APAS e-Newsletter April 2014


The Year of the Fuel Cell Car - 2014

Major automakers suggest that cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells will finally hit the road this year, i.e. 2014, despite fuel-cell electric vehicles have been announced as “another five years away” in the last twenty years, by many automakers.
A fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) works by converting hydrogen to electricity, producing only heat and water in the process. Hydrogen fuel itself can be developed relatively cheaply from natural gas, or produced from renewable sources of biogas or directly from water through electrolysis.


Hyundai Motor Co. announced in last November that it will begin offering a fuel-cell version of the Tucson crossover this spring, making it the first mass-market, federally certified hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle in the United States.

Steady advances in fuel-cell technology, new opportunities for hydrogen production and a growing commitment to building hydrogen infrastructure have led many major automakers to believe the true coming of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to the consumers. It was a comment by Hyundai executive in the Washington Auto Show in February.

Hyundai will offer the fuel-cell Tucson for lease at $499 per month with a $2,999 down payment, which includes all of the fuel and all of the service for the lifetime of the car. The company is now selecting customers based on their access to hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The vehicle will be available in low numbers to start, not yet a full-scale retail launch of the car.

Hyundai production capacity will build over the next few years; with the growth of the hydrogen fuel stations along with the growing demand for this cutting-edge technology.

Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have also pledged to offer next-generation fuel-cell vehicles set to launch in 2015 with each producing about 1,000 eco-friendly cars a year. Initial prices of these zero-emission vehicles, which cover longer distances than electric cars, will set below 10 million yen ($97,700), the Nikkei said.

Department of Energy (DOE) drive to push development
After announcing $50 million in funding for advanced transportation technologies at the Washington Auto Show, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz underscored the Energy Department's commitment to bringing fuel-cell technology to market. He also hinted that DOE could launch a new manufacturing innovation institute that would help to further reduce the cost of fuel cells.

With fuel cells, as with batteries, there is still the need for substantial cost reduction.

The White House earlier this month announced the first of three manufacturing consortia aimed at boosting energy efficiency and advanced manufacturing. The two additional institutes are still in the selection process and will be awarded in the coming weeks.

The auto industry has already brought the cost of fuel-cell technology down dramatically over the last two decades. According to Toyota, the company has reduced the cost of the fuel-cell powertrain by 95 percent since it started testing fuel-cell vehicles on U.S. roads in 2002.

Part of the cost reduction has stemmed from adopting technologies developed for hybrid and electric vehicles. Toyota engineers developed a new converter for the second-generation Prius that raised the overall system voltage, allowing for a reduction in battery size. The same approach has been applied to the fuel cell, where a new converter triples system voltage from the cell to the electric motor, saving weight, space and cost.

Technical challenges
Control system integration and tuning is essential for FCEV success. The fuel cell system by a technology developer has its own controller with approximately 30 sensors. They are used to track key parameters (temperature, stack voltages, airflow) that communicate with the master vehicle controller by CAN. It has seen situations where unknown error codes from the master controller have caused the fuel cell system to shut down to protect the fuel cell stack from overheating that could cause degradation or damage components.

Moreover, systems integration is crucial for bringing the new FCEV components together.

FCEV operating at up to 300V, is adding challenges to the safety requirements. Electrical systems must be adequately isolated and protected. And hydrogen fuel stored at 700 bar (10,000 psi) leaves the tank at only 3-7 bar (43-101 psi). Design and validation to protect the fuel system against the effects of extreme vibration and crash situations are critical issues facing manufacturers, he added.

Through-life reliability is a must for convincing FCEV solutions. OEMs and fuel cell system developers have already made “considerable” investments to understand degradation and failure modes of existing stacks, resulting in improvements and component count reduction for next generation technologies.

Recent advances in the power density of fuel cell stacks have been significant. The developer’ proprietary stacks have demonstrated continuous volumetric and gravimetric power densities of 3.7 kW/L and 2.5 kW/kg, respectively. Further substantive improvements in FCEV technology are expected to be achieved, particularly at system level with new material approaches and designs.

SAE adopts two hydrogen-fueling standards
To support the impending rollout of the hydrogen fueling infrastructure and fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), SAE International’s Fuel Cell Standards Task Force has completed two technical standards:

  • SAE J2601—“Fueling Protocols for Light Duty Gaseous Hydrogen Surface Vehicles”
  • SAE J2799—“Hydrogen Surface Vehicle to Station Hardware and Software.”

The standards have been created to harmonize hydrogen fueling worldwide at both 35 MPa and 70 MPa. Formal adoption of the standards by the SAE Motor Vehicle Council is imminent because writing the documents having been completed very recently in March.

Driving away range anxiety
But while fuel-cell vehicles are pushing the technological frontier, they drive like any traditional internal combustion engine vehicle, with a 300-mile range and a refueling time of less than five minutes. Functionally, it is a regular car.


The Toyota concept vehicle even looks like a most four-door compact cars that are already being driven on U.S. roads.
By comparison, the Honda next-generation fuel-cell electric vehicle on display in Detroit has a bolder, sleeker, space-age look. If Honda's final product has a similar aesthetic, it may have appeal among car enthusiasts.

More partnership
Last year, Honda and General Motors Co. entered into a partnership to develop a next-generation fuel system and hydrogen storage technology in the 2020 time frame. Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW have also formed a strategic partnership on fuel-cell technology. Nissan Motor Co., Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co. have formed a partnership, as well, that could result in a production vehicle as early as 2017.

It's hard to launch in high volumes that it makes sense to have partnerships, especially in the area of alternative fuels. These collaborations allow auto-parts suppliers to scale their products while the initial vehicle sales remain low.  The number of fuel-cell vehicles will likely ramp up steadily in the coming years as automakers work toward reaching a corporate average fuel economy target of 54.5 mpg. Auto manufacturers are also required to meet California's goal to have zero-emissions vehicles make up 15.4 percent of the fleet by 2025.

Operation barrier
Infrastructure is the greatest barrier to adoption, according to industry experts. Automakers and fuel providers have been stuck in a chicken-and-egg conundrum, each waiting for either the cars or the stations before launching their product.
California, which currently has 10 publicly available hydrogen fueling stations, recently approved more than $200 million in funding to build at least 100 fueling stations by 2025. Automakers have said they're concentrating fuel-cell vehicle sales in California, expanding to other states as more hydrogen fueling stations come available.


Hyundai spokesman commented that they are ending the debate by building & launching the fuel-cell vehicles into the market, followed by full-scale retail launch of the more vehicles when the barriers are removed.

The U.K.’s H2 Mobility Initiative identified a minimum national initial network of 65 hydrogen refueling stations (HRS) facilities growing to 1150 by 2030 to support a fleet of 1.6 million FCEVs. The industry-led German H2 Mobility Initiative has targeted a nationwide hydrogen refueling network of 400 HRSs, with plans to move from the current 15 to 100 over the next four years.

Connected-car Technology to save fuel

  A German OEM recently tested in Las Vegas, its prototype system in an Audi A6 to predict when traffic lights will change. When proven, Audi says that the car can help reduce CO2 emissions by up to 15 % and could save some 238 million gallons of fuel (900 million liters), if deployed across Germany.

It is because the technology would alleviate the waste of fuel & reduce emissions by the constant start-and-stop nature of traffic in city driving.

In the trial, the driver was told in the dashboard how fast and how slow to go to hit the next green light. The technology works by connecting the prototype car with a city’s traffic control through a 4G wireless connection, allowing the car’s computer to recognize coming light changes and to prepare the driver through a series of in-dash alerts. The technology has to be integrated with the city’s traffic signal system, monitoring the light change data. It is then combined with the vehicle’s speed and road traffic patterns to predict exactly how long a red light will last. A traffic light icon with a countdown shows up in the center display to alert the driver of the time remaining. This helps take the guess work out of how long a driver needs to sit at a light.

Comfort & Safety
If the vehicle is approaching a green light, the system can determine whether there will be time enough to pass through, or if the light will switch to red before it is reached.

If the light is likely to change to red before the vehicle reaches the intersection, the system can advise the driver to begin braking sooner, preventing abrupt stops.

Likewise, if the vehicle is already stopped at a red light, the Connected-car Technology system can calculate how much longer the light will be red and can access the car's start-stop capabilities and will fire up the engine "five seconds before the green phase." The five seconds seems like a lot longer than what competitors’ products have advertised to restart an engine in 0.35 seconds. The Audi explanation is that the five second window is to alert the driver that the light is about to turn green. Hence it means, Mr. Driver please get ready to drive.

This can help prevent unnecessary speeding and or encourage drivers to go a bit faster in order to hit the green, thus preventing idling and wasted time.

The connected cars themselves are able to pay more attention to their surroundings than an oblivious driver that doesn't notice when a light changes. It also reduces annoyance to commuters.

This has a potential safety implication as it can help reduce red-light running, as drivers won’t get caught in a yellow-to-red changing light. Further, it is yet another step toward smarter roadways, enabled by vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

Technology products coming soon

  Audi says the Audi Online traffic system could be integrated into any Audi model, "subject to the necessary government legislation." Aside from the tests in Las Vegas, Audi is running trials of the connected car in Verona, Italy and Berlin, Germany.

Now that Audi has had a bit more time to crunch the numbers about emissions reduction and fuel saving information for the connected car. For the system to enter production, Audi will first have to achieve government approval both for access to the traffic control systems, and for the technology to be used on public roads.

  OEM Peugeot and IBM have started collaborating on the connected car. In the announcement this week, IBM will apply its data analytics to a variety of vehicle and transportation technologies, ranging from information collected from Peugeot’s in-vehicle sensors to networked traffic infrastructure.

The overall benefit is to paint a precise picture of the road conditions, traffic congestion and even pedestrian activity on any given route & neighbourhood by analyzing the data from traffic lights, highway sensors and bridges and information fed back by smartphones and other sources with the connected cars.
That data can be parsed down to the individual vehicle to refine insurance premiums for individual drivers or provide detailed information on vehicle health. It can be mined on the make-and-model level to help Peugeot build more fuel-efficient and safer cars. And it can be aggregated on the metropolitan level to help city public works departments determine the best time to salt roads for ice or transit agencies decide when to put more trains or buses in service.

The collaboration would result in driver-facing apps and web services for Peugeot customers. The details about what those apps might be, when they would debut and what traffic data sources they would tap apart from Peugeot’s own in-car sensors will be released later.