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Fuel Cell Seminar 2005 (Part 1)

Discussing Fuel Cell Programs, Challenges
and Markets
by
 Shirley Georgi

The 2005 international meeting of the fuel cell community drew 3,400 attendees (a record attendance)  from 36 countries.  The Conference was held in Palm Springs, California at the new Convention Center in November.  Temperatures in the 80s, beautiful sunshine and a picturesque  backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains helped to create a perfect setting for a Ride & Drive  and discussion about clean air, less oil dependence and a positive outlook for the future of fuel cells and a hydrogen economy.

Just 10 years ago, the theme of the Fuel Cell Seminar was entitled the “Dawn of Commercialization.” This optimistic outlook has been tempered by the stark reality of experience, and today the tone has subdued to “Progress, Challenges and Markets.”  Although there were two half-day plenary sessions covering  various aspects of fuel cells, the first session focused on the  automotive sector, the application which has the most futuristic and dramatic  goals for commercialization.  

Microsoft Excel ChartThe percentages are from the “2005 Worldwide Fuel Cell Industry Survey.” (The information is based on the aggregate results from the responses of the U.S. Fuel Cell Council, Fuel Cell Europe, Fuel Cell Commercialization Conference of Japan, Fuel Cells UK and Fuel Cells Canada.  The survey and analysis were independently conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.) +

As Russ Bosch from Delphi Automotive Systems noted, the industry is still in the R&D phase even though a few prototypes have been built.  Although much technical progress has been made in efficiencies and bringing down cost, in many ways, Wall Street as an investment  community has become impatient with fuel cell commercialization, so the lesson to be learned is that  while R&D is on-going, demonstration models are essential to help ensure the success for fuel cells.

To discuss the current  state-of-the-art technology and market readiness, the following presenters shared their insights:

Kevin Krist, Institute Scientist from the Gas Technology Institute and 2005 Fuel Cell Seminar Chair,  opened the conference with an energizing note, “Fuel cells will be commercialized on a wide spread basis.”  He highlighted the technology as being clean and quiet with cogeneration capabilities and high efficiencies - all of which can  be tailored to different  population needs and settings.

It would take 20 of today’s new cars to generate the same amount of pollution as one mid-1960s model car.  In another ten years, with the new automotive and fuel technologies, it will take 33 cars to produce the emissions of one mid-size  model.  (Information is from the Foundation for Clean Air Progress.) Information for the chart is from Catherine Dunwoody’s plenary presentation at Fuel Cell Seminar 2005. +

Catherine Dunwoody, chair of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, accepted the seminar’s  award for Dr. Alan Lloyd, the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, who was traveling  in China  with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  She outlined the programs for clean air strategies in California, the state which  ranks   9th as  the largest source of greenhouse gases and  6th as the largest economy in the world.   She heralded the fuel cell industry as being a major source for  improving air quality.  Although Americans have cut releases of air pollutants by more than 50 million tons since 1970, more  needs to be done in air quality  improvement.  Currently, the healthcare industry attributes  $50 billion in medical  costs to problems originating  from  air quality (i.e., greenhouse gases such as CO2,  particulates   in the air and other emissions.)

Gunnar Lindstrom of American Honda Motor Company, Inc. noted Honda’s aggressive program in fuel cell transportation by highlighting the current 15 fuel cell demonstration vehicles in the United States (and ten in Japan) which are currently being tested in fleet environments.  Honda is also a “first” in providing its FCX vehicle to a retail customer; the Spallinos Family is driving a fuel cell vehicle in their normal everyday activities in the Greater Los Angeles area . The family even has a fuel station navigator in the vehicle so they can access the closest hydrogen refueling facility.  

Microsoft Excel ChartVehicles contribute some 67% of California’s air pollution. While the state’s population continues to grow rapidly, the VMT grows even faster. (The above data  is from California Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality.)Because of the anticipated growth in the number of vehicles and miles driven, hybrid vehicles are not the long-term answer to the U.S.  dependency on oil.  Bryon McCormick of GM  mentioned that even  if all vehicles in the U.S. were hybrids today, oil imports would rise within six years.  Progress has been made, but more fuel cells and hydrogen- based fuels will be required to offset the oil dependency. +

Bryon McCormick of General Motors (GM)   ‘connected the dots’ between today’s status of autos and the future goals.  For example, he explained that in the category of efficiency, today there is an upper boundary of 20 to 25 percent but the futuristic goal is  to achieve greater than 75 percent. Today, vehicles have highly proliferated propulsion systems (which are costly), but the ultimate goal is a single propulsion system with one-tenth as many parts. With  GM’s work on the design  of fuel cell vehicles, the company will validate the automotive competitiveness of a fuel cell propulsion by 2010. Their demonstration models should be available by 2007-2009.  

The ultimate goal for the fuel cell vehicle is to have a 300 mile range with a 150,000 mile lifetime  and a performance range of 0-60 m.p.h.,  and hopefully with scaled up volumes, the cost will be $50/kiloWatt.  He stressed that fuel cells are not just a component change for  autos, but rather entail a new and  complete  system design change  for style and utility.  His view emphasized  that fuel cells for the auto industry are “a compelling business opportunity.”  

Russ Bosch of Delphi Automotive Systems compared the development of fuel cell transportation with the historical growth of the ICE engine He noted that issues are very similar; for example,  a refueling infrastructure did not exist when the ICE “prototypes” were first introduced.  “It took 20 years before the ICE engine was the clear winner.” After all, at the time the ICE engine came on the scene, steam power and electric vehicles  had a good foothold in the transportation sector.

Although he is the Director and Chief Engineer of solid oxide fuel cells and reformers at Delphi Automotive Systems, he stated that “there will be multiple technology winners.”  He sees solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) and battery technology coexisting.  “Fuel cells will coexist with and add value to the incumbent technologies.”

Microsoft Excel ChartIf the 1.1 billion  vehicles were lined up end-to-end, they would circle the world 125 times.  This visualization,  as presented by Bryon McCormick of GM, helps to illustrate his next statement, “We need to start early to  solve the problem (oil dependency) .”+

In referencing his own work at Delphi  with solid oxide fuel cells, he stated that the technology has an early potential with its flexibility  to work with current fuels and a range of future fuels; it does not require the use of hydrogen.  Other characteristics highlighted were: its high efficiency, reliability, cost effectiveness, scaleability from Watts to megaWatts  and its potential to be used in a hybrid system (i.e,. an SOFC/gas turbine hybrid) . Its drawback is that SOFC’s have a much longer start and shut down times than PEM technology but that is not a crucial element for all applications.

One application Mr. Bosch sees for SOFCs in transportation is the use of the technology in auxiliary power units for trucks.  Today, an ICE  with a size of 150 liters can provide 15 percent efficiency, but Mr. Bosch believes that the Delphi system can bring that size down to 70 liters with a 35 percent efficiency rating.     

Kees Van der Klein of the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands provided a view from the European Community.  As leader of a market-oriented foundation for research, development and consulting in fuel cells, he is well-versed in policies in the development of renewable energies that have direct application for commercialization.  He noted the needs  of working toward a security of supply in energy and a duty to deal with global warming.  In referring to hydrogen as  a solution  for our energy needs,  he called it the “freedom fuel.”

Microsoft Excel ChartHighway vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution in the U.S., producing 29 - 63% of key chemicals that cause smog and health problems.  (Information is from www.fueleconomy.gov) +

He reminded the audience that with greenhouse gas emissions forecasted to peak within the 20 years,  there is need for this number to decline if global warming is  to be limited to 20 C.  Limiting the temperature rise to 20 C. will most likely require greenhouse gas concentrations to be stabilized at levels  even lower than 550 ppm CO2 eq. The present concentration is about 380 ppm and is rising at an average rate of 0.5%  year.  As Mr. Van der Klein indicated, the European Union (EU) is studying  global warming very seriously. “Recent studies have underpinned the EU’s 20 C. target.  Significant impacts on ecosystems and water resources are likely even with a temperature increase between 1 - 20 C.  But once the global temperature increase exceeds 20 C, climate impacts on ecosystems, food production and water supply are projected to increase significantly and unexpected response of the climate becomes more likely and irreversible catastrophic events may occur.” (Ref. “Winning the Battle Against Climate Change,” European Commission, 02/05)   

Mr. Van der Kelin called on short term acting and long term thinking throughout the energy transition  that is needed to promote cleaner air while ensuring a secure supply of energy.  Not only is technology innovation needed to make progress, but there also must be a proposition for economic value, business opportunity  and  accommodation for customer preference .
BD