As the world moves toward net-zero carbon in all energy-consuming sectors, the International Energy Agency and many other organizations, countries, and corporations consider hydrogen an essential component of the emerging energy mix and a viable alternative to diesel, the conventional fuel used worldwide for medium- and heavy-duty surface transport.
Hydrogen will play several critical roles in this rapidly evolving transition – as a large-scale energy storage medium, as a low- or zero-carbon energy “currency,” as a feedstock for green steel, and as a transportation fuel.
Think of hydrogen as portable electricity. Like hydrogen, electricity is an energy carrier, not a primary fuel. It can be produced from multiple feedstocks – carbon-based or renewable – and is routinely transmitted and used for stationary power applications.
Nearly all the fuel used for vehicle propulsion is made from carbon-based petroleum. Internal combustion engines in commercial and industrial vehicles are primarily diesel-powered. Batteries have captured much of the electric vehicle spotlight because they work well for many light-duty passenger uses. But batteries do not work for many commercial operations – mainly due to their size, weight, and susceptibility to environmental factors that diminish their performance. Even when batteries can be used for the duty-cycles and operating conditions required (and not force an unacceptable compromise on payload or passenger occupancy, for example), the required electrical infrastructure for charging can be prohibitive for large fleets.
This is where fuel cells make hydrogen make sense.
Hydrogen fuel cells can displace diesel for virtually any operation. The use of fuel cell electric vehicles and equipment can improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency, and reduce ambient noise in the areas through which these vehicles travel. And another great thing for commercial vehicle operators is that a fuel cell electric vehicle can be refueled in about the same amount of time as a diesel vehicle. Recharging battery EVs takes much longer, even with today’s faster superchargers.
Nuvera manufactures hydrogen fuel cell engines for vehicles like buses, trucks, and port equipment, which incorporate Nuvera’s advanced fuel cell stack technology packaged with balance-of-plant components and controls to enable manufacturers to integrate them into their vehicles. Conceptually, this is similar to how an internal combustion engine is packaged for supply to OEMs and system integrators. Unlike their diesel counterparts, however, Nuvera® E-Series Fuel Cell Engines produce DC electricity, with no harmful emissions.
Nuvera also powers forklifts of many shapes and sizes at distribution centers, manufacturing plants, and warehouses. We make a fast-fueled drop-in replacement for lead acid batteries for electric lift trucks, eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming battery changing and charging.
Fuel cells have emerged as a clear path forward to reduce emissions, especially for medium- and heavy-duty applications. To consider what advantages fuel cells have over battery-only electric vehicles at fleet scale, look at this infrastructure and operational comparison between the two vehicle types.
For a typical fleet composition at a distribution center – 150 forklifts, 50 yard tractors and 90 delivery vans – fuel cell vehicle refueling typically takes between 3 and 10 minutes per vehicle, depending on the tank size, while battery charging would take two hours or even longer.
The real estate required for a liquid hydrogen installation is about 30 by 50 feet, compared to about an acre required for battery charging for a fleet this size.
The electric power requirements for a hydrogen station for a fleet this size are about 4 MW. The power requirements for a battery charging station is far higher, about 150 MW. In most cases a new electrical power station would need to be built, and cost many times what it would for a hydrogen station.
One of the most important considerations for the adoption of electric vehicles is the total fuel cycle carbon emissions of the feedstocks used to make either hydrogen, for fuel cell electric vehicles, or electricity for battery-only EVs. Like electricity, hydrogen can be produced renewably, either by reforming biogas or by electrolysis using solar or wind electricity.
We see the emergence of a robust hydrogen economy as inevitable. There is unstoppable demand for zero-emission transportation solutions around the globe, and fuel cells play a vital role because they enable vehicle electrification for medium- and heavy-duty applications.
As we say at Nuvera, the possibilities for hydrogen are limitless.