Somehow, some way, fuel cell electric vehicles are inching their way into the market. In the latest development, London Mayor Boris Johnson announced the first phase in the delivery of 12 Toyota Mirai FCEVs along with the rollout of new hydrogen fueling stations, all in support of the mayor’s ambitious plan to establish an “Ultra Low Emission Zone” in the city by 2020. Twelve doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but put it in the context of several other fuel cell initiatives for the UK and European Union, and you’ve got the beginnings of yet another potential mobility revolution.
FCEVs — An Urban Solution
No Ultra Low Emission Zone for you, “clean diesel” vehicles!
With clean diesel exposed as a marketing ploy — as recently revealed, many diesel autos models are dirtier than advertised, though none came close to the apparently criminal behavior of Volkswagen — we’re guessing that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone will be populated primarily by walkers, cyclists, and battery EVs (BEVs), at least for starters. While a number of automakers appear committed to FCEVs, they have a lot of catching up to do compared to BEVs.
On the other hand, all things being equal (which they’re not — yet — but that’s another story) fuel cells have one potential advantage over battery EVs in crowded environments. That edge is already becoming apparent as the need to establish “charging etiquette” is beginning to emerge in the BEV field. The trouble starts when people keep their EV parked at a charging station long after the battery is charged.
There are solutions for the charging etiquette problem (including, some day, automatic charge-and-park), but in the meantime, the edge would go to vehicles that refuel quickly while the driver stands by.
The London FCEV Experiment
Toyota has already identified London as a “key city” for marketing its FCEVs, and when Mayor Johnson announced the new London FCEV initiative earlier this week, his media office called the 12 new vehicles as part and parcel of a larger plan to “pioneer the use of the cleanest, greenest technology for the future of transport and infrastructure in the capital.”
The 12 new FCEVs will come to the city in stages over the next few months, with the first four going to Transport for London as maintenance vehicles. The other eight are going to the private companies as showcase vehicles, one of which is hydrogen production specialist ITM Power.
Along with announcing the 2020 goal for the forthcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone — apparently the first in the world — the Mayor also used the occasion to remind folks that the city’s transportation agency, Transport for London, is an early FCEV adopter, having launched the largest fuel cell bus fleet in the UK back in 2010.
The city’s organized FCEV effort dates back to 2002 with the establishment of the stakeholder group Hydrogen London, and the aforementioned bus fleet still numbers only eight. Another two fuel cell buses are on the way next year, so things have been moving along at a very slow clip.
That could change after this year. City planners anticipate that establishment of the Ultra Low Emission Zone will kickstart the interest in FCEVs, and they are already banking on a sharp increase in the number of hydrogen fueling stations by the end of next year through the EU’s HyFIVE initiative. In addition to Toyota, automaker Hyundai is also eyeballing the London market.
Renewable Hydrogen in the USA
If ITM Power rings a bell, that’s because its on the CleanTechnica radar for its focus on renewable hydrogen. Last month, the company rolled out a plan to install hydrogen fuel stations along the M1, including a wind-powered hydrogen station with storage in South Yorkshire.
Renewable hydrogen also appears to be edging into the US market, at least for stationary fuel cells to replace diesel generators.
Last month, we took note of a renewable hydrogen project in Hawaii, using solar-derived hydrogen produced at a nearby US Air Force base. The project is aimed at demonstrating how fuel cells can replace diesel at seaports, as part of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Ports Initiative to improve air quality at, you guessed it, ports.
EPA has big plans for the Hawaii project. If all goes well, the agency expects stationary fuel cells to replace diesel generators at ports throughout the US and around the globe, too.
Meanwhile, FCEVs are also getting a workout in Hawaii. Back in 2012 the Army nailed down a fleet of GM FCEVs, and plans are in the works for more FCEVs as well as renewable hydrogen production using geothermal energy.
Last year, the Energy Department followed up with a $20 million round of funding for advanced hydrogen fuel stations and renewable hydrogen, so stay tuned.
Image (screenshot): Hydrogen tank via Toyota.
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