquired electrolyser technology, developed by PIEL. The model on display is a 10 m3/hour alkaline electrolyser, but 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.

SymbioFCell is showing its fuel cell technology, which will be powering a racing car at the 2013 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, taking place on 22nd June this year. It is developing fuel cells for integration in 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 in Renault’s 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.

Taiwan

Young GreenAt the Taiwan pavilion Young Green Energy is demonstrating 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.

 

Day three report

FCEV Big Sight Roof

As ever, the FC Expo has flown by and somehow we have now reached the end of the show. The footfall throughout the last three days has been consistently high and we have enjoyed catching up with old friends and making new acquaintances.

Acta EL1000RActa has been showing its range of electrolysis products including a hydrogen-fuelled cutting device. The PureFlame 300 uses standard demineralised water and produces a hydrogen–oxygen flame with specific properties useful for applications such as jewellery processing, where metal tarnishing is undesirable. Acta’s larger alkaline membrane electrolysers are marketed at domestic and backup applications and can produce 99.94% pure hydrogen (with purification up to 99.999% possible). Load following is possible using its electrolysers, and with a membrane to separate the gases Acta claims that the technology is safer than conventional alkaline electrolysis. Response times from standby mode are less than two seconds and the systems can operate from 10% to 100% of rated output. A new feature that has reduced response times is the addition of a pre-heater for the water feed. The company’s two standard systems can produce either 500 or 1,000 litres per hour of hydrogen; if integrated with domestic solar panels and a fuel cell, the system, when running in the daytime, can produce enough hydrogen to provide four hours of autonomy at night.

We found two Taiwanese fuel cell companies exhibiting in the neighbouring PV Expo, specifically targeting customers interested in solar installations. SEEnergy was showing its portable DMFC system, which traces its origins back to research spun out of ITRI in Taiwan. Its hybrid battery–fuel-cell unit can provide up to 90 kW of power, with the fuel cell providing 50 kW. The unit has an integrated 1.8 l methanol storage tank, but can also connect to an external fuel supply.

M-Field was promoting its integrated fuel cell and electrolyser unit. It has two units on test with 1 kW fuel cells integrated with electrolysers and hydrogen storage. The units can store up to 8 kWh equivalent of hydrogen in total at a pressure of 30 bar. The company is also interested in UPS applications and has sold its 6 kW unit to market customers in the USA.

HySUT, the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology, has organised free ride’n’drives of a total of twenty Honda FCX Clarity, Toyota FCHV-adv, and Nissan X-Trail FCEV; each session quickly sold out. Many visitors, from both the media and public, have come to see the latest FCEV concept – the Toyota FCV-R, which is on display at the HySUT pavilion; for more information on the car please see our day one report.

HySUT has also organised tours of the Ariake hydrogen refuelling station (HRS) it co-funds, which is close to the Tokyo Big Sight. We were driven to the station on a Toyota fuel cell bus (bottom); one of four Toyota fuel cell buses in operation in Japan, this particular one is used as an airport limousine service shuttling guests to their hotels. The ride was extremely smooth and noticeably quieter than a standard bus of its size. Toyota plans to launch a brand new 700-bar fuel cell bus commercially in 2016.Ariake hydrogen station

The Ariake station has been in operation for ten years and has undertaken 3647 hydrogen 350-bar refuellings during that time. It is one of sixteen stations currently in operation across Japan that together support a fleet of 50–60 active vehicles – both buses and cars. The utilisation of the station is currently around one refuelling per day. The station does not generate hydrogen on-site; liquefied hydrogen is tanked to the site and stored at -253°C in a 10,000 litre tank – enough for 200 refuellings. Innovatively, the station diverts the boil-off gas produced during refuelling to a Toshiba fuel cell, which provides power for the on-site office.

Iwatani had a display highlighting its hydrogen dispensing technology, currently in use in a trial with Honda at its solar hydrogen station in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. At a national level, Iwatani is involved in plans to introduce 100 HRS in Japan to coincide with the introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles from 2015: it is building 20 HRS, which will be dual pressure to service both cars and buses. JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation has also recently committed to building 40 stations by 2015.

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. What is most interesting is the company’s aspirations for 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.

We did not have time to visit all the booths in the FC Expo, but a large number of Japanese supply chain companies were present, exhibiting the whole range of balance-of-plant technology, from blowers to sealing rings, and also technology for metal forming and plastic moulding.

Overall, the show occupied a similar sized area to last year though it was announced that visitor numbers surpassed 120,000, up from 100,000 last year. A full range of visitors was seen, from fuel cell and component companies, to industry outsiders such as wind farm operators and solar panel installers looking to utilise fuel cells to help solve their own challenges, to members of the Asian public with an interest in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. As the industry continues to commercialise and expand its applications, we look forward to seeing what 2014’s FC Expo will bring.

FC Limo Bus

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