Automotive Fuel-Cell Agreement Could Spell Hydrogen Renaissance 

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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Automotive supplier Bosch and hydrogen fuel-cell maker PowerCell have penned and exclusivity agreement that could bring high-power and durable hydrogen powertrains to consumer cars and trucks in the next decade.

Swedish hydrogen fuel-cell brand and Volvo spinoff PowerCell announced earlier this week that it has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with German auto parts supplier Bosch to provide PowerCell’s S3 fuel-cell stack to automakers for use in the automotive segment for seven years.

As a part of the agreement, PowerCell retains the right to license the S3 for marine and stationary power generation applications.

The S3 fuel-cell stack generates 30 to 125 kilowatts of electricity, which makes it ideal for automotive applications. Furthermore, its bipolar plates are constructed from steel, which allows the S3 to operate under varying and rough conditions. Again, this makes it perfect for a car that needs to operate from negative 30 degrees up to temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit without skipping a beat.

PowerCell’s S3 fuel-cell stack is ideal for automotive applications, due to its size, power output, and construction materials. | Photo: PowerCell

 

Why Use Fuel Cells?

Although hydrogen has been slow to take off as an alternative propulsion technology. Only Honda and Toyota have made the significant plunge into the hydrogen fuel-cell-powered vehicle retail market. That, however, is likely to change.

The European Union has set strict regulations with the goal of reducing its CO2 emissions on average across its truck fleet by 15% by 2025. That percentage ratchets up to a 30% reduction by 2030. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) alone can’t achieve those sorts of reductions. So brands will have to utilize hydrogen as well.

Despite its relatively small infrastructure, compared with fossil fuels and electricity, hydrogen is a good midpoint between the two technologies. That’s because refueling a hydrogen-powered vehicle takes about the same time as refueling one powered by fossil fuels — around four minutes.

Then, the vehicle runs on electric power generated by the fuel-cell stack. And the only emissions from the onboard electric power generation is water vapor. So, it’s a win-win.

What Are The Limitations Of Fuel Cells?

The limited number of hydrogen filling stations isn’t the only hurdle to sweeping adoption. So too, is the matter of generating the pure hydrogen.

Although hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, it’s not found in its pure form here on earth. That means companies have to generate it from other sources. And its generation is hugely energy intensive.

However, hydrogen can be generated from natural gas, among many other sources. Some believe that — even with the energy input in turning natural gas into hydrogen — that is still responsible for less emissions than simply powering the vehicle on either natural gas or powering a BEV from electricity generated by burning natural gas.

What’s The Future Of Fuel Cells?

No matter, given the growing number of stringent environmental regulations being put into place across the globe, from Europe to China, hydrogen fuel cells are going to have to play a role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation and trucking. Hopefully, forcing the hand of the industry in that way will spur innovation and help improve the creation of pure hydrogen and then grow its infrastructure.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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