Rapid electrification in the automobile industry has given consumers expanded choices to green their mobility. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) have the benefit of simplicity of infrastructure in the sense that they can be “easily” plugged in to an outlet and charged. The significant downside is that charging time is long and vehicle range is short. A typical full battery charge can be 4-8 hours from a Level 2 charger. On the other hand, Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) are the only Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) that can completely replicate the current driving experience. FCEVs can be fueled in 3-5 minutes and get 300-400 miles of driving range. Automakers such as Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes have vehicles available now in select markets. The U.S. projects 1,000,000 FCEVs by 2030. Still, one million fuel cell cars in the U.S. represent only 0.5% of total cars within the U.S. economy. Installation of hydrogen refueling infrastructure will pace fuel cell adoption rate, so broad mainstream consumer usage across the country is likely 25-30 years away.
Why will it take so long? There are two limiting factors:
#1 Hydrogen Availability: The average consumer will not purchase a hydrogen car until they don’t have to think about logistics to refuel it. Currently, consumers owning gasoline-powered cars drive to a nearby gas station as needed without much thought involved. By comparison, hydrogen is not a readily-available fuel… at least not yet (except for parts of California). Countries like the U.S., Germany, and Japan are leading the charge to turn this tide by making considerable investments in easily accessible infrastructure. As a result, hydrogen stations are beginning to blanket cities to make hydrogen ubiquitous. When consumers need to fill up their hydrogen vehicle, they will drive to the local gas station, slide a credit card, fuel in 3-5 minutes and be on their way. Same consumer experience.
#2: Hydrogen Infrastructure Expense. Consumers want the same range from a fuel cell vehicle as they get from a gasoline-powered vehicle. To do this, hydrogen must be compressed (that’s where PDC Machines comes in handy) and stored in tanks at very high pressure. At 10,000 PSI, five kilograms of hydrogen can be stored in a tank that is about same size as a gasoline tank and provides over 300-400 miles of range. Same consumer experience. However, to store and dispense hydrogen at this very high pressure, gas stations require infrastructure that, today, is still expensive. Further, hydrogen stations are being built for future demand, which means the cost of a high-capacity station is very high compared to the number of cars using it. Economics will improve over time:
↑ cars on the road = ↑ hydrogen flowing through infrastructure = ↓ fuel cost at the pump
↑ stations = ↑ infrastructure manufacturing = ↓ station production costs
Impact to Businesses Adopting Fuel Cells
Renewable hydrogen can be generated via electrolysis (splitting water into its hydrogen and oxygen constituents) by using electricity created by renewable energy such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, etc.
Businesses using renewable hydrogen in their fuel cell vehicles will see greater energy efficiency in their operations since the fuel cell electric engines operate at over 50% efficiency compared to 20-25% for gasoline engines. These businesses will also see reductions in service costs; fuel cell vehicle fleets require less maintenance – no oil changes, no tune-ups, and fewer brake replacements due to regenerative braking in fuel cell electric vehicle drivetrains. For businesses with vehicle fleets, fueling logistics become much easier because renewable hydrogen can be produced onsite at their facility. Additionally, industries, such as food delivery companies, can rethink their operations by using quiet fuel cell vehicles during evening delivery hours to optimize their business models. All these benefits occur while reducing their carbon footprint.
Impact to Pennsylvania Businesses
For infrastructure suppliers and technology providers like PDC Machines, the expanding hydrogen energy market means more jobs in Clean Tech, specifically high-end manufacturing jobs. This also means more investment in domestic manufacturing and supply chain. PDC Machines is investing in expanding local manufacturing by about 50% to support market growth. This success propagates through the supply chain and directly affects sub-suppliers and other partners, enabling the growth of this important industry.
For more information, feel free to contact PDC Machines.