Tapping Hydrogen’s Energy Potential

Tapping Hydrogen’s Energy Potential

The first of a two-part series on harnessing the energy potential of hydrogen. The most important takeaway is that the industry delivers solutions.

Robert Austin
Robert Austin

Editor's note: In a two-part series, Robert Austin gives an update on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles – those on the road and those in the pipeline. He opines that the industry delivers solutions when presented with clear-cut problems. The first part deals with automobiles and the second with the aviation industry.

The governments of the world have found a few things they can agree on.  But, on this, most do - the earth's atmosphere is getting way too full of greenhouse gasses, and we must, very quickly, break our dependence on fossil fuels! I believe there are very few people on the planet who would take issue with that statement. Still, we seem to get in trouble by putting together a timetable that will be almost impossible to meet and having the governments essentially demand battery-powered zero-emission vehicles.

I confess that I bristle when presented with binary choices because the industry can be so much more creative when you give them a well-defined problem and let them develop a variety of solutions.  I suggested in an earlier essay that Hydrogen might play a very important role in the future of transportation, although most governments and public forums largely ignore it.

Several businesses around the world have been taking a serious look at Hydrogen as a problem solver in our move away from fossil fuels. I thought I would update you on some of the more interesting developments of the past few months.

Five years ago, Toyota introduced the very first production version of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle for sale to retail customers in the United States. Named the Mirai, which means "future" in the Japanese language, this is a car whose wheels are driven by an electric motor but powered by a fuel cell that creates electricity instead of using a battery. The Mirai does have a battery which it uses mostly for startups, but its primary fuel is Hydrogen. To "refill" it, you go to a specific hydrogen station and fill its high-pressure hydrogen fuel tank instead of plugging it into a recharging station. This past fall, a second-generation Mirai was launched.

Toyota Corolla

It is a very premium four-door sedan, aerodynamically styled, and equipped with the latest safety and comfort features. The newest evolution of its advanced fuel cell electric vehicle drive train (FCEV) offers more power than its predecessor. It offers a 30 percent increase in driving range over the earlier model with an EPA range of 402 miles.

The Mirai is not offered for sale in every state because of the lack of hydrogen filling stations.  Today, California is the clear leader, but more are coming.

Some may wonder why Toyota would bother developing a hydrogen-powered vehicle if there is insufficient infrastructure to support it across the entire country. Well, if you subscribe to that theory, why would anyone have bothered to build an electric car even ten years ago, as there was not a nationwide network of electric recharging stations at that time?  Toyota is the perfect pioneer in this high-potential field.

Why Would Anyone Want A Hydrogen Fuel Cell In A Car Instead Of A Battery Operated One?

There are two excellent reasons worthy of your consideration.

  • The first is that we don't have an unlimited ability to generate electricity, nor do we have a robust enough grid to support the additional load of recharging every electric vehicle in the country. If you doubt the veracity of this statement, just look at what happened at the end of last winter when the cold snap hit Texas, or this very week when a hot spell had the electric company begging people to turn off their A/C!
  • The second reason for a fuel cell-powered electric vehicle is that it can be refueled in as little as a few minutes in a procedure somewhat like the one we are all used to with our gasoline-powered cars. Granted, the coupling that connects the car to the supply is more sophisticated, but basically, you hook it up to your car, put in your credit card, fill the tank, and then uncouple the hose and return it to its place at the fuel station. It is a clean and simple process.

Some final thoughts on the Mirai:  It is offered in some very interesting colors, including Hydrogen Blue, Oxygen White, Supersonic Red, and Heavy Metal. It is considered a Zero Emission Vehicle.

Perhaps most interesting is when its hydrogen fuel has been consumed in the vehicle’s fuel cell, the exhaust product is….water! Periodically, the “exhaust system” must be emptied to eliminate that water which can be done by pressing a button on the instrument panel. That’s all you do to avoid having your car relieve itself on your garage floor.  And while the exhaust is simply water, you are advised not to drink it.

Just this month, Jaguar Land Rover announced that it was developing a prototype hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicle based on the new Land Rover Defender, with testing beginning this year.

Ford Defender (Car)
Ford Defender (Car)

Land Rover points out that the global number of FCEVs on the road has nearly doubled since 2018, while the number of hydrogen refueling stations has only increased by 20%.  They also state that forecasts show FCEV vehicles could top 10 million by 2030 with 10,000 hydrogen refueling stations worldwide. Ralph Clague, Head of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells for Jaguar Land Rover, said, "We know hydrogen has a role to play in the future power train mix across the whole transport industry, and alongside battery electric vehicles, it offers another zero-emission solution for the specific capabilities and requirements of Jaguar Land Rover's world-class line-up of vehicles."

BMW, long known for building "the ultimate driving machine," is also in the process of testing a pure electric vehicle that uses Hydrogen as fuel by converting it into electricity using a fuel cell.  This month, the company announced that prototypes of the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT will be built to examine how effectively the CO2-free drive train, model-specific chassis technology, and vehicle electronic systems work together under real-life conditions. They will be followed by a small production series based on the 2022 model year BMW X5.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Test Vehicle

"Hydrogen fuel cell technology can be an attractive option for sustainable drive trains —especially in larger vehicle classes," stated Frank Weber, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Development. "That is why road testing of near-standard vehicles with a hydrogen fuel cell drive train is an important research milestone in our research and development efforts."

The company points out that one of the attractions of hydrogen-powered cars is that refueling can be accomplished in just three to four minutes and provides several hundreds of kilometers of range in all weather conditions.  Very much like the experience, you would have today in refueling a gasoline-powered car.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the BMW i Hydrogen uses fuel cells from the product development cooperation with the Toyota Motor Corporation.  The individual cells come from Toyota, while the fuel cell stack and complete drive system are original BMW Group developments.

Established in 2013, the cooperation seeks to optimize the everyday learning about fuel cells for each company's use by exchanging real-world experiences.

That's it for now. In the next installment, the focus will be on the aviation industry and how Hydrogen provides some solutions.

TIPP Takes

Turkey Wild Card In US-Russia Conflict Over Syria Aid

The U.S. administration might be open to a position shift on the Syrian file to secure the flow of cross-border international aid to Syria. This prospect may spoil Turkey's calculations in Syria and particularly in Idlib.

President Of Turkey Recyip Erdogan And U.S President Joe Biden
President Of Turkey Recyip Erdogan And U.S President Joe Biden
  • As Washington's talks with Moscow have focused on keeping the international aid flowing and reopening border crossings, Turkey holds a key position in the negotiations.
  • International humanitarian aid flowed through four border crossings on the Jordanian border under a UN Security Council decision.
  • The most pressing issue in the negotiations is keeping the Cilvegozu/Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border open.
  • A UN Security Council mandate to keep the crossing open will end by July 10, amid warnings by civic groups of a looming catastrophe.
  • Turkey, which has a critical position in the decision-making process over which crossings will be used for the flow of humanitarian aid, also stands as the main interlocutor in a possible Russian-American reconciliation.
  • Turkey opposes reopening al-Yarubiyah on the grounds that the aid flowing through the crossing will help the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria.

Covid: Brazil Hits 500,000 Deaths Amid 'Critical' Situation

The number of deaths related to Covid-19 has passed 500,000 in Brazil, the second-highest in the world, as experts say the outbreak could worsen amid slow vaccination and the start of winter.

Brazilian Protests Against President Bolsonaro's Pandemic Handling
Brazilian Protests Against President Bolsonaro's Pandemic Handling
  • The virus continues to spread as President Jair Bolsonaro refuses to back measures like social distancing.
  • The health institute Fiocruz says the situation is "critical." Only 15% of adults are fully vaccinated.
  • President Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for not implementing a coordinated national response and for his skepticism toward vaccines, lockdowns, and mask-wearing requirements, which he has sought to loosen.
  • The opposition accuses the president of delaying the purchase of vaccines for political reasons, as he has consistently played down the severity of the pandemic. Congress is investigating the government's handling of the pandemic.
  • The outbreak in Brazil has been fuelled by more transmissible variants of the virus, including the one first identified in the Amazon region known as Gamma. An average of 70,000 cases has been confirmed daily in the last week.

Jakarta Deepens Ties With Beijing Mainly for Economic Gain, Analysts Say

But, analysts say Jakarta will not risk its relations with other powers or its sovereign interests in the South China Sea.

Chinese And Indonesian Ambassadors Elbowing
  • Ties are growing between Indonesia and China on the back of increasing investment and trade. Still, analysts say these will not develop further at the expense of Jakarta’s relations with other powers or its sovereign interests in the South China Sea.
  • Indonesia is as open to working with the United States as it is with China or Japan as long as it benefits the country, Rizal Sukma, a former Indonesian ambassador to Britain, said in dismissing the perception that Jakarta has swung toward Beijing.
  • China is not yet the biggest investor in Indonesia. Still, its investments in Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country have grown consistently, nearly doubling to $4.8 billion in 2020 from $2.4 billion in 2017.
  • According to the Ministry of Investment, China’s investments are mostly in Indonesia’s transportation, industry, and tourism sectors.

Ethiopians Set To Vote In Crunch Polls Amid Conflict And Apathy

Long-awaited elections due to take place on June 21, but voting will not go ahead in about one-fifth of constituencies due to logistical and security concerns.

Ethiopian Protestors
  • The youth from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, Oromos, who make up about 35 percent of the country’s estimated 110-plus million people, were at the forefront of two-and-half years of anti-government protests that brought Abiy to power in April 2018.
  • However, Abiy has since fallen out with many of the leaders of the Oromo youth movement.
  • An analyst in Addis Ababa says the polls will happen amid rising COVID-19 cases and locust invasions, as well as “an economy that is in tatters and conflict in Tigray region which has left the region fully humanitarian-aid dependent.”
  • Acknowledging the security and logistical challenges facing various parts of Ethiopia, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) disclosed earlier this month that voting will not take place in nearly one-fifth of Ethiopia’s 547 poll constituencies.


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