A Conversation with Ralph Clague, Chief Development Officer

Ralph Clague joined Nuvera in October 2021 as Chief Development Officer. We asked him about his background, interests, and vision for Nuvera’s technology and production evolution.

Can you describe your automotive background, how you came to the fuel cell industry, and what led you to join Nuvera?

Between working with combustion engines and then segueing into vehicle electrification, I have close to 30 years in the engine and power industry. Initially I worked as an analyst and designer of passenger car combustion engines, and later on Formula 1 engines. That experience left me convinced there must be a better way to convert energy from chemical to kinetic. I started researching fuel cells in 2003, wrote a PhD proposal for fuel cell research, and started on the zero-emissions path at Imperial College in 2005.

Joining Nuvera was a way for me to take one step further in this journey.

Can you share your insights about recent industry trends and developments with hydrogen and fuel cell technologies and products?

There’s been a huge surge of interest in hydrogen fuel from many industries over the last couple of years, most notably transportation and industrial applications. The primary trend and need driving this fuel cell surge is a demand for higher power at a much lower cost. Correspondingly, fuel cell products are becoming more mature and reliable, and durability is improving greatly making fuel cells a serious solution for a variety of vehicle and equipment applications and to meet clean transportation obligations.  

Clean transportation technologies have never been as important as they are right now. What is your vision for Nuvera’s technology and product development in the next few years?

Clean transportation is just one part of the enormous challenge we have to decarbonize the global energy system and address the critical problem of air pollution in so many populated areas. Nuvera technologies are part of the solution and we realize the journey for our customers is not easy. They face fast-approaching mandates and must weigh the operational needs of their vehicles with the availability of options.

My goal is to make sure that Nuvera is the easiest fuel cell company to do business with, and that our products stand out in terms of efficiency and power density. We know that our customers’ success is our success. And together, we can redefine what clean transportation means for the world.

As Nuvera’s Chief Development Officer, what is your main focus and what are your top priorities?

Nuvera is maturing and industrializing its fuel cell engine products through successive generations of innovative offerings. Nuvera forklift modules are now manufactured, sold and distributed by our parent company, Hyster-Yale Group, and our E-Series fuel cell engines are commercially available. We are currently developing a larger fuel cell engine to align with industry trends for heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles and machinery. Our top priorities are to maintain our industry leadership position with our open flow field technology, push costs down for the industries we serve, and serve as a model of flexible, high-performance fuel cell power for a wide range of applications.

What guidance are you providing for Nuvera’s team to incorporate customer-focused innovation into product development?

Our applications team works closely with our customers, even before point of sale, to understand which product satisfies their needs. That allows us to advise customers based on our experience of multiple integrations across all sorts of motive applications, advice that carries through sales and delivery to commissioning the engines. This gives valuable insight into the challenges our customers see in their future, and this information feeds into the requirements for our new products or product generations. Our production engineering team uses data coming back from the field to continuously improve our production engines.

Any thoughts or advice for the young professionals who are eager to enter the fuel cell sector, and may want to consider Nuvera?

Unlike combustion engines, there is a lot of discovery still to make in fuel cells. I love the challenge of understanding materials, mechanisms and processes that really have not been understood or developed before. Nuvera offers great opportunities to work in a growing and vital industry. Apply!

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over your career leading zero-emission vehicle development efforts?

Understand why you work, what is important to you, and strive to achieve it.

Do you have any insights you’d like to share from working in multiple regions and cultures?

My experience in several countries has taught me that “people are people” wherever you go. Within the amazing diversity of social systems we live in, there are people everywhere with the character, skills and motivation to create great teams, deliver results, and make needed change happen. Nuvera tries hard to embody that spirit, which is one of the biggest reasons I was so keen to join the company.