Turn the clock back to 2007… series 12, episode seven of British cult motoring TV show Top Gear. It was during that episode that James May got behind the wheel of the Honda FCX Clarity, one of the world’s first hydrogen cars, and responded by labelling it “the future of the car” and “the most important car for 100 years”.
Since then, despite the rave reviews, hydrogen power has lost its position as the “next big thing” to electrification. While governments worldwide have poured millions into investing in electric car infrastructure and offering incentives to early adopters, hydrogen has, at least by comparison, fallen by the wayside. Even car manufacturers appear to be treating it as an after-thought with Hyundai’s ix35 fuel cell car being one of only a handful to have emerged.
So what can be done to breathe life into hydrogen cars? The solution may just have arrived courtesy of this month’s green hero: ITM Power.
What is ITM Power?
ITM Power is a British company based in Sheffield that designs and manufactures hydrogen energy systems for clean fuel and energy storage. Its energy storage has been achieved by linking water electrolysis equipment with renewable power sources that produce a high purity hydrogen gas.
The company began as a research and development firm, but has since transitioned into a product manufacturer and technology provider: and its latest product could represent the most significant breakthrough for hydrogen power to date.
The company has been able to slash the cost of hydrogen thanks to its HFuel electrolysis platform.
HFuel is based around water electrolysis and integrates all the equipment needed to turn electricity into water into both 350bar and 700bar hydrogen while dispensing it rapidly into vehicles. The entire package includes water purification, power conversion, hydrogen generation, compression and storage.
So what is so special about HFuel?
As covered in our article on July 23, the HFuel platform has been able to slash the cost of hydrogen from £6.23/kg to just £4.19/kg: a reduction of 32.7 per cent.
In addition, the company has announced an overall performance improvement of its rapid response stack platform which has enabled hydrogen power output to leap by 11 per cent. This means each stack can now generate 27.9kg per day: that’s efficiency in excess of 77 per cent.
Stack response time has also been improved by the HFuel platform.
It all sounds very technical
While the technology providers and manufacturers can focus on the efficiency and response times of HFuel, the most significant aspect for consumers is the reduction in hydrogen costs.
European cost targets for hydrogen production are £7.92/kg by 2015 and £4.40/kg by 2025. These are figures that the HFuel platform is already surpassing.
To give you a direct comparison, when used in the Hyundai ix35 fuel cell vehicle, this equates to hydrogen costing the equivalent of 4p/km. The diesel version of the Hyundai ix35 meanwhile, with a diesel price at current UK levels of 139.2p/litre, costs approximately 7.9p/km.
Suddenly, thanks to the cost reduction, hydrogen appears to represent a genuine alternative to petrol and diesel again. This is enhanced further by the fact that hydrogen is well known for producing clean exhaust emissions: and when assessing its green credentials, it can be considered a truly green fuel. That’s because it is generated by electrolysis, which is truly carbon free, and there is no carbon footprint associated with hydrogen as it can be generated on-site. Significantly, the electrolyser technology can also start and stop rapidly and can accept an undulating input power profile – which is typical of renewable energy generation.
What else does ITM Power have to offer?
The breakthroughs from ITM Power haven’t ended there. At the end of July, it also won a contract to operate the Hydrogen Mini Grid System in Rotherham – a unique UK asset that features a 225kW wind turbine that is linked directly to an electrolyser, 200kg of hydrogen storage and a dispensing unit. The facility is located just two miles from the M1 motorway and provides a large catchment area as a commercial refuelling station.
In addition, on August 21, it was announced that ITM Power has been awarded a €350,000 grant meant to work on energy storage solutions for non-residential buildings.
So is hydrogen power back in vogue?
A report from UKH2Mobility back in April outlined a UK roadmap for fuel cell vehicles and a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. It stated that electrolysis would be needed to play a vital role in producing a low cost, clean fuel.
Now, ITM Power appears to have provided a legitimate solution. It may be too late for hydrogen to surpass electrification as the outright alternative to petrol and diesel. However, with three-minute refuelling times and costs that are already competitive with diesel, as well as being arguably an even greener fuel, hydrogen may just have re-entered the green discussion: and for that, ITM Power, we salute you.
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