Formula 1 has been a hotbed of sport-driven automotive innovation for internal combustion transportation, so just imagine what the elite motorsports format could do for electric vehicle technology. That was the idea behind the Formula E series, which launched in 2014. Next year, Formula E creator Alejandro Agag will launch a sister series called Extreme E, which will take place in remote locations, which requires off grid electric vehicle charging, which is where the green hydrogen comes in. Got all that? Good!
Green Hydrogen Will Kill Diesel Eventually
Aside from its use as a fuel in fuel cells to generate electricity, hydrogen is widely used in food processing, agriculture and other industrial sectors, so transitioning to green hydrogen is essential for global decarbonization.
There being no such thing as a free lunch, the sticky wicket involves bringing the cost of green hydrogen down to a competitive level. Industry observers are thinking that will take a while, though costs have been dropping rapidly.
While that is going on, the UK fuel cell company AFC Energy has developed a business model that could bridge the gap.
AFC is initially targeting off-grid markets that are typically served by diesel generators, where customers would be willing to pay a premium for on-site access to zero emission EV charging.
Instead of trying to schlep hydrogen gas to fuel cells in remote locations, AFC has developed a full-on renewable energy solution called H-Power. The H-Power system links a stationary fuel cell and an electric vehicle charging station with an electrolysis device, which generates hydrogen on the spot by applying an electrical current to water. Solar energy provides the electricity, and Bob’s your uncle.
That’s apparently a perfect fit for the Extreme E series, which aims to demonstrate that electric vehicles are capable of handling some of the harshest environments on the globe while also calling renewed attention to the climate crisis.
Apparently so, because AFC Energy has been tapped to provide off-grid EV charging for next year’s Extreme E inaugural series. The hydrogen-powered EV charging venture will be a first for motorsports events, and probably a first for any sector of the event industry anywhere.
Considering that the H-Power system integrates sun-driven electrolysis, Extreme E will also be a trial by fire for green hydrogen production, too.
“For the first time we’re able to show that even in the harshest conditions we’ve got a technology that can stand toe to toe with diesel generators. That’s quite a milestone for the industry,” explained AFC CEO Adam Bond in an exclusive interview with CleanTechnica earlier this week.
Green Hydrogen Will Kill Diesel Now
You may be wondering why anyone would give up their trusty old diesel generator to try out this new-fangled technology, especially if it costs more. So, let’s start with remote, off-grid locations, where diesel fuel is difficult and expensive to ship.
All else being equal, the sustainability factor comes into play for businesses seeking to cut their carbon footprints and burnish their green profiles by deploying electric vehicles in remote locations. They have to charge up somehow, and .they would look mighty foolish powering up their fine EV charging stations on diesel fuel.
More & Better EV Charging Stations For Bigger EVs
That seems like a pretty clear-cut case for ditching the diesel generator in favor of solar-produced green hydrogen, but consider another alternative. Why not just use conventional lithium-ion batteries to capture and store solar energy for an EV charging station?
Good question! Next year’s Extreme E series will put the H-Power system to the test in extreme hot, cold, humid, and dry conditions, so when the dust settles there will be more clarity over the question of whether or not on-the-spot green hydrogen is a more reliable and durable energy storage alternative.
Aside from environment-impacted performance and durability factors, there is also the question of duration. Today’s generation of Li-ion batteries can only discharge for a few hours. Hydrogen can be stored for longer periods, enabling it to function as a baseload power source. Though getting costs to come down will be a challenge, a recent NREL study suggests that two weeks of grid scale hydrogen energy storage for wind and solar will be cost-competitive in the long run.
In the meantime, AFC Energy anticipates that the baseload capabilities of the H-Power system will attract customers who value performance and convenience. Those factors are magnified for fleet managers, who stand to gain valuable time by investing in equipment that delivers a fast charge on demand for multiple vehicles.
“We’re not looking to compete with the grid on price, but we can facilitate what the consumer wants,” Bond explained. “The way in which people are starting to interpret pricing around electric vehicles is less about how much per kilowatt, and more about convenience and convenience pricing.”
Bond also noted that the electric vehicle market is rapidly extending from sedans into larger vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks. Delivery vans and heavy-duty vehicles — even garbage trucks — are also in the mix.
That means battery packs are getting bigger. At the same time, the interest in faster charging times is growing, which means that EV charging station performance will be more important than ever before in the coming years.
The Ammonia Factor
Bond also briefly touched on the the use of ammonia as a hydrogen carrier, which is interesting!
One of the key challenges for green hydrogen fans is how to ship it economically, and ammonia could be the trick. The idea seemed rather exotic just a few years ago, but now even BP is getting into the act.
CleanTechnica is also keeping an eye on a green hydrogen-into-ammonia export project in Australia, so stay tuned for more on that. The idea would be to leverage Australia’s renewable energy resources to produce green hydrogen to make green ammonia, and export it to nearby markets in Asia.
Ammonia is another one of those widely used industrial compounds that currently leans on fossil gas. If and when ammonia goes green on a global scale, it will be yet another demonstration of the ripple impact of low cost wind and solar on fossil gas as well as coal and oil.
We also made sure to ask Mr. Bond about the electrolyzer part of the H-Power system. AFC Energy develops fuel cells, but the H-Power electrolyzers will be provided by another firm. We are dying to know who!
However, as of this writing the ink hasn’t dried on the contract, so mum’s the word. Stay tuned for more on that, too.
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Photo: Courtesy of AFC Energy via email.
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