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Archive for 2010

This week there has been a flurry of activity in the stationary fuel cell market.  This week installations, deliveries, plans and sales of stationary systems were announced:

Two new Bloom Energy sales were announced today.  Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company anticipates it will cut CO2 emissions by 15% with the planned installation of Bloom Energy Servers.  The fuel cells should be up and running in early 2011 at the company’s Novato, California, headquarters.  An office park in Alhambra, California has installed 100 kW of Bloom Energy Servers, and if the system performs well, the company might install fuel cells at other properties.

In the midwest, Diversey Inc. has taken delivery of a 400-kW fuel cell system from UTC Power.  The combined heat-and-power system will generate 40% of the buildings energy needs and 80% of the heat.  The installation is expected to be completed by March, and appears to be the first of its kind in Wisconsin.

Ballard Power Systems announced today the sale of 1.25 MW of fuel cell power to a Singapore systems integrator.  The fuel cells will be installed at an industrial site to provide distributed generation, base-load power.  The plans include obtaining hydrogen from bio-mass, to further improve the greenhouse gas emission reductions.

FuelCell Energy has recently sold more than 10 MW of fuel cell systems to various California waste water treatment plants and facilities, all planned to run off of biogas.  We wrote an article about them all in our last (and sadly, we mean last ever) issue of the Fuel Cell Quarterly.

Season’s greetings from Fuel Cells 2000.  Looking to have a bit of fun this holiday, UPS Systems has installed what appears to be the first fuel cell-powered Christmas tree of the season.  Have a great holiday and a happy New Year!  We look forward to an exciting 2011 – the year of the fuel cell!

These days, most of us are familiar with the idea of life cycle assessments (LCA).   These studies attempt to look at a product, system, or technology in totality to determine its full cost and benefit to society from the raw materials, to the end of life disposal.  A sub-set of LCA are “well-to-wheels” studies, which look at the over-all efficiency of transportation fuels from the well-head to operation in the vehicle.  Fuel cell vehicle’s benefits are highlighted in this type of analysis because fuel cells emit no greenhouse gases while in operation, and are very efficient.  In fact, when compared to other technologies, fuel cells perform the best over-all, in terms of emissions and energy use, regardless of vehicle size.   Even when using the least “green” form of hydrogen, distributed from natural gas, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 250 g CO2-eqv./mile over today’s conventional ICE mid-sized cars.

Last month DoE released their latest well-to-wheels assessments of conventional ICE, hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, battery electric, and fuel cell electric vehicles.  One of the major differences in this year’s analysis was the splitting of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles into two distinct categories; those that are power-split, 10-mile electric range, and those that are series, 40-mile electric range.  These categories seem to take into account the differences between the Nissan Leaf (power-split) and the Chevy Volt (series), both of which are being offered for commercial sale in limited locations in late December 2010, early January 2011.  However, the results between the two categories of plug-ins are very similar, the only difference being how they use cellulosic ethanol and the U.S. grid mix, with the power-split vehicles reducing emissions 75 g CO2-eqv./mile over the series vehicles.

The FCEV numbers did not change much from the previous analysis, although emissions from coal gasification with sequestration have been revised downward, as has biomass gasification, both by nearly 15 g CO2-eqv./mile over last year’s numbers.

Well-to-Wheels studies repeatedly shows that fuel cell electric vehicles should be included in our future vehicle fleet mix if we want to get serious about reducing emissions from the transportation sector.

The President’s Council of Advisors released their “Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Changes in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy”.  The report attempts to outline a course of action to face one of our greatest challenges, “how to transform the energy system within one to two decades, through leadership in energy technology innovation, for the reasons of economic competitiveness, environment, and security.”

This report is refreshing in its honesty for why engaging in energy technology research, development, and deployment should be a top priority for our government, regardless of partisan politics.  First the report tackles the economic advantage improved energy systems will give us.  Historically, the US has been a technology leader, both in terms of sheer number of energy systems installed, sophistication of the electricity grid, and innovative technologies.  However, over the past few decades the amount invested in energy research has declined, and the report is very blunt when it points out that without immediate action the US will no longer be a leader, and will instead become a “technology-taker” with all the implied consequences.  This section of the report highlights what Secratary Chu said earlier in the week, and increased funding could help us leap-frog other countries that are investing heavily in alternative energy and the sciences.  If you look at figure 3-1 in the report, it shows the amount of Public Energy RD&D Spending, as Share of GDP in 2007.  When looking at how much we spend compared to other countries, it is not surprising that we are finding ourselves on the brink of playing  catch-up instead of leader.  Second, the report addresses the environmental benefits we could see in terms of acid rain, smog, and global climate change if energy systems were improved.  And lastly, the report acknowledges that our current energy infrastructure relies heavily on fossil fuels that undermine our safety and security.

The report takes great care to not endorse any specific technology, and instead looks to set up a broad-based framework to ensure that as a nation we achieve the best improvements in energy technology possible.  To do that the report calls for the establishment of a Quadrennial Energy Review, similar to the one undertaken by the Department of Defense, to establish government-wide energy goals, and to make changes to our energy policy as needed, rather than keeping on old paths.  The report also makes a very strong case for a large increase in energy funding, including 16 billion dollars a year in funding for DOE as well as 10 billion dollars a year from new revenue streams.  This increase in funding is based off of the success of other agencies such as NIH, as well as independent reviews from the American Energy Innovation Council.

The report also stresses that government support should not pick “winners” or go to specific deployment of systems, but instead should give us options.  This is encouraging news for fuel cell supporters.  Additionally, government should work to remove barriers to market entry, not impede change.  This will require working to smooth out codes and standards, give incentives to those businesses that use alternative energy technologies, and streamlining permitting requirements.

The European Union (EU) has been a leader in reducing carbon emissions for quite some time now. In the past few months, the EU has reaffirmed its commitment by announcing its willingness to agree to reduce emissions up to 30% by 2020. Mainstream companies based or operating in Europe have come together to support this 30% target.  The EU is attempting to reduce emissions in a variety of ways including increasing energy efficiency, increasing its use of alternative energy for electricity generation, and carbon capture and sequestration. Many European countries are embracing fuel cells as a technology to reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

In early November, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative Stakeholders General Assembly met in Brussels, Belgium. The presentations are available on the web, and are certainly worth a read. Be sure to check out Dr. Sae Hoon Kim’s presentation, “Development of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle in Hyundai-Kia Motors.” This presentation has a great section on FCEV safety, including crash test data. “Status of the first European lighthouse project to demonstrate fuel cell cars in Scandinavia” has a graphic of the hydrogen highway in development across Scandinavia, and shows how just a few stations could help jump-start the industry. Additionally the presentation has a few technical specifications for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell, the Alfa Romeo Mito, and the Th!nk FCV CityCar. Laila Grahl-Madsen’s presentation helps make the case for residential fuel cells in Denmark, showing the data from a few homes selected on Lolland Island for fuel cell demonstration. Finally, Christos Agratiotis’s presentation on solar hydrogen gives a great explanation of the HydroSol Project, which is using massive solar PV arrays to produce large quantities of hydrogen.

There are a lot of other presentations on the site. Post a comment below if you run across another must read.

In a speech yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, DOE Secretary Steven Chu said that the success of China and other countries in clean energy industries represents a new “Sputnik Moment” for the United States, and requires a similar mobilization of America’s innovation to compete in the global race for the jobs of the future.  He highlighted several technologies under development, including alternative energy vehicles, where China has drafted a plan to invest $17 billion in fuel economy, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel cell vehicles, with the goal of producing 5 million new energy vehicles and 15 million fuel-efficient conventional vehicles by 2020.

At the Shanghai World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, a couple of months ago, there were more than 150 fuel cell vehicles used as shuttles and transportation for guests, media and VIPs.  Many of the fuel cell cars were manufactured by China’s largest automaker SAIC Motor Corporation.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff presented their working concept of how the new post-2018 Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) rules would work when and if approved by the Air Resources Board next spring.  Overall the proposal is an unequivocal affirmation of the importance California places on commercialization of fuel cell electric vehicles in tandem with other electric drive vehicles as a means of achieving the state’s air quality and climate change goals.  Several environmental organizations offered comments, generally favorable, at the CARB workshop in El Monte, CA, November 16.  All endorsed an acceleration of the time table proposed by CARB.

CARB is examining infrastructure issues and plans a workshop early in December on the subject.  A formal staff proposal is also due out in December.

CARB is basically saying that to achieve 2050 air quality and climate change goals nearly 80% of the California fleet will need to be electric vehicles (fuel cell and battery, with an increasing percent fuel cell).  This level of penetration requires about 23% of the new car fleet in California to be plug-in or fuel cell EV (including PHEVs) by 2025. So the proposed ZEV rule will be written to produce that result, with about 8% pure ZEVs in the new vehicle fleet by 2025.  The environmental community proposed 15%.

Driving the program is a credit scheme that is based entirely on range at the moment, with a 50-mile vehicle earning one credit, and a 350 mile vehicle earning 4 credits.  (This weights the program toward fuel cell EVs.)

CARB estimates (and it is only an estimate) that the “likely mix” of the three classes of EV (Fuel Cell, Battery and Plug-in plus hydrogen internal combustion vehicles, if any) in the new car fleet in the year 2025 will be about six percent plug-in hybrids, 5% BEV and 3% FCEV, with FCEVs taking an increasing market share as time goes on.  This works out to about 50,000 FCEVs in the new vehicle fleet of 2025.  Remember, this is only an estimate and depends on the decisions of the manufacturers on how many of which vehicle types to offer for sale.

(California’s vehicle sales are 11% of US sales, implying a half-million FCEVs on the market nationally in 2025, assuming the national market opens up in parallel.)

If I haven’t confused you yet, there’s plenty to be confused about in accounting for ZEV credits (earned in the past by accelerating commercialization of ZEV-like vehicles) and a “travel” provision which favors fuel cell EVs, temporarily granting credit in California for a fuel cell EV sold in other states.

The regulatory scheme for 2018 and beyond will apply to Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM, Chrysler and Nissan vehicles but also to BMW, Daimler, VW, Mazda, Hyundai and Kia; the last five have until now been required to meet less stringent ZEV regulations because of their relatively small level of sales in California.

The Board decision is anticipated in April or May, 2011.

A new study set to be released in next few days, entitled ““A portfolio of power-trains for Europe: a fact based analysis,”  by the respected international consulting firm McKinsey and Company not only validates fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) as an essential component of the advanced energy portfolio, calls investment in fuel cell electric vehicles “a matter of urgency.” (p. 13) The study finds FCEVs to be “technologically ready” (p. 12) and “an effective low-carbon solution for a large proportion of the car fleet.” (p. 5)

McKinsey was asked what it would take to achieve the reductions in carbon dioxide emissions needed from Europe’s motor vehicle fleet to achieve an 80% overall reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 — the target set by the world’s largest economies, including the United States, in 2009.

McKinsey concludes that “Europe must achieve a significant penetration of fuel cell, battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars if it is to achieve its CO2 reduction goal, alongside large efficiency improvement of the internal combustion engines and an increase in the use of sustainably produced biofuels” (p.8)

McKinsey warned that government action and investment must begin now if policy goals are to be met by 2050:  “. . . investment cycles in energy infrastructure are long and for BEVs and FCEVs to achieve the economies of scale necessary to meet the . . .  goal, action must be taken as a priority.” (p. 52)

“BEVs, PHEVs and FCEVs have significant potential to reduce CO2 and local emissions, assuming CO2 reduction is performed at the production site. They play a complementary role, with BEVs ideally suited to smaller cars and shorter trips and FCEVs to medium/larger cars and longer trips. PHEVs can reduce CO2 considerably compared to ICEs on short trips or using biofuels, depending on availability . . . Medium/larger cars with above-average driving distance account for 50% of all cars, and 75% of CO2 emissions. FCEVs are therefore an effective low-carbon solution for a large proportion of the car fleet.” (p. 5)

While the results are based on the European vehicle mix and driving habits, they are relevant for the United States.  The technical assessment relies on detailed interviews in 2010 with 11 multinational auto companies; and is therefore applicable worldwide.  The vehicle mix in the United States tends toward larger cars and longer trips.

McKinsey also reckons that infrastructure costs are not a fundamental barrier for FCEVs, and indeed the vehicles themselves will quickly become cost competitive, especially for larger cars.  “Over the course of the next decades, costs for a hydrogen distribution and retail infrastructure are . . .  comparable to rolling out a charging infrastructure for BEVs and PHEVs (excluding potential upgrades in power distribution networks). The attractiveness of the business case for FCEVs is therefore hardly affected by the additional costs required for distribution and retail: if FCEVs make commercial sense – as demonstrated by this study – building a dedicated hydrogen infrastructure can be justified.” (p. 8)  Hydrogen costs are projected to come down dramatically. (p. 5)

“While the fuel economy of ICEs is expected to improve by an average of 30% by 2020, costs also increase due to full hybridization and further measures such as the use of lighter weight materials. The TCOs of all four power-trains are expected to converge after 2025 – or earlier, with tax exemptions and/or incentives during the ramp-up phase.” (p. 34)  The study find that with incentives, BEVs and FCEVs could be cost-competitive with ICEs as early as 2020.” (p. 6)

A 31-member public-private coalition sponsored the report.  A copy will be available soon at

As we wind down from the 2010 Fuel Cell Seminar and Expo, we must tip our hats to the South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance for putting together a great conference and expo.  All of us here had a busy week.  Fuel Cells 2000 exhibited for the first time in many years, with great success.  We met a lot of new comers to the fuel cell industry, and touched base with old friends.  Bob Rose moderated the States Coffee Break, and Jennifer Gangi gave a presentation on our new business case report in the Near Term Fuel Cell Markets panel.

I attended the Early Markets Success Stories Round Table, and learned a lot of interesting things.  Harry Pettit from Pepperidge Farm spoke about their experience with the two fuel cell systems at their Bloomfield, CT plant.  Mr. Pettit gave a frank overview of the fuel cells’ performance, noting that the power availability needs improving, but stressed that over all the fuel cell installations have provided electricity and heat for the majority of the plants operations.  When he spoke you could tell he really enjoyed his job, and took pride in the fuel cell installations he helped bring about.  Mr. Wyhe from PG&E spoke about fuel cell backup power in the telecommunications industry, specifically in California.  You know fuel cells are quiet when they are located near a famous golf course, as is the case in Pebble Beach.

I also learned a lot about the intersection between the fuel cell industry and the materials handling vehicles market.  It was not until I heard Gary Lunz from Crown Equipment present that I realized the true implications of batteries draining and losing voltage over the course of a shift.  Many in the warehouse industry are paid by the pallet, so any time lost due to recharging, swapping, or refueling a forklift impacts earning potential.  So even small gains in time are important.  Mr. Lunz also illuminated the design process for materials handling vehicles, and how they are not a one-size fits all industry.  Warehouses are built differently, with different sized isles, so vehicles get re-designed, which impacts how fuel cells can fit inside the power compartment.  Scott Kliever from Sysco, Houston brought up an interesting point about maintenance.  In the past, Sysco had to keep two batteries for each forklift, one for shift use, and a back-up for when the primary battery decharged.  Not only did the manager have to worry about whether or not workers plugged their batteries in a night, he had to deal with losing batteries to disrepair.  They were always playing catch up.  Now with the fuel cells, they replaced 200 batteries with 98 fuel cell units, and can practice routine, preventative maintenance, saving time and money.  Elizabeth Moore from the Defense Logistics Agency spoke about the materials handling installation at Warner Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia, saying even though it was not an easy start to getting the project underway, she wishes her budget would allow her to buy more.  Even so, she is leveraging the hydrogen fuel on base to power fuel cell-owered yard tractors and utility vehicles.  Ms. Moore and Mr. Kliever both stressed how there are options out there for leveraging an initial investment in hydrogen infrastructure, such as looking for where else fuel cells can fit into your operations, or even selling unused hydrogen for personal vehicles.  It is this kind of creative thinking from our technology’s early adopters that will help propel the industry forward.

All in all I think the seminar was a success, and I enjoyed being a part of it again this year.  Let us know if you were in San Antonio and your experiences last week!

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), spoke at the Business of Plugging In conference yesterday in Detroit.  The conference was sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research, DTE Energy, and General Motors.  Senator Levin has long been supportive of the auto industry, and is a member of the Auto Caucus and the Auto-Parts Task Force.  Senator Levin also worked hard to get new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in 2007.  So it came as a bit of a surprise yesterday when he called for eliminating CAFE standards in favor of a more aggressive, long-term approach to new vehicle technologies.

In his remarks yesterday, Senator Levin said, “CAFE forces auto manufacturers to focus on incremental improvements, rather than dramatic leaps forward.”  Instead, he believes we should rethink our regulatory approach, with the ultimate goal of making advanced vehicle technologies available to the average US family.

Senator Levin called out for government support for infrastructure and partnerships with industry to be more forward-thinkin.  We’re happy to see he included fuel cells in his advanced technology vehicle list.

“We need to rethink the whole regulatory approach to achieving advanced technology vehicles. We should explore the possibility of requiring, by a certain time, perhaps 10 or 15 years down the road, that the entirety of certain classes of vehicles be made up of plug-in hybrids, all-electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles or other alternative to gasoline. We would need to include in any such proposal a strong government partnership, investing in research and development and investing in the infrastructure necessary to support these vehicles. I know that the idea of such a mandate would be controversial. Thinking it through and avoiding unintended consequences would be difficult, but the incremental gains of our current approach are achieved at great cost in terms of resources and policy struggles.”