Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are put to the test for fleet

Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are put to the test for fleet

Posted by

Kevin Blackmore

May 2018

A major project involving hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in London, Paris and Brussels has begun using a combination of taxi, private hire and police fleets.

Some 180 FCEVs split equally between the three cities are being employed in a project called ZEFER (Zero Emission Fleet vehicles for European Roll-out), in a €26m (£22.8m) pan-European initiative.

Co-funded with the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking( FCHJU) public-private partnership, the project has selected fleets which drive long distances every day, which need rapid refuelling, and which operate in polluted city centres where zero-emission vehicles can have the greatest impact.

The first 25 vehicles have gone live in London with Green Tomato Cars.

The project is being delivered by a consortium led by Element Energy, including hydrogen suppliers (Air Liquide and ITM Power Trading Ltd), vehicle end users (Green Tomato Cars, HYPE and the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime), observer partners (BMW and Linde AG) and partners supporting the analysis and policy conclusions (Cenex and the Mairie de Paris).

Bart Biebuyck, executive director of the FCH JU, said: “Project ZEFER is an important step towards widespread commercialisation of hydrogen cars. These hydrogen cars will be put under high utilisation, pushed to their limit to prove the case of the technology and hopefully we will soon see many more of them on European roads.”

Fuel cells are devices that convert chemical energy, in this case hydrogen, directly into electrical energy, water and heat. In hydrogen fuel cell cars, a high-power fuel cell and motor combination replace the internal combustion engine.

Like electric cars, FCEVs are classed as ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) since the only substance to come out of the exhaust is water vapour.

There are currently only two FCEV models available in the UK, the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell and the Toyota Mirai, although these will be joined by Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell later this year.

However, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have also been developing hydrogen fuel cell models, so the market could gradually expand over the next few years.

According to Next Green Car.com, one of the biggest current constraints is lack of a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure with less than half a dozen publicly available refilling stations currently in the UK.

Refuelling a FCEV is almost as simple and quick as using a petrol pump and anyone who has used an LPG vehicle will be familiar with the process.

The driver fixes the refuelling station’s nozzle to the car and locks it in place creating a sealed system. The pump then checks the seal can withstand the pressure by pre-conditioning it, before proceeding to dispense the hydrogen at the industry standard 70 MPa (10,000 psi).

However, while fuel cell production costs remain high, current FCEVs have significant performance advantages over battery electric vehicles (BEVs), including a  range around three times that of the average BEV and refuelling times significantly shorter.

In the UK, it isn’t yet possible to buy a FCEV outright; Hyundai and Toyota only offer cars on lease. While this is mainly due to the limited refuelling infrastructure, it also protects owners from any technical and durability issues associated with a new technology.

Hydrogen is sold in kilograms rather than volume and current prices are around £10 to £15 per kg. As the Mirai’s tank holds approximately 5 kg, a full hydrogen refill would cost between £50 and £75, meaning FCEVS are more expensive per distance travelled than both internal combustion vehicles and BEVs.

Manufacturers are removing this problem, though, by incorporating fuel costs into the cost of the lease, which means the entire motoring costs are paid in one lump sum each month.

The rest of the car’s running costs again bear a close resemblance to BEVs. Servicing costs are significantly less than an internal combustion car because of reduced numbers of moving parts, while consumables such as brake pads are used less because of brake energy recuperation.

FCEVs are also exempt from the London Congestion Charging Zone and, with no CO2 emissions, are exempt from paying Vehicle Excise Duty.

Meanwhile, ITM Power, which manufactures integrated hydrogen energy solutions, is to supply hydrogen for the Metropolitan Police Service’s new fleet of 11 Toyota Mirai FCEVs.

Vehicles will be fuelled using the ITM Power Hydrogen Refuelling Station network, which currently has five public stations in the UK with three more due to open at the end of June and a further four at the end of March 2019.

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