Fuel Cells/Automotive/Government Help 01

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Government help needed to carry load to
optimize fuel cells for transportation
by Shirley Georgi

There were very few presentations at EVAA this past December that did not mention fuel cells. This topic is as popular at an automotive meeting as the Enron bankruptcy is on the nightly news; fortunately, the information exchange is much more positive. Every leading manufacturer emanates enthusiasm as they speak of the potential for fuel cells, but their statements always contain a cautionary clause so that the exuberance of the clean air possibilities with fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) does not lead to unrealistic expectations for the next few years. In verbalizing about their efforts to support fuel cells, spokespersons from the automotive companies expound on their program goals, but they do not forget to include statements for an unprecedented need for government support.
Widely publicized is the new Freedom CAR cooperative government/industry partnership, involving Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler. This cooperative is under the auspices of the Department of Energy and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), which also directed the former PNGV (Partnership for the Next Generation of Vehicles) program for fuel efficiency. In his address in announcing the new program, Secretary Spensor Abraham stated that $1.5 billion in U.S. subsidies will be reallocated for fuel cell automotive applications. In his speech he said, “...Freedom CAR’s long-term goal is to develop technologies for hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles that will require no foreign oil and emit no harmful pollutants or greenhouse gases.” Although the speech was “energizing,” it was filled with glittering generalities.

Adobe Photoshop ImageJohn Wallace, cochairman of EVAA and executive director of the Ford TH!Nk Group, emphasized government’s role in helping to enhance automotive fuel cells. He said that government can help foster change by carrying on demonstration programs, helping develop infrastructure, and guiding the developers of codes and standards. Government can pay for R&D, buy substantial numbers of vehicles and provide overall leadership. (Photo is courtesy of EVAA)

Nothing was said that would indicate that Freedom Car obligates automakers to produce FCVs or what funding levels would be allocated. (That should be determined by Congress as they review President Bush’s 2003 budget.) However, a formal partnership among the OEMs is expected soon. One positive note - the new program will cover vehicles such as the SUVs, the leading “love” of the American public as shown by automotive market sales.
Demonstration vehicles show visible feasibility for FCVs

Seeing is believing! By having more than a dozen fuel cell vehicles on display at the Sacramento Convention Center, the auto companies showed their commitment in working toward goals involving clean air and a hydrogen based energy source for transportation.

The CaFCP studies fuel cell commercialization

Released this past fall were the results of a study drafted by a team of experts for the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP).
Adobe Photoshop ImageAt EVAA, Ford reviewed the national record set for fuel cell endurance in its P2000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The record was set in October 2001 when the vehicle traveled a distance of 1,390.75 miles -farther than any other fuel cell product ever has traveled in one day. The power unit (fuel cell) has a PEM with a Ballard Mark 700 series fuel stack. (Artwork is courtesy of Ford.)

The CaFCP directed the study to specifically identify the challenges and potential solutions to the commercialization of fuel cell vehicles utilizing four options -hydrogen, methanol, ethanol and a cleaner gas formulation than currently available today. Although the study describes technical challenges, there are also infrastructure issues, potential market development factors, and costs which remain as primary concerns. Two of the six major conclusions in the study directly relate to government support and funding. They are stated as follows: 1) Because the investment risks
Adobe Photoshop ImageHonda’s FCX-V3 combines an advanced fuel cell power system with integrated control systems, a compact drive motor, and a cabin large enough to seat four people. The FCX-V3 power plant features a Honda-designed fuel cell stack fueled by hydrogen storage at high temperature. Regenerative energy storage is provided by a Honda- designed ultracapacitor. Honda believes that based on their evaluations, eliminating the onboard reformers will reduce complexity and ultimately be more economical over the long run. (Artwork is courtesy of Honda.)

associated with FCVs, including infrastructure requirements, are so great and risky, the study concludes that government support, beyond R&D assistance, will be required for limited periods of time. 2) If an alternate 100,000 vehicles/year milestone is to be achieved, the study concludes that more automakers and more models will be required than currently anticipated. Further, to obtain this greater automaker commitment will require the early and “unequivocal” demonstration of strong government support, particularly in

 Adobe Photoshop ImageToday, the U.S. registers over one fourth of the world’s autos; in fact, there are 213 million cars registered and 17 million new autos sold every year. Transportation accounts for 70 percent of U.S. oil consumption. Today, nearly all vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines, and the U.S. is importing 10 million barrels of oil a day, the largest portion going to support transportation. Because of environmental needs and foreign oil dependency issues, there is critical momentum to develop and commercialize alternative fueled vehicles, i.e.FCVs.

“Being timid in technology or policy will not reduce the oil gap when we get to 2020,” stated Tom Grow of the DOE’s OTT (Office of Transportation Technology). Today, SUVs, mini-vans and light trucks are averaging 20.7 m.p.g. Currently, foreign oil is “cheap,” so there is a laissez-faire attitude among the public about seeing a need for change. Lawmakers must be sensitized of the crucial need and timing to fund serious work on fuel cells technology. Tom Grow suggested that programs providing tax credits for fuel-efficient vehicles, incentives, market approaches, and mechanisms including “feebates” and carbon trading could all figure into the formula.

Hiroyuki Watanabe, Toyota’s senior managing director, thinks that even with dedicated effort and funding, it will be 2030 before pure hydrogen FCVs will have a panoramic presence in the automotive landscape.

John Wallace, said fuel cells are the only “credible way out of petroleum dependency, but their true commercialization still poses serious challenges.”

(Data in graph is from the U.S. Department of Energy.)

investment risk management. “California Fuel Cell Partnership Releases Study on Fuel Cell Vehicle Commercialization,” www.evaa.org/evaa/pages/cafcp.html, 10/16/01

(Requests for copies of the consultants’ study, “Bringing Fuel Cell Vehicles to Market: Some Challenges with Fuel Alternatives,” can be obtained from the CaFP by calling 916-371-2870.)

Adobe Photoshop ImageGeneral Motors (GM) displayed an electric Chevy S-10 pick-up truck with the world’s first gasoline fuel cell. The Gen lll processor reforms “clean” gasoline onboard, extracting a stream of hydrogen to send to the fuel cell stack. The S-10 fuel cell generates 25 kiloWatts (about 33hp). The truck’s fuel processor and stack combine to power a battery charger for the vehicle’s drivetrain. Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development, said, “When (this processor) combined with our fuel cell stack, the technology has the potential to obtain 40 percent overall efficiency, which is about 50 percent better than a conventional internal combustion engine.”

What is the next step?

Although the auto companies have all pledged to work on fuel cell vehicle technology, there are still basic issues which need to be addressed -perhaps beyond what the auto companies have been able to do and should do. Proving and building of consensus on the long-term societal value of FCVs is a challenge and perhaps too great a task without government funding. (Thus far, the American public, in general, has shown no concern about fuel economy and has never been convinced

 Adobe Photoshop ImageThe Nissan Xterra SUV has a Ballard fuel cell stack and a high pressure storage tank for hydrogen made by Dynetek. Nissan is demonstrating the Xterra FCV in the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Nissan plans to market the FCV by 2003-2005. (Artwork is courtesy of Nissan.)

to buy fuel efficient vehicles.) Resolution of the newly needed infrastructure toward hydrogen energy and associated costs will require the support and work of many groups, including the government. Government will also have to play a key role in the development of practical fuel conversion and the associated cleanup technologies. All factors must come together for successful market development.
Adobe Photoshop ImageToyota’s FCHV5 is a fuel cell hybrid vehicle featuring an onboard CHF (clean hydrocarbon fuel) reformer, allowing for the use of the existing gasoline supply infrastructure, where hydrogen is not available. The body of the vehicle is based on the Highlander which is sold in North America. The vehicle also has a secondary battery - a Nickel-metal hydride battery. The FCHV5 is currently undergoing test-course evaluation.

Toyota’s CHF reformer is onboard the FCHV-5. Fuel, air and water pass through the combustor, vaporizer, catalyzers, etc. and exit in the form of hydrogen. The reforming of CHF requires high reaction temperatures of about 8000 C. Many reaction processes must be combined.

The CHF can be used cleanly in internal combustion engines as well as with fuel cells. (Artwork is courtesy of Toyota.)

At EVAA, the gala, glitz and glamour of beautifully designed fuel cell vehicles are needed to celebrate accomplishments, applaud engineering talent and appreciate the aesthetic designs of the demonstration and prototype models. But, as John DiCicco, a senior fellow with Environmental Defense says, “Without the guidance from government to improve fuel economy and the associated commitment by the industry to make ongoing fuel economy improvements, I think the likelhood of fuel cell vehicles or other advanced technology options coming into the market is actually very slim. There simply will not be a business case.” “Crticial Eye,” evWorldR People & Technology, 02/04/02