As well as being Europe’s largest fuel cell and hydrogen trade show, the Group Exhibit Hydrogen + Fuel Cells also provides a real glimpse into the important themes emerging in the industry. Many of the companies we spoke to say the show is the most important in their schedule in terms of interest and orders, and through forum presentations and booth discussions important areas for the year ahead become clear.
Last year, we noted the increased presence of electrolyser suppliers at the Group Exhibit. This year the presence was even stronger and was complemented by many presentations on electrolysis and renewable energy storage on the public and technical forums. Without a doubt, electrolysers – especially those used in power-to-gas applications – are emerging as a key driver for the wider arrival of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. It is a credit to the versatility of these technologies that their value in supporting and enhancing conventional energy systems is now being recognised by utilities and other stakeholders.
Water electrolysis to produce hydrogen is of course nothing new. Alkaline electrolysers have performed in industrial use for decades and are now being ‘retooled’ for energy applications. NEL Hydrogen has decades of history in supplying industrial alkaline electrolysers, but has designed a new product specifically for integration with renewable power, the NEL P-60. The company has experimented with PEM electrolysis in this regard but returned to alkaline technology as the most practical choice for immediate implementation and says it did not have to make sacrifices in terms of dynamic, flexible operation: the P-60 has an operating range of 10–100% of installed capacity with high gas purity and a response time of less than a second.
Another company that sees no difficulty in designing an alkaline electrolyser that can load-follow is ErreDue. It is also an established supplier to the industrial market but began exploring energy applications in 2002, when it supplied an electrolyser for a demonstration integrating solar PV energy with hydrogen production to refuel a motorcycle. ErreDue told us that its electrolyser products have an operating range of 0–100% and respond in less than a second as long as the system operating temperature is maintained above 38°C (which does of course require some energy input).
H2Nitidor has been designing and manufacturing alkaline electrolysers since 1999 and has also just recently presented a product for the energy market: the Megalyser is (as the name implies) a 1 MW system that is intended for power-to-gas applications. It is containerised and ready-to-place to cut down on lead time. Like NEL Hydrogen, H2Nitidor has assessed PEM electrolysis and, while acknowledging its potential, decided that alkaline technology offered the best solution for near-term practical application in power-to-gas. The Megalyser can be directly integrated with solar PV or wind with acceptable load-following capability and a 5 MW version is in the works.
One electrolyser company here describes itself as completely ‘agnostic’ when it comes to the question of PEM vs alkaline technology. Emphasising that size is the most important distinguishing factor in this market, Next Hydrogen has focused on the development of megawatt-scale electrolysers with highly innovative cell and stack design; although alkaline at the moment, it says the innovation can also be applied to PEM electrolysers. The electrolyser module is 2.5 MW and can form the basis of systems producing up to hundreds of megawatts. At present the young company has redesigned a pressurised alkaline electrolyser from the ground up for effective load-following and intermittent operation, necessary when working with variable renewables such as wind, and it claims high current densities, small footprint and greatly reduced cost for its product. After three years of development, Next Hydrogen is now ready to begin commercialising this product and is hoping to be selected for upcoming energy storage projects and is looking for partnerships to this end.
PEM electrolysis is also in commercial use in industrial applications, but generally these electrolysers are small so the use of precious metal catalysts has less of a cost impact. Are units of the sort of scale necessary for grid-level storage feasible? The Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ) thinks so and has switched its R&D focus from alkaline to PEM electrolysis. The reason for this is the inherent flexibility of PEM electrolysis and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the fact that FZJ believes it has the potential to be cheaper than alkaline electrolysis at multi-megawatt scales in the long run. FZJ is working on reducing catalyst loadings to bring the cost down; its partner Solvicore has reduced platinum loading on the cathode by over half to 0.5 mg/cm2 without sacrificing performance. But substitution or thrifting of iridium on the anode is more difficult. FJZ and project partners are working on this, and other initiatives to reduce material cost (including of the membrane and separator plates), in the Ecolyser project, which runs from 2012 to 2015.
Giner, Inc. has been doing R&D on PEM technology for 40 years and has been commercial for the last eight, supplying advanced, high-pressure stacks to customers such as the US Navy for use on-board submarines, for example. In this project Giner is helping the Navy to convert its electrolysers from alkaline to PEM; its current system is 3/8 the footprint of its predecessor – an important consideration on space-limited submarines. Giner’s latest stack is, as far as it is aware, the first to operate at 47 kWh/kg for an extended period; the company is hoping to take this even lower to 44 kWh/kg. Giner’s technology allows for a shift from a ‘cheap electricity mode’, where operation is less efficient but more hydrogen is produced, to an ‘expensive electricity mode’, where the electrolyser runs very efficiently but less gas is obtained. But there is a trade-off between OPEX and CAPEX and the ideal balance must be found for each application. That said, capital cost reduction is also a target. Giner has so far achieved a 60% cost reduction in an intensive development programme for the US DOE; it expects a further 60% reduction in costs. It is working on increasing current density, thrifting catalyst, eliminating the platinum coating on anode components and is moving to a thinner membrane. Impressive results on current density are emerging from the lab, with 5,000 mA/cm2 demonstrated for 5,000 hours. The company currently manufactures around 2,000 electrolyser units per year for industrial applications.
H-tec’s EL30 electrolyser product line is in the certification stage and production is to start next year. The company will produce stacks and system modules for business-to-business sales: units are available for hydrogen production of between 0.3 to 3.6 m3/h and the company is also working on combining a number of modules for output up to 40 m3/h. This range of output is matched by the range of possible applications as it is not just grid-scale energy storage that is needed. H-tec says electrolysers will also be of interest at smaller scales – for residential customers with solar PV, for example; as feed-in-tariffs are phased out, it makes economic sense to store excess electricity for own use at a later stage rather than feeding it to the grid.
French company CETH2 has been working on PEM electrolysis for more than ten years and is now actively targeting energy markets, as the company believes electrolysis has filled its niche on the industrial side and most potential for growth now lies in energy. It believes it offers the largest membrane active surface area on the market (600 cm2) and this gives it an advantage in scaling up. Its PEM electrolyser systems are built around its 15 Nm3/h stack platform. It currently offers a range of indoor and outdoor systems which can produce from 5–60 Nm3/h and its PEM systems are currently cost competitive with alkaline electrolyser systems with a ‘1:1’ comparison on parameters such as output and efficiency, and the capital cost premium is not prohibitive. The company also has a MW scale electrolysis system under development which it hopes to launch in 2014. CETH2 is partnering with iGas, a German gas engineering company, to bring its electrolyser offering to Germany, which it sees as a key early market for energy storage applications connected to renewable energy systems. Its systems can ramp up from 15–150% in a few seconds and operate with an output pressure of 15 bar. It has manufactured electrolysers for industrial applications for the past 15 years and is entering the energy storage market carefully in order to maintain its reputation. It does believe that the changes necessary to scale-up its electrolyser design are possible and has plans to introduce slightly larger membranes and increase current densities, which it believes will increase capacity without impacting on performance.
Proton OnSite has been selling PEM electrolysers commercially for a number of years, and is also in the process of developing a 600 cm2 membrane to facilitate scaling up to megawatt size – but the company intends to go beyond 1 MW and is aiming for multi-megawatt systems that it believes will be necessary for energy storage. The company makes the same point about the competitiveness of PEM technology, saying that it may actually offer a lower total cost of ownership than alkaline electrolysers in certain applications. It expects a 40–50% reduction in cost per kilowatt when scaling up to energy storage magnitude (significant cost reduction has been achieved with every scale-up of its technology to date). Its systems have proven durability, with electrolysers in the field running for more than eight years with no stack change needed so far - data indicates that stack lifetimes of ten years are possible. Proton OnSite is targeting three emerging markets: hydrogen vehicle fuelling, renewable energy storage, and power-to-biogas (biogas upgrading). Power-to-gas is being monitored to determine if it will allow for value long term: direct injection into the grid may not place the best value on the hydrogen.
Proton OnSite exhibited alongside its strategic partner Diamond Lite SA. The two companies have partnered on a number of industrial electrolyser projects over the past fifteen years, so have a long history of working together on electrolysers. To address the energy storage market, the two companies have formed a new entity, BeBa, to represent their interests in the European region, specifically Germany. The BeBa JV is six months old, but brings in additional experience installing wind and solar PV arrays, therefore it is now able to offer complete renewable energy storage solutions. The companies have been in discussion with potential customers in Northern Germany for a number of years now and the new entity, BeBa, hopes to make an announcement about an upcoming project in the next few months.
Ceram Hyd agrees that grid-level storage is key. In the multi-megawatt range, and particularly at 10 MW and beyond, is where true demand from energy vendors for power-to-gas solutions exists the company claims. In the first quarter of 2014 Ceram Hyd will demonstrate its first megawatt-scale product – a 2 MW plant comprising eight 250 kW stacks. The company’s current demonstration system is just 150 kW but it has every confidence that its ceramic-based membranes, which are not sensitive to water purity issues, are perfectly scalable, and in fact they are already being produced at a mass scale. As system size increases components become more affordable and there are cost-per-kilowatt reductions to be had in scaling up, all the way through to 5 MW. These are not insignificant either, with Ceram Hyd claiming a 2–3 times reduction at megawatt scale (compared to 150 kW scale).
Many of the electrolyser companies that exhibited at the Messe have available or are investigating megawatt-scale systems, including Hydrogenics. A scale model of the 2 MW Falkenhagen alkaline electrolyser facility, which it delivered at the end of 2012, was displayed on its booth but its most recent announcement of a 1 MW PEM electrolyser system in a single stack stole the limelight. The 1 MW unit will produce hydrogen at a pressure of 30 bar and is scheduled for completion in 2014. Hydrogenics is working with a number of partners in the power-to-gas market, including E.ON in Europe and Enbridge in Canada, to identify the need in this area and deliver solutions.
Also actively promoting large-scale power-to-gas is ITM Power, which launched its 1 MW 400 kg-per-day containerised offering at 2012’s Group Exhibit. Each 1 MW ISO container has two rows of eight 62.5 kW stacks, and the system is inherently scalable. The intended application is of course power-to-gas, and in March 2013 ITM Power won a competitive tender process to supply a 360 kW electrolyser system to Thüga Group for a power-to-gas project in Frankfurt, Germany.
Solid Oxide Electrolysis
There is a third electrolyser technology that could be important in energy applications: solid oxide electrolysis. This one is definitely waiting in the wings as it is still under development and hasn’t been commercially applied yet. But it is coming: Sunfire is planning to have an SOEC product available in 2016. The technology can offer a number of advantages and Sunfire is planning to slot it into its product line as the last remaining link to create the ‘electricity-to-fuels’ process chain. It is partnering with Bilfinger SE, which has broad engineering expertise, to bring the product to market; Bilfinger can engineer balance of plant and supply customers with optimised systems using Sunfire technology.
Challenges for the Electrolyser Industry
During the second day of the Exhibit representatives from five electrolyser manufacturers – Hydrogenics, ITM Power, NEL Hydrogen, McPhy Energy, and Proton OnSite – gathered on the public forum for a lively panel debate on the challenges for the electrolyser industry. McPhy is most well-known for its metal hydride hydrogen storage systems but having acquired Italian electrolyser company PIEL in January 2013 it can now offer complete hydrogen production and storage solutions, though its focus will remain purely on the European market for now.
Of the companies represented on the panel, NEL Hydrogen is by far the oldest, having first started selling alkaline electrolysers into industrial applications (notably fertiliser production) in the 1940s. Its industrial sales have made it a profitable business and this is also the case for Connecticut’s Proton OnSite (formerly Proton Energy Systems), who has been selling PEM electrolysers into applications such as power plant cooling since 1996. Proton has also been selling electrolysers for hydrogen refuelling stations and has sales channels open in a total of 75 countries.
The emerging focus for all five of the companies, and the one that was discussed the most throughout the panel session, was the megawatt-scale energy storage market. Graham Cooley, CEO of ITM Power, looked at energy storage for more than 25 years during his time in the UK power industry and firmly believes power-to-gas via electrolysis to be the most promising development to date. ITM and Proton both have megawatt-scale energy storage demonstrations active, with a Hydrogenics megawatt-scale project for E.ON in Hamburg arriving next year. The panel agreed that at present a 1 MW electrolyser should cost in the region of €1 million, though this can be reduced through mass production and the associated economies of scale. Methods such as substituting cheaper materials for components and reducing loadings of expensive catalytic materials such as platinum may further reduce cost, though a balance must be struck between this and performance. Cooley rightly suggested that a more sensible way of looking at things is by value rather than cost.
The panellists were in agreement that PEM electrolysers offer several advantages over their alkaline equivalents – notably physical size (alkaline electrolysers are up to thirty times larger than their PEM equivalents) and responsiveness (which allows for accurate load-following when grid balancing). However work is still needed to lower the cost and increase the feasibility of PEM electrolyser systems. That said, alkaline systems are a fully mature and robust technology that must still be considered as a cost-effective alternative for energy applications. Indeed, NEL Hydrogen doesn’t see PEM electrolysers being economical before 2020 so is retaining an alkaline focus for now.
Bringing Technologies to Market
Throughout the show we heard the assertion that “the technology is ready”. The fuel cell industry is emerging from a long period of intensive technology development that has yielded varied, robust and effective products and it is ready to start reaping the benefits. But other challenges remain to be faced – not least the issue of how to achieve cost reduction to encourage take-up, when take-up is necessary to bring about cost reduction.
The question was addressed at a debate on the public forum in a session ‘How do we get government and industry to bring new European technologies to market?’, specifically in the case of fuel cell micro-CHP in the EU. On the panel were Bert de Colvenaer, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, Guido Gummert, Managing Director at Baxi Innotech, and Adrian Richardson, Head of Microgeneration at British Gas.
According to Bert de Colvenaer, the industry has developed a solution for which the problem is not yet big enough – people only move when pushed. Although environmental concerns are shared by most people, economic considerations are a more pressing priority at the moment. To implement fuel cell technology in the current climate, it must promise job creation and some easing of economic strain. Due to high efficiency, fuel cells can do the latter by reducing reliance on imported fuels; this reliance can further be reduced by using electrolytic hydrogen to increase the effectiveness of wind and solar power. De Colvenaer emphasises that security of supply should be a key issue for Europe, but currently there is little motivation to address it while the fossil fuel bill can still be paid (it’s a big bill: half a trillion euros are spent annually on importing fossil fuel). Until this issue becomes of greater concern (perhaps following a major blackout), the value of fuel cell technology in this regard will not be fully realised.
But in any case why should a gas supplier such as British Gas support the implementation of a technology that cuts gas consumption? Adrian Richardson says the company recognises that the old utility model is dying; the long-term challenge for the company is now to compete in a new energy market where policy will ultimately drive energy consumption down. For this it needs to become involved not just in the supply of gas but also the supply of innovative energy appliances. Fuel cells are attractive in this regard – if they can be brought to market. Here, collaborative efforts such as the ene.field project are invaluable.
Guido Gummert of Baxi concurs. Demonstration programmes such as ene.field are important for demonstrating the safety and viability of the technology, cementing supply chains, training installers and developing common standards where necessary (for the communication interface for example, which has already been agreed and implemented on the European level). Nine fuel cell micro-CHP product manufacturers – who are in effect competitors – are working together to reduce the hurdles they all face as far as possible.
But exactly how will fuel cells fit into homes? The energy context into which fuel cell micro-CHP will be implemented is evolving. Do the fuel cells compete with conventional boilers, which Richardson says will most likely be phased out over the next twenty to thirty years? Or will they be an alternative – or a supplement – to tailored household energy systems comprising heat pumps, PV and other new technologies? And most importantly, if legislation is not to drive their implementation, what will the driving force behind consumer take-up of residential fuel cells be? This once again brings the discussion round to energy efficiency, and the need for effective market structures to recognise and reward this efficiency.
Baxi Innotech’s Guido Gummert spoke to the public forum about the use of his company’s Gamma Premio fuel cell micro-CHP system as an ‘energiewende’ (energy vendor) in the home. Baxi’s aim with its fuel cell systems is to make them as simple as possible for installers to handle. As the installers are usually the sellers of the systems, an easy to install product will be more kindly received, and in turn the seller is more likely to promote it. Installation of a Gamma Premio requires ten piping connections, which Gummert claims is comparatively simple. Baxi is also committed to providing as much training and support to installers as possible. In terms of regulatory support, heating devices in Europe will soon be subject to a classification system similar to that found on electrical appliances such as televisions and fridges; fuel cells should score favourably under such a classification. Baxi currently manufactures around 70 fuel cell systems a year and is a member of the Callux German fuel cell micro-CHP field demonstration and the ene.field project, which applies similar field testing at a European-wide level.
Vaillant was founded in 1874 and has been investigating fuel cell heating since 1998. The company began its fuel cell development using PEMFC stacks from Plug Power but the company found SOFC easier to use; in its experience the PEMFC-based systems presented difficulties with water treatment and complex gas treatment. The SOFC systems are not subject to such concerns and Vaillant’s Head of Product Management Innovation Alexander Dauensteiner claims that the Staxera stacks currently used can stop and start fast enough for the company’s requirements.
Vaillant is also involved in the Callux project and it has found the interaction with utilities to be a great help in the further development of its products. Like Baxi, it is also participating in ene.field, with hopes to install units from 1Q 2014; once its ene.field demonstration has finished it hopes to have a product ready for more widespread release. Dauensteiner states that it is up to the manufacturers to get the cost of the fuel cell CHP systems down to a level viable for consumers – Vaillant reduced its cost by 50% between the fourth and fifth generations of its fuel cell products.
The Initiative Brenstoffzelle (IBZ) booth was consistently busy with visitors interested in finding out more about the potential for micro-CHP in Europe. This group of utilities and fuel cell manufacturers aims to be a competence centre for fuel cell micro-CHP in Germany and to engage with stakeholders at all levels. Its members include the familiar German fuel cell manufacturers, including for the past two years Elcore, as well as Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited, who has been substantially increasing its German activities in the last few years.
Bosch Thermotechnik is cooperating with Japanese company Aisin to bring Japanese SOFC micro-CHP technology to Europe. The unit has been modified slightly to account for the different fuel available here and Bosch is looking to offer a small number of different units optimised for different gas compositions - similar to its offering for conventional boiler technology. The fuel cell unit has an output of 700 W thermal and 700 W electric; heat is stored in a buffer tank and can be directed either for use in central heating systems or for domestic hot water. The unit also contains a small boiler for peak heat requirements and Bosch intends for it to be a single plug-and-play system. Savings of around €800–1,000 per year can be achieved through fuel efficiency and related cost reductions, but the company said economies of scale and subsidies will only make the financial case more attractive in the short term.
Another company working closely with a successful Japanese partner is Viessmann. It is partnering with Panasonic to modify the company’s Japanese micro-CHP PEMFC for Europe. This system is also designed as an integrated solution for family homes and includes two hot water tanks and a small additional boiler.
Taking a different approach altogether is relative newcomer Elcore, the new fuel cell company of SFC Energy founder Manfred Stefener. It is promoting its Elcore 2400 product – a 300 W electric, 600 W thermal wall-mounted HT-PEMFC system. The Elcore 2400 is designed to meet the base load heat and electricity demands of a typical German home, with the remainder coming from the respective grids. As such it is designed to be an addition to, rather than a replacement for, existing systems and a conventional boiler would also be required to meet additional heat demand, for example during the winter. The unit is designed to run continuously at optimal efficiency with all of the energy produced consumed in the home. Stefener claims that this is the most economical way to run a fuel cell micro-CHP system as, in Germany at least (where the unit is targeted), self-consumption of energy is six times more economical than feeding it into the grid. With a list price of €9,000 Stefener expects a payback time of ten years or less. Elcore has already shipped a number of units in Germany (though Stefener would not disclose the exact amount), and the company hopes to begin installations under the ene.field project from the middle of 2013.
Combined Heat, Power, and Hydrogen
In a technical forum presentation FuelCell Energy Solutions GmbH (FCES) explained the concept of fuel cell combined heat, hydrogen and power. FCES’ American parent company FuelCell Energy has run such a system for the past 2.5 years at the Orange County Sanitation District site in California. This system is fuelled by digester gas from a water treatment facility on site and has generated in excess of 2 TWh of electricity and produced more than 10 tons of hydrogen since it began operation. The hydrogen can serve a variety of industries including the energy storage and chemical industries, but in this case the hydrogen is piped to a nearby hydrogen station, where it is sold as fuel for fuel cell electric vehicles. FuelCell Energy makes much larger systems than this one however, and for example its DFC 3000 system has a rated power of 2.8 MW alongside heat production of 4 MMBtu/h and can generate up to 1,000 kg/day of hydrogen, sufficient to refuel more than 200 fuel cell vehicles. The larger installations, such as the multi-MW power plants planned for Korea can produce much more hydrogen; the 11.2 MW plant in Korea could produce up to 5 tons per day.
Replacing conventional generation with its DFC systems also offers emissions reduction. For example a 1.4 MW DFC system enables CO2 reductions of 9,220 tons/year and also reduces the emissions of NOx, SOx and NH3 by up to 24.4 tons/year. These systems currently have a stack lifetime of 5 years, but the next generation stacks will increase that to 7 years; electrical efficiencies are around 47% and system availability is high at around 95%.
FuelCell Energy currently has more than 80 installations in 64 different sites and is also working on the world’s largest installation, a fuel cell park of 58.8 MW being built in Korea. It is targeting cost reduction to make its units capable of producing electricity cheaper than the grid without needing incentives and has come a long way to achieving this, reducing its cost/kW from €7,500/kW in 2003, down to €2,000 in 2012 and has plans to reduce this further in the near term.
Hydrogen Infrastructure in the EU
In a show that is mostly dominated by stationary applications (whether stationary fuel cells or large electrolysers) it was refreshing to see a series of talks on the public and technical forums that concentrated on transportation and, importantly, the key issue of infrastructure development.
Thorsten Herbert, NOW’s Transportation Programme Manager, gave an update on the current infrastructure situation in Germany. In June 2012 Germany’s 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 number of public hydrogen stations in Germany from fourteen (at the time) to 50 by 2015 supported by a funding grant of €20 million from the German National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Innovation Programme (NIP). This commitment formed the basis of Herbert’s talk and although the total station count has only increased by one in the ten months since the announcement much work is underway.
At present in Germany there are more than 100 fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) and ten fuel cell buses, as well as the fifteen public hydrogen stations. Herbert claims that many of the existing stations do not look like or operate as a German might expect of a conventional station. Their costs are also very high and low utilisation does nothing to help this; the NIP grant exists to pacify the currently unattractive value proposition. A further issue, both for cost and speed of construction, is the lack of knowledge at relevant authorities – it is easy for those of us who study hydrogen closely to forget just how different it is from existing fuels. Furthermore, at this early stage of station deployment there are no standardised components and, in Germany at least, everything must be tested onsite once the station is built, adding a further lag.
The Clean Energy Partnership (CEP) is a collaborative platform for auto manufacturers and utilities to develop standards and promote FCEV in Germany. The majority of existing stations are the result of work by the CEP and, positively, these stations already supply a hydrogen mix that is more than 50% renewable. This hydrogen is currently sold for €9.50 a kilogram, which Herbert claims is largely cost-equivalent to petrol and diesel.
In late January 2013 the European Commission (EC) launched its Clean Fuel Strategy, which proposed a package of binding targets for infrastructure for a portfolio of low-to-zero-emission vehicles. For hydrogen it says that common standards for components such as fuel hoses are needed and proposes the following: that ‘existing filling stations will be linked up to form a network with common standards ensuring the mobility of Hydrogen vehicles. This applies to the 14 Member States which currently have a Hydrogen network.’ This is the first step towards mandating the construction of stations, which would provide a base of centrally supported stations that can bridge the gap of unprofitability (due to high station costs and low utilisation) that can deter the private sector.
The importance of this development from the EC was mentioned many times during an engaging panel session on infrastructure build-up on the technical forum, which featured Klaus Bonhoff (NOW, Germany), Dennis Hayter (Intelligent Energy, UK), Ulrich Bünger (LBST, Germany), and Marianne Julien (APHYPAC, France). Bonhoff was keen to stress that once utilisation of hydrogen stations increases and the current pre-commercial construction premiums erode, fuel resale of renewably created hydrogen can be a profitable business – a view corroborated by several studies. Julien added later that it could be very attractive to energy companies to have a local endpoint for their product (via conversion to hydrogen and sale as vehicle fuel) rather than having to transport and/or export it. Of course, localised production of fuel also improves countries’ energy security, an increasingly important geopolitical consideration.
The H2Moves Scandinavia project concluded last year with a tour around Europe with a fleet of FCEV. Dr Bünger, whose company coordinated the project, says that acceptance of hydrogen vehicles has now arrived at a European level. Julien added that in France there are currently 10,000 battery electric vehicles and that the owners love to drive them and when they are frustrated about the limitations of the vehicle they are not looking to return to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles but rather asking when they can buy an FCEV. This is great, though of course there must be a network of infrastructure built up in France to enable this – to this end Julien is involved in an H2Mobility study for the country, which has been long overdue an official launch.
In the questions and comments at the end of the session, it was put forward to the panel that with the internal combustion engine continuing to adapt to tightening emissions standards, what is the impetus for automakers to develop FCEV? This rather misguided comment belies the genesis of automotive fuel cells – from the automakers themselves. As Bonhoff rightly added, if the automakers truly believed that the ICE is entirely future-proof then they would not be developing fuel cell technologies at all. But they are, and all the major automakers are in agreement that hydrogen mobility is the successor to the increasingly unstable fossil-fuel-based model – so why not innovate, develop, and launch that technology as soon as possible?
Building Hydrogen Stations in Germany
The commitment to build 50 hydrogen stations in Germany by 2015 was mentioned several times during the week. Signatories of the agreement Air Liquide and Linde were exhibitors and both were happy to provide updates on their roles within the commitment.
Air Liquide is committed to building ten of the 35 new stations and hopes to install the stations in early 2014 to open by year-end. Air Liquide intends to operate its own stations so that it can learn from the technology and gain valuable operational experience. Linde had already entered into an agreement with Daimler in June 2011 to build twenty hydrogen stations in the country and this effort has now been incorporated into the wider goal of fifty stations. These stations will be 50% funded by BMVBS, the German Transport Ministry. Linde will build and operate the stations for the first few years before handing them over to a joint venture company to be launched as a result of the German H2Mobility consortium. Linde hopes to decide on station locations this year and like Air Liquide hopes to build and open them in 2014.
Both companies expressed the difficulty of organising efforts as a consortium and the long time it takes to determine station locations, gain approval, build and then commission. We have heard many times before the painfully long times needed to build hydrogen stations, particularly without enough supporting standardisation (though not for a lack of effort in this area); it is understandable that only one new station has opened since June and behind the scenes much work is underway.
Fuel Cell Forklift Trucks
We have discussed the difficulty of bringing fuel cell technologies to market and bridging the gap where capital costs are high because economies of scale have not yet been realised. However, one application that this no longer applies to is fuel cell materials handling vehicles (MHV): with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) having supported their introduction into the US market, thousands of these vehicles are now on the ground and are selling without any form of subsidy. This success must now be replicated in Europe – which can, however, benefit from the technology development and cost reduction that has taken place in the USA.
The fuel cell manufacturer behind the US success is Plug Power, and it has entered into a JV with Air Liquide called HyPulsion to address the European market. HyPulsion is working on getting CE certification for nine products designed specifically for this market, with commercial release targeted for the end of the year. Currently the fuel cells are made in New York and shipped to Europe for assembly, but some manufacturing will be transferred in the near future. Fuel cells must compete with batteries in the European market; upfront costs may be higher but the gains in productivity that will be possible in the sort of high-throughput distribution centres and manufacturing facilities that are being targeted should still provide a solid business case and lead to sales without subsidies.
Demonstrations remain an important way of generating sales, and European trial experience of fuel cell MHV is valuable. The Hessen Fuel Cell Forklift Campaign is providing a ‘demonstration service’ for customers in the German county of Hessen. For a subsidised fee, it provides fuel cell MHV and a mobile hydrogen refueller to customer sites for a period of around four weeks, for operation by the customer. The Campaign is a collaboration between H2BZ Initiative Hessen (a private hydrogen and fuel cell initiative with 60 industry members and support from the county’s Ministry of Environment and Energy), GHR Hochdruck-Reduziertechnik GmbH (which provides and refills the mobile refueller) and Still GmbH, which manufactures MHV. The fuel cells are supplied by H2 Logic, which is also a participant in the EU HyLIFT-DEMO project, and in the follow-up project HyLIFT-EUROPE that is starting this year, which will allow for more fuel cell MHV to be trialled under real-world conditions. Demand for demonstrations is high, with the Hessen initiative reporting that they already have orders for the next six months. This is a strong indication of the potential demand for fuel cell MHV in Europe.
Fuel Cell Applications
With strong support from its parent company Haldor Topsoe, Topsoe Fuel Cell is preparing for expansion of its production facilities, is establishing a new system test centre and is expanding its materials laboratory. The company now has around 100 people focused on development of its planar SOFC technology and is gearing up for commercialisation. The flagship product is a 6 kW module that is produced as a sort of ‘building block’ to be fitted together like Lego bricks in distributed generation systems up to 50 kW; a major partner in this area is Convion, the new company formed from the spinning off of Wärtsilä’s fuel cell development. Smaller stationary units are another potential application: two field deployments of a micro-CHP system using its stack are expected under the Danish residential fuel cell project by the end of this year. Topsoe continues to work with AVL on development of a shock- and vibration-resistant APU for trucks and also has projects within the Danish and US defence industries to develop APU for armoured vehicles. It is also currently working on a lightweight stack for airborne applications and expects a test flight in the USA later this year, so it is clear that it is pursuing a broad range of opportunities.
Acta S.p.A has recently launched its latest product, Acta Power. The unit is aimed at the telecommunications backup power industry and is a combined electrolyser and fuel cell system designed for extended runtime without user intervention. Mounted in a standard 19” rack, the unit includes two 2 kW fuel cell units (from FutureE) and a 1 m3 water electrolysis unit; the first units are to be installed in Asia later this year. For extended runtime, the units can also be installed with rainwater harvesting technology and a 1,000 L water storage tank. In a reciprocal arrangement, FutureE also offer a similar solution using its fuel cells whereby it incorporates Acta’s electrolyser systems. Initially the two companies are targeting different regions for their systems, so as to avoid direct competition.
BalticFC dedicated three years to the development of its fuel cell module, the 300 W hydrogen-fuelled SuSy300 subsystem. Small series production began in December and it is now selling to integrators in Germany and Asia (where the company has a distributor and there is much interest). Integration requires no expert knowledge and initially customers are ordering small numbers to allow for evaluation within their product platforms; this is then expected to lead to larger orders in due course. By focusing on one product like this, balticFC can reach scale production more quickly.
Clean Auxiliary Power
SFC Energy, which was one of the first commercially successful fuel cell manufacturers, has really solidified its market standing in the last two years with the acquisition of power supply system specialist PBF Group, and under its current business model SFC Energy has become EBITDA profitable – we congratulate them and hope that they may soon progress to full profitability. With the amount of activity on their booth at the Messe this doesn’t seem too distant a prospect.
To coincide with the start of the show SFC Energy launched second-generation versions of its popular industrial fuel cell series EFOY Pro, which gathered a lot of interest at the company’s booth. The new models offer a guaranteed increase in lifetime of 50%, capable of providing 4,500 operational hours; this improvement comes with a reduction in operating costs of up to 40%. The new EFOY Pro units are available in two versions, providing nominal power of either 45 W (EFOY Pro 800) or 110 W (EFOY Pro 2400). Both models are also available as Duo versions, which come with two fuel cartridge connectors as standard, doubling the unit’s autonomous operation. An EFOY Pro 800 Duo can supply a continuous power requirement of 25 W for 100 days with no user intervention required.
SFC Energy also offers a line of consumer fuel cells – the EFOY COMFORT series. These are the evolution of the original EFOY series, which are largely considered to have been the first commercial fuel cell products (other than educational demonstration kits). SFC Energy’s consumer products find application most commonly in the high-end leisure market, where they can provide long lasting, low noise, and environmentally sensitive power when used as auxiliary power units (APU) in caravans and pleasure craft.
Truma Gerätetechnik has been a specialist in leisure products for such vehicles for over 60 years, and it too is now offering a fuel cell solution, the VeGA, which it is also selling into both consumer and industrial applications. Truma’s reputation within the target consumer industry is important but prestige is worth nothing if a product is substandard and Truma is confident in the VeGA. The most important advantage for the VeGA is, undoubtedly, its use of LPG as fuel. SFC Energy has done an admirable job of ensuring that its proprietary methanol cartridges are easy to purchase in areas in which it sells, but LPG is a more common fuel and the canisters the VeGA uses are not proprietary. Thanks to the long autonomy offered by the updated EFOY Pro line, particularly the Duo models, and the new 28 litre cartridges available this isn’t necessarily a problem for SFC Energy, who is enjoying strong sales.
The VeGA has been on sale since August last year and Truma is currently manufacturing 5–8 systems a week with a rough total of 400 units manufactured (including 200 systems from two pre-commercial trials). To date the majority of sales have been into the recreational market (this is where Truma’s reputation is strongest) though there is a growing interest from industry. It is this area that Truma targeted with its presence at the Group Exhibit, showcasing a containerised system on its booth that features a VeGA combined with two 160 A batteries and two 11 kg LPG canisters, though more powerful configurations are available. Once an LPG canister is depleted a GSM modem sends an alert to the operator so that a replacement can be sent.
The industrial applications for these small fuel cell APU systems, such as remote monitoring and illuminated signage, are becoming ever stronger and this was reflected on SFC Energy’s booth, which also featured EFOY Pro Cube containerised solutions and no sign of an EFOY COMFORT.
New Applications for HT-PEMFC
Serenergy’s high-temperature PEM fuel cell modules have an integrated reformer and run on methanol; this is a novel product approach that Serenergy is looking at applying in a number of ways. This year the company is releasing a larger module with a 5 kW output and this is opening up further opportunities. Of particular interest here is marine APU, particularly as methanol is attracting serious consideration as an alternative primary fuel for ocean-going vessels. A more immediate commercial application is backup power and Serenergy is undertaking test deployments. Another option for the concept is small fleets of forklift trucks: when the size of the fleet does not justify the expense of installing hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, methanol can be a cheaper and simpler solution. This is an application that Oorja Protonics has been targeting in the USA for several years.
Serenergy also has an advanced partnership with fellow Danish company Ecomove, designer of the electric QBEAK car which is once again present at the show and is attracting attention with its unconventional good looks. Ecomove started the design with a blank slate and in the process rethought the concept of the passenger vehicle; with an electric motor on each wheel and most of the weight of the car in its floor, the resulting car looks to be an exciting drive. The Serenergy module provides range extension and slots in next to the battery in a central channel at the base of the car where it can be easily added (as an optional extra) or replaced if necessary. QBEAK is currently a prototype but production could begin within the next couple of years.
A New Concept for Portable Hydrogen Generation
Worgas develops and manufactures combustion systems, which it supplies for a number of applications around the world; for instance, it designed the combustion system that is integrated into Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited’s BlueGEN micro-CHP fuel cell. Three years ago Worgas also began development of a portable hydrogen generation system, three versions of which were on display here at the Group Exhibit. The system is entirely self-contained and uses a replaceable cartridge containing an activating powder that releases hydrogen on contact with water. This is not a new concept, but the hydrogen production can be turned on and off with immediate response and the system allows for exact control over the flow rate so that it matches what is required by the application – in the case of Worgas’s portable power generator this is a 100 W fuel cell stack.
The hydrogen is produced at low pressure (<0.5 bar) and the generator is extremely safe with no need for any form of storage of combustible fuel. The proprietary metal power is inert once depleted and, although it cannot be regenerated, it is a raw product used in concrete production and so can be sold on to downstream partners. Worgas says the cost will be well below the cost of an equivalent amount of sodium borohydride. Much of this will be the cost of distribution and the company is working on accessing the distribution channels of a major company. Worgas will focus on its core concept and sell the system for integration into a range of platforms and with a range of technologies. It has been developed as a commercial product and is in the last phase of prototyping with production expected to start by the end of 2014.
A panel discussion on the public forum on fuel cell progress in the USA was one of several which took the focus outside of Europe. Dimitrios Papageorgopoulos, from the US Department of Energy (DoE) explained that cost reduction for automotive fuel cells is on track to reach the DoE target of $30/kW by 2017; with support from the DoE, costs have come down 80% since 2002 and current estimates in 2012 put costs at around $47/kW. Other panel members included Chip Bottone, CEO of FuelCell Energy, Steve Szymanski, Business Development Manager at Proton OnSite and Zakiul Kabir, Chief Technology Officer at ClearEdge Power. The panellists discussed how stationary fuel cells can shift reliance away from the electricity grid and centralised generation and more towards reliance upon the gas grid and distributed generation. Examples were given of fuel cell installations that were able to operate in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, when the conventional grid became unstable. The stability of the gas grid during extreme weather events is something that distributed generation using fuel cells can use to its advantage.
In terms of renewable energy and hydrogen, there is not so much activity in the USA, due in part to limited penetration of the technology and the availability of cheap natural gas. The need is much greater in Europe, hence the interest US companies have in this region. These technologies can alleviate problems in overloaded areas of the grid and offer energy storage potential to areas of congested transmission; these are saleable features though Bottone warned against adding technology for the sake of it when it could remove load from underutilised power stations, making them seem less efficient.
Zakiul Kabir likened the distributed generation model to that of mobile phones. Distributed generation has the ability to leapfrog the model of conventional electricity grids in areas which do not currently have them – much like mobile phones have done to wired telecommunications in certain regions of the world. This should be a consideration for utilities, whether they want to take the opportunity to change their way of thinking.
Connecticut and North-Eastern USA
The Connecticut Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition was formed to support the growth of the fuel cell and hydrogen industries in the state, and there are currently around 600 member companies. The initiative has grown in size and now encompasses neighbouring states as part of the wider Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster (NEESC). Connecticut accounts for slightly more than half of the NEESC’s members and the whole group brings in total direct revenue of $508 million each year. The NEESC has worked with its members in each of its eight states (CT, MA, ME, NY, NH, RI, NJ, VT) and has published a series of fuel cell and hydrogen development plans. These plans look at each of the states in turn and assess the options for implementing the technologies in a bespoke manner; despite being a single country, the different states in the USA all have different needs and drivers when it comes to energy storage. Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology’s Joel Rinebold commented that, such is the concentration of fuel cell companies in CT, “if you own a fuel cell, chances are it contains a component that originated in the state.”
To exemplify this, the CT booth promoted businesses from across the supply chain, from component suppliers right up to fuel cell manufacturers. Precision Combustion Inc. is marketing a range of reforming technologies that it has developed to work with fuel cells. Its products can be geared to process a range of liquid fuels, including methanol, biofuels, diesel and even military-grade JP-8. Engineered Fibers Technology LLC was presenting its Spectracarb range of gas diffusion layers; its standard products are generally less compressible than its competitors’ which can be advantageous in differential pressure applications. Dexmet is a manufacturer of expanded metal foils, used across the fuel cell and electrolyser industries as current collectors and gas diffusion layers. Its products are applicable in PEM, alkaline and SOFC electrolyser systems.
Moving up the supply chain, Advent Technologies is a manufacturer of high-temperature (HT) PEMFC membrane electrode assemblies (MEA). It has developed a novel polymer which allows higher operating temperatures for HT-PEMFC of up to 220°C. Its HT-PEMFC MEAs can withstand high CO levels, are resilient to thermal cycling and can operate under differential pressure conditions.
At the top of the fuel cell supply chain is ClearEdge Power, who recently acquired the assets of UTC Power and is continuing to market the PureCell model 400 large stationary phosphoric acid fuel cell system. It is hoping the acquisition of UTC’s technology will allow it to exploit synergies with its existing 5 kW HT-PEMFC system. The two technologies share a number of similarities, and ClearEdge is planning to launch a new 5 kW model later this year that will have a lifetime of ten years, similar to the 400 kW PureCell model. The 400 kW model offers >90% CHP efficiency and the fleet to date has provided >97% availability. New versions can even undergo preventative maintenance without being taken offline, further increasing this figure. The largest installation to date is a 5 MW fuel cell park in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and interest is strong here. The country’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandates a certain percentage of energy is sourced from new and renewable energies, and fines are imposed on companies who do not comply. This has formed a huge incentive to install solar, wind and fuel cell generation, and with the percentage required rising from the current 2% up to 10% by 2022, we are expecting to see a great deal more from the country over the coming years. Also from Connecticut is PEM electrolyser manufacturer Giner Inc., discussed in detail earlier in this report.
German Regional Activities
The H2BZ-Initiative Hessen fuel cell initiative is funded by the state government and aims to support the growth of hydrogen and fuel cell businesses within Hessen, as well as sponsoring demonstration projects and working to accelerate the deployment of the technology within the region, particularly in mobility and materials handling. As well as the Thüga Group and ITM Power project in Frankfurt, there are other energy storage projects in progress or in the pipeline. A number of businesses were also represented at the Hessen stand, among them GHR which has developed a mobile hydrogen refueller. This is on a trailer and can easily be moved to various sites for demonstration purposes (the system automatically alerts GHR when the refueller needs to be resupplied with hydrogen); as mentioned earlier it will be used for fuel cell forklift demonstrations at customer sites.
Also on the Hessen stand was Hydrogen Energy, a start-up that is focused on developing low-cost 30 bar electrolysers, for industrial applications initially to generate revenue after which it will launch a product for energy applications. Its current system delivers 0.5 Nm3/h hydrogen but it will scale this up to 10 Nm3/h; it is aiming to be highly cost-competitive with PEM electrolysers in this range. Alongside it was Hüttenberger Produktionstechnik, a company that specialises in mass production of parts for industry. It has developed a 150 W fuel cell battery charger intended mainly for the academic market. The system comes with control software which allows for variation of a range of parameters such as operating temperature and air flow etc, all of which can be monitored; this allows for a great deal of interaction with the fuel cell to gain understanding of how the technology functions. The same system is integrated into an outdoor unit that can function as a backup for solar power.
FuelCell Energy Solutions represents its parent company’s European interests and includes assets (including fuel cell component inventory and manufacturing equipment) acquired from MTU Friedrichshafen. The company has several projects underway and has many more negotiations in progress, with an ambition to sell a megawatt-scale system soon. The MTU production facility it has acquired is sub-megawatt and so any megawatt-scale modules would have to be sent from the main Connecticut facility. Of the planned projects, two are in the greater London area. One 300 kW system has been delivered for the long-awaited HESTON biogas to hydrogen energy station project, which is supported by the FCH JU and the London Hydrogen Partnership, and which is due to come online later this year. Another 300 kW system is to be installed in one of central London’s most prominent new buildings – the 20 Fenchurch Street ‘Walkie Talkie’ skyscraper. The 38 storey, 690,000 square foot office development includes a unique public sky garden at its uppermost level, which will offer stunning views of London, which along with the fuel cell is a part of the building’s effort to minimise its environmental impact.
At the opposite end of the size scale, micro-tubular SOFC developer eZelleron was demonstrating its latest generation cells and stacks, which we first saw at the FC Expo in Tokyo in February. Impressively, the company has reduced its start-up time from five minutes to five seconds! This has been thanks to a number of improvements, including new cathode connections and current collection systems. The company is selling both tubes and stacks, primarily to system integrators. As for end products, the company is focusing on the larger 25 W and 75 W ‘go::batt’ systems.
RBZ was displaying its improved inhouse5000+ product; changes from the inhouse5000 displayed last year are a reduction in thermal output from 10 kW to 7.5 kW and an improved housing. The system can provide a total efficiency of up to 92%. The company plans to deploy a fleet of 40 systems across the German, Danish, French, Italian, and UK markets under the ene.field programme; the first installations should be commencing in the fourth quarter of this year.
Wider European Activities
The Finnish fuel cell programme started in 2007 and is now in its final year; its culmination will be a multi-application demonstration at the end of 2013, centred on Vuosaari Harbour in Helsinki. It was discussed on the public forum by representatives from programme coordinator Tekes, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, industrial gas producer Woikoski, and Convion, the new company that has been formed to continue the work on fuel cells for ‘miniature power plants’ started at Wärtsilä. Twenty Tekes projects are still in progress and as they reach completion focus will be on project results. Tekes is aiming to continue work on fuel cells and hydrogen from next year, but as part of larger programmes on energy – assessing the technology in ‘smart city’ environments, for example.
VTT is currently developing a 50 kW PEMFC demonstration unit using stacks from Nedstack, which will be tested over 5,000 hours with byproduct hydrogen from a chlor-alkali plant. Convion, by contrast, is focused on the development of a 50 kW SOFC system with an eye to a commercial launch in the near future; solid oxide technology was chosen as the power plants are intended to be fuel flexible. Woikoski will be supplying the hydrogen refuelling station for the harbour demonstration and is currently testing this prior to shipment. Woikoski, a long-established industrial gas company, showed extraordinary vision with regard to hydrogen by anticipating its commercial use as an energy carrier in the early part of the 20th century and even designing a hydrogen car; it is currently building up its hydrogen supply base and is eager for fuel cell applications to provide a market for this. Overall, there is much positive progress but Tekes says it would like to see more companies entering into fuel cell RD&D in Finland.
The more nascent Latvian and Spanish Hydrogen Associations were also present at the show – the Latvian effort is still very much at the research level but Spanish activities are becoming more commercial thanks to companies such as Ajusa and the country will play host to next year’s European Hydrogen Energy Conference and 2016’s World Hydrogen Energy Conference.
The Future of Hydrogen in Europe
MEP Jo Leinen visited the Group Exhibit to show his support for hydrogen and fuel cell developments. At the public forum, he told a large audience that he believes the work of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) – now in its final year – “must continue”. He believes it will be extended for at least the next five years despite facing a stiff challenge from competing interests and the resurgence of natural gas due to fracking, which Leinen does not see as a viable option for the future. To get to vehicle emissions below 65g CO2 per km will need new technologies in place to carry us forward from 2020 onwards. He hopes that emissions targets for 2030 will be agreed this year as a stepping-stone to the longer-term 2050 targets and to help refocus efforts on renewable energy sources.
While Germany is taking a leading role in the implementation of fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen fuelling, to allow other European countries to follow its example much of the groundwork such as standardisation should take place at the EU level. The FCH JU was created for this purpose, of course, and in 2000 the European Hydrogen Association was formed by consolidating a number of individual national hydrogen initiatives. Member States continue to join, with the most recent being Romania, whose Association for Hydrogen Energy submitted its application for membership in March. EHA Executive Director Marieke Reijalt told the public forum that, even in Brussels, there is no longer a question that hydrogen will play a role in the future of mobility in Europe and that the necessary political support will now start solidifying. The next seven years should see the long-awaited hydrogen economy finally making its debut on the European stage.
Dan Carter Manager
Marge Ryan Market Analyst
Jonathan Wing Market Analyst