Posted January 20th, 2023 in Automotive

The automotive sector has some ambitious decarbonisation targets to meet and it’s going to take a variety of technologies to get there.  Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), in particular, look set to be an important part of the sector’s future mix.

It’s an exciting technology which works by chemically reacting hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, and oxygen.  There are no greenhouse gas emissions from an FCEV, with the only tailpipe product being water.

From a batteries point of view, FCEVs are often seen as very separate to hybrid and battery electric cars.  In fact, FCEVs need batteries too and the high-power cell we’re developing at AMTE Power will have an essential role to play in unlocking this clean fuel cell transition.  In an FCEV, batteries act as a buffer between the fuel cell system and the electric motor.  This means the fuel cell can run at a constant rate, maximising efficiency and range, while allowing drivers to vary their speed.

So what will the hydrogen fuel cell revolution look like and what role can we play at AMTE Power?

Primed for commercial vehicles

Major car manufacturers like Toyota already have models on sale, but the real growth in the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles market over the next decade or so is likely to come from commercial transportation – the trucks, vans and industrial vehicles that play a vital role in our freight, logistics and construction sectors.

The government has set a target to end all sales of new non-zero emission HGVs by 2040 and many businesses are already exploring hydrogen as an alternative.  Manufacturer DAF, for example, is trialling hydrogen powered trucks via its parent company Paccar in the US, while Glasgow-based HVS unveiled a new hydrogen-powered 5.5-tonne demonstrator vehicle late last year.

One of the key benefits of hydrogen fuel cells for commercial vehicles is that they can provide the range that long-haul drivers need, particularly when combined with a powerful cell like our Ultra-High Power (UHP) product.  UHP is particularly well suited to repeatedly discharging the power needed in this application.  The cell’s performance means you can have a much smaller battery pack than one made up of conventional energy cells.  In turn that creates more space for a larger hydrogen fuel tank which ultimately determines how far a vehicle can travel, which is vital in commercial applications.

There are more advantages.  A battery like UHP provides the added boost needed for HGVs to pull heavy loads or travel up hills without draining fuel.  It also enables a vehicle to use regenerative braking to recharge the cell.  Again, all of this helps to deliver a higher range and lower cost of ownership.

Overcoming refuelling obstacles

The slow take up of hydrogen vehicles in the past has largely been down to a lack of refuelling infrastructure.  Tackling this will require more concerted support from Government as part of its industrial strategy to support zero emission road freight.  Investment from the private sector will be important too, including by third-party logistics companies and developers of strategic employment sites such as innovation hubs and advanced manufacturing clusters.

The refuelling barriers for large fleet operators are perhaps lower than for others.  Their vehicles are likely to make regular journeys between depots and warehouses, so drivers don’t need a hydrogen pump at every motorway service station.  Instead, it’s about delivering a few, key refuelling points based on drivers’ typical routes.

Once the pumps are in place, refuelling a hydrogen vehicle is quick and easy – essentially the same experience as refilling a diesel tank – so drivers can minimise downtime and get back on the road fast.

Commercial vehicles now account for the largest proportion of vehicles on our roads.  As a viable alternative to fossil fuels for this sector, there is huge potential for hydrogen to help commercial transportation cut its emissions.  At AMTE Power, our Ultra-High Power cell is the perfect technology partner to drive this shift.