A Global Snapshot
The 2003 Fuel Cell Seminar held in November 2003 in Miami Beach, Florida had a truly international representation. Although the majority of the conference discussed research and development, especially in the areas for stationary and portable power, the tone was set with a speakers from Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States discussing their basic accomplishments and goals for the future.
Japan’s approach to Commercialization of Fuel Cell/Hydrogen Technology
Representing Japan, Akohiko Morota from the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) stated that his country was a leader in the development of fuel cells. With Japan’s importation of 86% of its oil from the Middle East and its commitment in meeting the reduction of emissions of CO2 as stated in the Kyoto Protocol, the fuel cell technology program in Japan could not have two more important drivers.
Japan sees fuel cells as a “3E” solution, which can:
1) decrease CO2 emissions.
2) bring about utilization of hydrogen as a fuel which can ultimately enhance security.
3) promote the economy with the development of an industry which can provide new business and jobs.
Fuel Cell and Hydrogen research in the European Union
The European Union has supported fuel cell and hydrogen research since the late nineteen eighties. At that time efforts were concentrated on basic materials research of a genetic nature. From 1999 -2002 the European Union spent a total of 144.8 million euros to support fuel cell and hydrogen programs.
Short term demonstration and benchmarketing activities included the following:
• stationary applications (16.6 million euros)
• transport applications (26.5 million euros)
• hydrogen infrastructure (6.9 million euros)
Mid-long term R&D included:
• technology acquisitions (22.4 million euros)
• stationary applications (12.1 million euros)
• transport applications (28.0 million euros) Note that of this amount, 19 million euros were devoted to projects related to fuel processing.
• portable applications (8.4 million euros)
• hydrogen infrastructure ( 23.6 million euros)
The European Union adopted new Sixth Framework program (FP6) for the years 2002-2006 which involves Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities. The FP6 will build mainly on two new instruments:
• Networks of excellent which associate research entities in integrating their activities for carrying out common European research programs.
• Integrated projects mobilizing a critical mass of resources toward ambitious objectives to generate new knowledge for products and services which could bring competitive advantage for European industry.
The two themes, and their accompanying funding dominating the FP6 programs, will be ‘sustainable energy systems’ (810 million euros) and ‘sustainable surface transport’ (610 million euros).
At the June 2003 European conference, “The Hydrogen Economy -a bridge to sustainable energy,” key recommended actions were made. The conference attendees and the High Level Group of hydrogen and fuel cells experts agreed to establish an integrated program, including the following elements:
• a strategic research agenda to define performance targets, priorities and timelines
• a deployment strategy, including communications on policy measures and proposals for lighthouse demonstration projects
• a European hydrogen roadmap
• initiatives to foster public-private partnerships to promote commercialization
• a strategy to develop and implement international cooperation
A. Perez Sainz, who presented at the Fuel Cell Conference for the European Union, said, “The ultimate goal for Europe was agreed to be a hydrogen economy based substantially on renewable sources of energy, even though in the short and medium term, hydrogen may be produced largely from fossil fuels or nuclear energy in those countries which retain that option.”
Fuel Cell Commercial Potential: The Case of the UK
The E-4tech group was commissioned by the Carbon Trust and Department of Trade and Industry to conduct a commercial status review on the case for fuel cells. The key issues for the study included an assessment of the main possible applications for fuel cells, the drivers for fuel cells in these areas and the fuel cell technologies likely to be chosen. Some of the findings were as follows:
• Mobile applications - “Minimal UK fuel cell vehicle integration capability exists; market stimulation is likely to be of greater benefit to non-UK companies in the short-term unless focused specifically on APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) applications.”
• Portable applications - The Japanese consumer electronics brands dominate the UK micro portable device market although there is a small amount of early stage UK industry activity in the micro fuel cell area. “Battery replacement by fuel cells is unlikely to offer significant CO2 benefits.”
• Low temperature fuel cell stacks and components - Market stimulation is more likely to favor stack developers.
• High temperature fuel cell system and materials - Market stimulation for stationary fuel cell systems could benefit these companies. The UK has strength in materials research which could give it an advantage.
• Balance of plant - the UK has skills in component areas such as fuel processors, power conditioning, mechanical balance of plant and hydrogen production and storage which could be relevant to a wide range of fuel cell applications.
Government can stimulate the early uptake of fuel cells in applications where the benefits in technology and cost will enhance higher volume applications. The study concluded that the most beneficial applications for market stimulation are in stationary fuel cells because the UK has well developed supply side capabilities and could extend their strengths into servicing those units.
Detailed information can be found on the following website: http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/renewables/publications/pdfs/fuelcellfinal.pdf
Fuel Cell Research, Development, and Demonstration Activities in Singapore
The SINERGY (Sinapore Initiative in New Energy Technology) program led by the Economic Development Board is the single most important effort to introduce, develop, adopt and commercialize new technologies for clean energy. The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) has funded some important fuel cell related activities at Universities. For example, at the National University of Singapore in the Dept. of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, there is a team researching nanoparticles for fuel cell catalysts with funding from A*STAR.
Singapore is almost entirely dependent on foreign oil. The nation’s per capita energy consumption is also among the highest in the world because of its relative affluence, its hot and humid climate, its role as a transportation hub, its export business and the presence of key industrial and commercial sectors (i.e. wafer fabrication and other electronics industries). However, as Thye-Wei Loy reported, “...unless fuel cells can become economically competitive with conventional energy conversion technologies, they will not be widely used in Singapore.”
Fuel Cells- The DOE Fossil Energy Program
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is the largest funder of fuel cell technology in the U.S. Its Office of Fossil Energy 2003 budget was $60 million. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), in partnership with private industries, leads the development and demonstration of high efficiency solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFC) and fuel cell turbine hybrid power generation systems.
Currently, NETL is partnering with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNEL) to develop new directions in research under the Solid-State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) initiative for the development and commercialization of modular, low cost and fuel flexible 3 to 10 kW SOFC systems. DOE has estimated that a 5-kWatt planar SOFC system can reach $400/kW at reasonable manufacturing rates. SECA’s goal by 2015 is to have this developed technology to provide the basis for the development of systems that achieve 75% electrical efficiency and near zero emissions. J. Starkey of the U.S. DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory said, “With its low cost potential, the SOFC has the potential of wider and deeper market penetration than other fuel cells.”
The SECA program is dedicated to developing innovative, effective, low-cost ways to commercialize solid oxide fuel cells. SECA fuel cells will operate on conventional fuels such as natural gas, diesel,as well as coal, gas and hydrogen - the fuel of tomorrow. Some of SECA’s projects are:
• Delphi, in partnership with Battelle, is developing a 5 kW, planar, 700 - 800 C, anode-supported SOFC compact unit for distributed generation and auxiliary power units.
• General Electric has developed a natural gas 5kW, planar, 700 - 800C, anode-supported SOFC compact unit for residential power markets.
•Cummins and SOFCo (formerly McDermott) are developing a 10kW product initially for recreational vehicles that would run on propane using a catalytic partial oxidation reformer.
• Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. is developing 5-10 kW products to satisfy multiple markets.
In FY (fiscal year) 2003, DOE FE (fossil energy) will begin funding two additional teams from Fuel Cell Energy and Acumentrics. These teams represent additional industry design alternatives for a broader market.
The SOFC SECA-hybrid is a key part of the FutureGen plans, a Presidential initiative to produce hydrogen from coal. Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. and FuelCell Energy both have early hybrids which are currently being tested.
The FreedeomCAR and Hydrogen Fuel Initiative
With FreedomCAR and Fuel Initiative in 2003, $270 million was added for new funding for research, development and demonstration of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies over the next five years. The U.S. DOE is implementing the initiatives though the Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Infrastructure Technologies (OHFCIT) . The goal is to have fuel cell vehicles in the showroom and hydrogen at refueling stations by 2020.To reach such a goal, FY appropriations for FreedomCAR components totalled $159.4million and in FY 2004, the budget for FreedomCAR and fuel components will jump top $272.8 million.
The focus of the program is on polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology with its potential for low cost, good power density and quick start-up. On-board fuel processing is targeted where fuels, supplied by the existing infrastructure (gasoline, methanol, ethanol and natural gas) can be processed on-board the vehicle to supply hydrogen.
A key component of fuel cell stack is the membrane electrode assembly (MEA). Partnering with industry, the DOE is working to develop low-platinum MEAs in parallel with high-volume manufacturing.
PEM fuel cell systems also have too low power density when the stack is operating at high Voltage. Since the cathode is the limiting component here, the DOE is exploring new cathode catalysts and optimized electrode structures to improve performance.
The DOE’s hydrogen storage activities are focusing primarily on the research and development of on-board vehicular hydrogen storage systems that will allow for a driving range of 300 miles or more. The government is looking at new improved storage tank designs and materials. Hydride research is also receiving attention; here, research is needed to improve hydrogen capacity and reversibility at practical operating temperatures and pressures - all within fueling time constraints.
In reference to fuel processing, start-up capabilities have not yet reached performance levels acceptable for automobiles because of the large thermal mass and high operating temperatures. Start-up times are currently about 10 minutes. Although the DOE is working on this problem, including developing microchannel fuel processing technology to achieve dramatic size reduction and improve start-up, they have set a deadline for a go/no-go decision in FY 2004 , where fuel-flexible fuel processing must demonstrate the capability to achieve start-up in 30 seconds or DOE-sponsored fuel processor R&D will be terminated.
The DOE is also in a unique position, as a neutral party, to help develop codes and standards which will be needed as the hydrogen economy advances. They will also have enormous role in transitioning the current petroleum fuel supply infrastructure to a hydrogen infrastructure. Profuse quantities of testing and demonstration will be essential for both fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen infrastructure technologies to validate laboratory progress and “true readiness” for commercialization.
International cooperation can lead to success
To make fuel cells a true commercial reality, the world’s leading fuel cell organizations have signed a cooperative agreement which involves technical cooperation, information exchange, advocacy, harmonized product specifications and safety standards. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) was signed by the U.S. Fuel Cell Council, Fuel Cell Commercialization Conference of Japan, Fuel Cells Canada and World Fuel Cell Council/Fuel Cell Europe. These organizations represent more than 300 worldwide businesses, research institutions and others interested in fuel cells and hydrogen.
The parties have agreed to:
Promote policies that will lead to universal access to markets for all fuel cell products and help minimize trade barriers to global fuel cell commercialization;
Work with government and Standards Development Organizations to achieve harmonized codes, standards and regulations at all appropriate levels;
Advance the understanding of fuel cells and related technologies and fuels among policy makers, technical audiences and general public;
Encourage worldwide adoption of common test protocols, measurement guidelines and practices designed to promote compatibilities; and
Share educational materials and other information and collaborate on communications messages as a spirit of openness and collaboration.
Since the conference, U.S. Secretary Spencer Abraham signed an agreement with Goji Sakamoto, Japan’s senior vice minister of economy, trade and industry, for the two countries to work together on the development of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. The United States and Japan intend to exchange experts and share information on current policies, technological programs, and developments in fuel cells and hydrogen production, storage and transport technologies.
The rhetoric for collaboration sounds great, but the fruits of the labors of the various coordinated groups will need to create goals to achieve ‘yet to be determined’ benchmarks in the next few years. The climb to the top for fuel cells is still a strenuous and steep uphill battle - technologically, environmentally, economically and politically. Once the technical hurdles are overcome and cost goals are met, the general public, being influenced by the political and economic climate in all countries involved, will make the final decision on the level of acceptance for fuel cells and a hydrogen economy.