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Clean Energy Perspectives:
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Clean Energy Perspectives

Milestone Year for Fuel Cell Energy Installations

December 16, 2013
Milestone Year for  Fuel Cell Energy Installations

Bloom Energy's big-name corporate clients have helped it install more than 100 megawatts of electricity generation capacity in th past 12 years. One of eBay's new data centres even relies on the company's Energy Servers as its primary energy source.

But one of Bloom's competitors, FuelCell Energy, apparently has sold triple that capacity - 300 megawatts, which are installed or in "backlog". That includes the world's biggest fuel cell "park", a 59-megawatt installation nearing completion in South Korea. (It's supposed to go online before the end of December.)

"We installed our first commercial fuel cell plant in 2003 and announced 1 billion kilowatt-hours of ultra-clean power production in January 2011, which is a time span of eight years", said Chip Bottone, President and CEO of FuelCell Energy. "We generated the second billion kilowatt-hours in just under two years, and the next billion is expected to be generated in less than one year as a 15-megawatt fuel cell park is nearing completion in Bridgeport, Conn., and a 59-megawatt fuel cell park, the world's largest, is nearing completion in South Korea."

For perspective, 2 billion kilowatt-hours of energy is roughly the amount of power that it takes to run about 181,000 average size U.S. homes for one year.

Just to drive things home even more. The entire generation capacity installed by fuel cell technology vendors in 2012 was 120 megawatts, almost three times the amount installed in 2011, according to data from Navigant Research.

The number of companies in the sector generating revenue of more than $1 million almost doubled last year: from 24 to 42.

"Previously, the very survival of the industry was in question," said Kerry-Ann Adamson, research director with Navigant Research. "Today, in a number of ways, the fuel cell sector is stronger and healthier than ever."

FuelCell Energy's technology, called Direct FuelCell power plants, uses natural gas or renewable biogas (from sources such as wastewater treatment of food processing) to generate electricity. The technology is being used in 50 locations globally, bu businesses that are seeking an alternate power source - either to meet some sort of renewable energy portfolio goal or just to hedge bets against grid power failures.

The market segment targeted by Bloom and FuelCell Energy is for stationary equipment. Both are attempting to position their technology as appropriate for primary power in business or industrial settings, as well as for back-up applications.

Other companies attempting to reach the same spaces include AFC Energy (from the United Kingdom), Altergy Systems (U.S.), Ballard Power Systems (Canada), ClearEdge Power(the U.S. company that bought some the United Technologies fuel-cell division in mid-2013), and Electro Power Systems (Italy).

For the original article, please click here.

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Ballard Fuel Cell Systems to be Used in Telecom Continuous Power Pilot at India Cellular in India

December 11, 2013
Ballard Fuel Cell Systems to be Used in Telecom Continuous Power Pilot at India Cellular in India

VANCOUVERDec. 10, 2013 /CNW/ - Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ: BLDP)(TSX: BLD) will be supplying ElectraGen™-ME fuel cell systems for a pilot project in Idea Cellular's India telecom network. The fuel cell systems will be utilized in combination with solar technology to generate continuous power at five wireless base station sites. Funding for a feasibility study as well as the pilot project has been made available through a grant from the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA).

This project will support Idea Cellular's efforts to find clean energy solutions to replace the use of diesel generators in its network throughout India. The trial is scheduled to take place in early 2014 utilizing Ballard ElectraGen™-ME 2.5 kilowatt methanol-based fuel cell systems, which will be deployed in combination with solar power technology the five Idea Cellular tower sites.

"Idea Cellular, an Aditya Birla Group Company, has been a pioneer in renewable energy technologies deployment to power telecom sites in India, for the past several years," said Mr. Himanshu Kapania, Managing Director at IdeaCellular. "The grant offered by USTDA will further spur our efforts towards reducing carbon emissions from telecom infrastructure in the country."

Karim Kassam, Ballard's Vice President of Business Development added, "We are certainly pleased to expand our relationship with Idea Cellular in India with this opportunity to showcase our methanol-fuelled systems in a continuous power application."

Idea Cellular is India's third-largest mobile services operator, with 128 million subscribers, and has been powering telecom base stations in the region of Nadga, Madhya Pradesh with Ballard's ElectraGen™-H2 direct hydrogen systems since early 2012. These systems utilize by-product hydrogen from a nearby chemical product plant as a low-cost fuel source.

Increasingly, telecom network operators in India are looking to fuel cell technology to meet government regulations concerning deployment of renewable energy systems. India's Department of Telecommunications has mandated that at least 50% of all rural towers and 20% of urban towers be powered using clean energy systems by 2015. The regulation is targeted at reducing the country's reliance on diesel generators, which currently power 60% of all wireless base station sites.

Telecom Backup Power solutions based on fuel cell technology deliver a number of advantages over conventional batteries and diesel generators. These include higher reliability across a wide range of operating conditions, lower maintenance costs, longer operating life as well as reduced size, weight, installation footprint, noise signature and environmental impact.

Ballard's ElectraGen™-ME methanol-fuelled systems are particularly well suited for 'extended runtime' backup power needs. These systems are designed for high reliability, long life and minimal preventive maintenance. They include a fuel reformer that converts HydroPlus™ (a methanol-water liquid fuel mixture) into hydrogen gas to power the fuel cell.

The pilot project is subject to completion of final documents, currently in discussion between the parties. The USTDA press release announcement is available here -http://www.ustda.gov/news/pressreleases/2013/SouthAsia/India/IndiaCleanEnergyTelecomTowers_120213.asp.

About Ballard Power Systems
Ballard Power Systems (TSX: BLD) (NASDAQ: BLDP) provides clean energy fuel cell products enabling optimized power systems for a range of applications. Products deliver incomparable performance, durability and versatility. To learn more about Ballard, please visit www.ballard.com.

This release contains forward-looking statements concerning market developments for our products and corresponding value propositions for our customers. These forward-looking statements reflect Ballard's current expectations as contemplated under section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Any such forward-looking statements are based on Ballard's assumptions relating to its financial forecasts and expectations regarding its product development efforts, manufacturing capacity, and market demand.

These statements involve risks and uncertainties that may cause Ballard's actual results to be materially different, including general economic and regulatory changes, detrimental reliance on third parties, successfully achieving our business plans and achieving and sustaining profitability. For a detailed discussion of these and other risk factors that could affect Ballard's future performance, please refer to Ballard's most recent Annual Information Form. Readers should not place undue reliance on Ballard's forward-looking statements and Ballard assumes no obligation to update or release any revisions to these forward looking statements, other than as required under applicable legislation.

Guy McAree +1.604.412.7919, media@ballard.com or investors@ballard.com

SOURCE Ballard Power Systems Inc.

Image with caption: "Ballard ElectraGen™-ME methanol fuel cell backup power system installed at a telecom base station site (CNW Group/Ballard Power Systems Inc.)". Image available at:http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20131210_C9484_PHOTO_EN_34808.jpg

For further information:

Guy McAree +1.604.412.7919, media@ballard.com or investors@ballard.com

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Hyundai Will Debut The Intrado Fuel Cell Concept At The 2014 Geneva Motor Show

December 11, 2013
Hyundai Will Debut The Intrado Fuel Cell Concept At The 2014 Geneva Motor Show

It appears that Hyundai will be launching a new fuel cell vehicle in the near future. 

Hyundai has recently released a teaser and rendered drawing of the Intrado vehicle concept, current speculatation indicates that the powertrain is lighter and smaller that that of the ix35 Fuel Cell.

The Intrado will be making it's first appearance at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show. 

More information regarding the details can be found on the autoblog.

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Hydrogen Cars Showcased At Los Angeles Auto Show Could Be Future Of Transportation

November 25, 2013
Hydrogen Cars Showcased At Los Angeles Auto Show Could Be Future Of Transportation

DETROIT (AP) — Cars that run on hydrogen and exhaust only water vapor are emerging to challenge electric vehicles as the world's transportation of the future.

At auto shows on two continents Wednesday, three automakers unveiled hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be delivered to the general public as early as next spring.

Hyundai Motor Co. will be the first to the mass market in the U.S. It unveiled a hydrogen-powered Tucson small SUV at the Los Angeles Auto Show that will be leased to consumers. Honda also revealed plans in Los Angeles for a car due out in 2015. Earlier, at the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota promised a mass-produced fuel cell car by 2015 in Japan and 2016 in the U.S.

Hydrogen cars are appealing because unlike electric vehicles, they have the range of a typical gasoline car and can be refueled quickly. Experts say the industry also has overcome safety and reliability concerns that have hindered distribution in the past.

But hydrogen cars still have a glaring downside — refueling stations are scarce, and costly to build.

Consumers can expect costs in line with some luxury models. In Tokyo, Toyota promised a price of $50,000 to $100,000, and as close to the lower figure as possible. That's comparable to its Lexus luxury sedans, but a range that makes the once space-age experiment with fuel cells more credible.

Hyundai said it will lease the Tucsons for $499 per month for three years with $3,000 down. And Hyundai is offering to pay the hydrogen and maintenance costs. The company will start leasing in the Los Angeles area, where most of the state's nine fueling stations are located. California lawmakers have allocated $100 million to build 100 more. Honda wouldn't reveal any pricing details.

Even as battery-powered and hybrid-electric cars took on conventional gasoline models in the past decade, automakers continued research into hydrogen fuel cells, said Paul Mutolo, director of external partnerships for the Cornell University Energy Materials Center. Manufacturers now are limited only by costs and the lack of filling stations, he said.

Hydrogen cars, Mutolo said, have an advantage over battery-powered electric cars because drivers don't have to worry about running out of electricity and having to wait hours for recharging. "It's very similar to the kind of behavior that drivers have come to expect from their gasoline cars," he said.

Hydrogen fuel cells use a complex chemical process to separate electrons and protons in hydrogen gas molecules. The electrons move toward a positive pole, and the movement creates electricity. That powers a car's electric motor, which turns the wheels.

Since the hydrogen isn't burned, there's no pollution. Instead, oxygen also is pumped into the system, and when it meets the hydrogen ions and electrons, that creates water and heat. The only byproduct is water. A fuel cell produces only about one volt of electricity, so many are stacked to generate enough juice.

Hydrogen costs as little as $3 for an amount needed to power a car the same distance as a gallon of gasoline, Mutolo said.

Manufacturers likely will lose money on hydrogen cars at first, but costs will decrease as precious metals are reduced in the fuel cells, Mutolo said.

Toyota said its new fuel cell vehicle will go on sale in Japan in 2015 and within a year later in Europe and U.S.

Toyota's fuel cell car is a "concept" model called FCV that looks similar to the Prius gas-electric hybrid.

Honda, which has leased about two-dozen fuel cell cars since 2005, took the wraps off a futuristic-looking FCEV concept vehicle in Los Angeles. It shows the style of a 300-mile range fuel cell car that will be marketed in the U.S. and Japan in 2015.

Stephen Ellis, manager of fuel cell marketing for Honda, also wouldn't say where vehicle will be marketed in the U.S. But he expects hydrogen fueling stations to be abundant first in California, and then Northeast states. He predicts it will take five years for the stations to reach significant numbers outside California, and up to 25 years to go nationwide.

Hyundai wouldn't say how many fuel-cell Tucsons it expects to lease. The company believes that fuel cells will power the next generation of cars, appealing to affluent, environmentally conscious customers because affordable battery technology has not advanced enough.

"This is the sort of technology that makes batteries look old-fashioned," says North American CEO John Krafcik.

But skeptics say hydrogen fueling stations are more expensive than electric car charging stations, partly because electricity is almost everywhere and new and safe ways for producing, storing and transferring hydrogen will be needed.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan Motor Co., which has bet heavily on electric vehicles for its future, is one vocal skeptic.

"Having a prototype is easy. The challenge is mass-marketing," he told reporters. He said he did not see a mass-market fuel cell as viable before 2020.

For the original article, please click here.

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World’s first mobile hydrogen fuel cell charger, Upp, unveiled

November 20, 2013
World’s first mobile hydrogen fuel cell charger, Upp, unveiled

article-title

Hydrogen fuel cells could be the future of power. They use hyrdogen mixed with oxygen to produce energy with a by-product of water. In the case of Intelligent Energy’s Upp it uses a replaceable hydrogen cell to charge mobiles, smartphones, tablets or whatever needs power, delivered at the same speed as a wall charger.

Initially the Upp will launch in Africa as a means of providing sustainable, eco-friendly power. One hydrogen cell will provide five full charges of a(25Wh capacity per cell). And the only by-product produced is water vapour. A USB ytpe A socket means it will charge most USB devices with a 5V, 5W, 1000mA output.

The Upp also comes with an accompanying and Android app which can provide predictive usage statistics as well as user profile information to enable better management of fuel levels. The Upp itself has an Intelligent Auto Shutoff feature that conserves energy and protects the battery of what it’s charging.

“We are delighted to launch Upp, which represents a new category of energy device, and are excited about the transformational implications for the portable electronics market and the consumer,” said Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy. “With the growing demand for portable devices, mobile and cloud services, consumers want the energy independence to keep their devices connected and powered-up all the time.

"Upp is evidence that fuel cells are not just rocket science; the Upp fuel cell personal energy device has the power to extend your everyday life experiences and untether you from the wall socket, while making sure you stay connected.”

Upp will roll out in December. Pricing and international availability have not yet been announced.

For the original article, please click here.

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Air Products joins hydrogen fuel program from AFC Energy

November 20, 2013
Air Products joins hydrogen fuel program from AFC Energy

AFC Energy, a leading developer of hydrogen fuel cells, has announced that Air Products, a producer of industrial gases, has become its new strategic partner in the Power Up program. The program involves AFC Energy producing a significant quantity of electrical power using surplus hydrogen fuel that is produced at a major chemical plant in Europe. This electricity will be produced by fuel cells developed by the company and the project itself involved AFC Energy installing one of the world’s largest alkaline fuel cell systems at the chemical plant itself.

AFC Energy fuel cells heading to Germany

With Air Products now a strategic partner in the Power Up program, the chemical plant that will be used for the initiative will be located in northern Germany. Air Products operates a major industrial gas processing facility in this region and has access to nearby hydrogen fuel production operations managed by Dow Chemical. AFC Energy began work on the fuel cell system associated with the Power Up program in April of this year. The company expects to install its alkaline fuel cell system at the German facility at some point in 2014.

Fuel cells to produce 500kW of electricity during initial phase

The system is expected to produce approximately 500 kilowatts of electrical power during the initial stages of its operation. This energy capacity will be increased slowly over time in order to avoid any technical problems that could arise. The program is expected to help draw more attention to the capabilities offuel cells and how they can be used as a reliable energy source. AFC Energy has plans to commercialize its alkaline fuel cells in the near future and the program could add significant momentum to this initiative.

Fuel cells are gaining ground as residential energy systems

Fuel cells have managed to capture a great deal of attention for their uses in transportation, but these energy systems are not only used to power vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cells have been gaining more notice as residential energy systems due to their ability to produce electricity independent of an energy grid as well as their capability to produce a significant amount of heat. Fuel cells have also been quite popular in various industrial sectors for several years.

For the original article, please click here.

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Industrial Heartland plant home to innovative hydrogen-producing technology

November 18, 2013
Industrial Heartland plant home to innovative hydrogen-producing technology

Industrial Heartland plant home to innovative hydrogen-producing technology

Western Hydrogen’s chief technology officer Lyman Frost (left) and president Neil Camarta display solid tar-like asphalt/bitumen that is a byproduct of upgrading raw bitumen into crude oil. The private firm’s $15 million facility near Fort Saskatchewan is testing various feedstocks for use in a high-tech molten salt gasification reactor that produces hydrogen and carbon dioxide from any carbon material combined with water.

FORT SASKATCHEWAN - An innovative pilot plant near Fort Saskatchewan is producing hydrogen — the key to powering fuel cells and upgrading bitumen — with frontier technology brought from a U.S. government laboratory in Idaho.

“I look at this as the holy grail, something everybody has been seeking, a way to produce hydrogen from any carbon. And we are doing it,” said Neil Camarta, chief executive of Western Hydrogen, the private firm he owns with partner Guy Turcotte.

The two have invested $15 million to build the pilot plant, which for the next two years will test a variety of feedstocks, including bitumen asphalt, petroleum coke, natural gas and glycerol, the latter being a waste product from canola-based biodiesel production.

The plant, which uses Molten Salt Gasification technology, recently produced its first hydrogen gas from a sample of asphalt that was heated and mixed with water and injected into a reactor vessel.

The market for inexpensive hydrogen is immense, and Western Hydrogen is right in the middle of the Industrial Heartland region which uses large quantities of the gas.

“Our reactor can produce two million cubic feet per day of hydrogen. We would need to make 25 million cubic feet to be a big supplier to an upgrader,” said Camarta, a former senior executive with Shell, Petro-Canada and Suncor.

But he thinks the renewable market would be a perfect fit several individual reactors that could be located around a city and provide a local source of hydrogen. For instance, Western Hydrogen’s single unit can produce enough hydrogen to supply 50 hydrogen fuel-cell powered electric buses. Germany is a leader at using hydrogen fuel cells in cars, and makes it by using electricity from wind turbines to split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

“Creating hydrogen using electrolysis costs about $10 per kilogram. We can do it for $3 per kilogram,” said Camarta.

Lyman Frost, chief technology officer with Western Hydrogen, was at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory in 2003 when the first work was done on molten salt gasification.

“Neil and Guy Turcotte got involved in 2005 when this technology was still at the laboratory phase. By 2007 we had enough information to start designing a pilot plant. By 2010 we searched for a company to build it, and a Burlington, Ontario firm did the work for us,” he said.

The plant is installed on Aux Sable property near the Shell Scotford complex.

“What is impressive to me is that there are a couple of people up here in Canada who are willing to take the risk associated with making this technology from a U.S. lab into a commercial venture,” said Frost. “These are people who are interested enough in advancing the state of the art in making a cleaner technology for Canada and the world.”

Camarta adds “not too many private individuals are crazy enough to put their own money into something like this.”

But young engineers and researchers are intrigued.

“We attract staff like flies because they are so keen to work on this stuff. And it is fun to do, we have a great team here,” Camarta said.

The goal of the pilot plant is to obtain the extensive data needed for potential customers to evaluate and then build the reactors.

“The cool thing about this technology is that we can use any carbon as feedstock, and switch between them. Right now the industry uses steam methane reformers to produce hydrogen from natural gas, but that is the only feedstock they can use with that technology,” he said.

While the first tests are with bitumen asphalt — the hard residue from bitumen — it will also work with petroleum coke, a pure carbon material that is now buried in mine sites near Fort McMurray and has no economic value. The reactor can also use algae.

“Western Hydrogen doesn’t expect to build all the new reactors; we hope this technology can be used by the world,” said Camarta.

For the original article, please click here.

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New funding gives new insight into fuel cells

November 04, 2013
New funding gives new insight into fuel cells

Powerful scanners that give scientists a direct line of sight into hydrogen fuel cells are the latest tools Simon Fraser University researchers will use to help Ballard Power Systems Inc. create more durable, lower-cost fuel cells. Using these fuel cells in vehicles can substantially reduce harmful emissions in the transportation sector.

The new Nano X-ray Computed Tomography (NXCT) tools will become part of a nationally unique fuel-cell testing and characterization facility. The new four-year, $6.5-million project is receiving $3.39 million in funding from Automotive Partnership Canada(APC).

It’s one of 10 university-industry partnerships receiving a total of more than $52 million ($30 million from APC, leveraged by more than $22 million from industry and other partners) announced in October by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada(NSERC).

Research carried out in the new visualization facility, expected to be operational by spring 2014, will further the ongoing research collaboration between Ballard and SFU.

“This will be an unprecedented, world-class testing facility dedicated entirely to this project over the next four years,” says principal investigator Erik Kjeang, an internationally known fuel-cell expert and director of SFU’s Fuel Cell Research Laboratory (FCRel). “Beyond its capabilities, that’s a strength in itself.”

Says Ballard’s Research Manager Shanna Knights: “It’s a unique opportunity, to have dedicated access to highly specialized equipment and access to university experts who are focused on Ballard’s needs.”

Researchers will use the facility to develop and advance the technology required for the company’s next generation of fuel cell products, helping to meet its targets related to extending fuel cell life while improving efficiency.

Kjeang, an assistant professor in SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, says researchers using the new, sophisticated nano-scale scanning capabilities will be able to see inside the fuel cell micro-structure and track how its components degrade over time. The research will play an important role in the university’s focus on advancing clean energy initiatives.

“Partnerships with leading companies such as Ballard solidify SFU's reputation as a world-class innovator in fuel cell research," says Nimal Rajapakse, dean and professor, Faculty of Applied Sciences.

"This unique fuel-cell testing facility will be used for cutting edge research and training of HQP (highly qualified personnel) that will help to strengthen the competitiveness of the Canadian automotive and clean energy industry. We are grateful that Automotive Partnership Canada has provided this second round of funding to support the SFU-Ballard research collaboration."

Adds Kjeang: “Thanks to the APC program, and the support NSERC has provided over the years, I have been able to both explore the fundamentals of fuel cell technology and to successfully work with companies who are making globally leading advances in green automotive technology.”

A former research engineer who began his career at Ballard in 2008, Kjeang came to SFU to continue his own research interests while keeping a foot in industry. He also continues to lead a complementary project with Ballard that involves nearly 40 students and researchers working to improve the durability of heavy-duty bus fuel cells.

For the original article, please click here.

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Fuel-Cell Revolution: Can Toyota Save the Electric Car?

November 04, 2013
Fuel-Cell Revolution: Can Toyota Save the Electric Car?

Toyota has developed a new long-range electric vehicle powered entirely by a cutting-edge fuel cell. The project represents a dramatic departure from the goal of developing a mass-produced, effective, battery-driven electric car. But what does it mean for our future?

Soon there will be an electric car on the market that, believe it or not, works like a normal car. It will have a range of 600 kilometers (375 miles). Recharging it will take minutes, not hours. In fact, it won't even require an electrical outlet, because its fuel is hydrogen and it makes its own electricity. And, just as surprising, this car isn't the product of some bold startup company trying to secure venture capital -- but of the world's largest automaker

At this year's Tokyo Motor Show in late November, Toyota will unveil a sedan that -- despite the company's traditionally mediocre design and the car's moderate total output of about 100 kilowatts -- is likely to attract attention. It will be the world's first series-produced fuel-cell car to be sold on the market. Toyota has announced that it will be available for purchase starting in 2015.

The car is powered by a fuel cell -- a sort of power plant on wheels which combines hydrogen and oxygen in a controlled manner, producing electricity in the process. Although fuel cells have been around for a long time, they lost their allure when battery technology advanced, making fuel cells, in comparison, too expensive, too complicated and too inefficient. The battery seemed to have won the race.

This makes Toyota's project both revolutionary and sobering because it marks a turn away from the purely battery-driven electric car, which is being developed by almost every other automaker in the world. And ironically, this categorical renunciation is coming from the great master of alternative engine technology.

Toyota's First Revolution

Toyota, based in Toyota City near Nagoya, delivered the key to electrifying engines when it unveiled the first successful hybrid automobile 16 years ago. Since then, the company has sold almost six million of these vehicles, in which an electric motor supports the gasoline engine and braking energy is fed into the battery, resulting in high fuel efficiency.

It was the first time in the history of automobile manufacturing that a Japanese producer had assumed technological leadership and outpaced the rest of the industry by an entire decade. Toyota's fleet of hybrid vehicles already outperforms the European Union's 2020 emissions target, which would limit CO2 emissions to an average of 95 grams per kilometer, a target German automakers have tried to make less stringent via lobbying efforts and substantial campaign contributions to the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Now Toyota's competitors are about to be humiliated a second time. Many viewed hybrid cars as a bridge technology to battery-based electric vehicles. But now that they have started selling electric cars, they are confronted with an unresolved problem: The cars cost too much and are inefficient. Their ranges are too small and it takes hours to recharge their batteries. Electric cars have not managed to become the standard anywhere in the world. Engineers and politicians alike are realizing that batteries will not enable our mobile society to reduce its dependency on the exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

Battery Cars: 'Loss Makers'

Koei Saga of Toyota is a short, sturdy man who speaks very openly, but preferably not in English. The 62-year-old is part of the generation of Japanese business executives who prefer using an interpreter. Saga spent about 10 years working on hybrid drives before becoming the carmaker's chief developer last year.

Saga is standing in a reception room at Toyota's administration building in Nagoya, speaking loudly and confidently. Battery development has brought Toyota to the "half-point to our target," he says, but he doubts this goal will ever be attainable. Electric cars based on today's battery technology, says Saga, are "loss makers."

Tesla, a California startup miracle that produces electric sports and luxury cars and was briefly profitable, could serve as a counter-argument to Saga's statement. "Tesla is a rare case," says Saga. "They are targeting rich people, and you have many rich people in California." The battery car could exist as a niche toy for eco-snobs, says Saga, but it isn't suitable for the masses.

Toyota does use Tesla as the supplier of a battery engine for an electric version of its RAV4 SUV, but not out of conviction -- it does so to satisfy a California quota rule requiring a certain percentage of cars to be electric. Tesla was a suitable partner for the venture, says Saga. "We don't have resources for everything," he notes.

Toyota is directing its energies elsewhere. Company officials note that about 500 Toyota engineers are working on fuel-cell technology, which, even for a major corporation, is a considerable number. This suggests the technology is Toyota's top R&D priority.

The Catch: Green Energy

The key figures in the company's earlier advance into hybrid technology are the ones who are now pressing ahead with the project. In addition to chief developer Saga, they include nuclear physicist Katsuhiko Hirose,the descendant of a family of Samurai warriors.

Hirose, an eccentric intellectual, is sitting in a hotel lobby in Nagoya, wearing a wrinkled sports coat and a shirt open at the collar. He explains nuclear fusion with sugar cubes and the world's energy problem with charts on a scratched laptop, which he always has with him. He praises the Energiewende, Germany's shift away from nuclear energy and toward renewable energy, and wants to see Japan move in a similar direction. The island of Hokkaido has "enormous potential for wind energy," says Hirose.

One thing is clear to the decision-makers at Toyota: The environmental benefit of the fuel cell car hinges on an oversupply of green energy.

As tempting as the short refueling times and large ranges of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle are, this energy footprint is also a substantial deterrent. To be climate-neutral, hydrogen has to be split from water using green electricity. Then it has to be transported, condensed to the enormously high pressure value of 700 bar, converted back into electricity by the fuel cell in the automobile, and then converted into motion.

About 70 percent of the energy is lost along the way. In an electric car, which is charged slowly, thereby saving electricity, more than 70 percent of the energy is utilized. But from Toyota's perspective, this enormous benefit is worthless if the result is not a fully-operational car capable of traveling longer distances.

A Global Energiewende?

The efficiency drawback of the fuel cell car, physicist Hirose explains, would be offset in the long term if other economies emulated the GermanEnergiewendeand one day had a surplus of green energy -- and therefore hydrogen.

But when would this scenario become a reality? After the Fukushima disaster, Japan's energy economy has been inundated with problems. The island nation currently generates most of its electricity with natural gas, coal and oil. In Germany, with its Energiewende, wind turbines have marred large swathes of the countryside. And yet wind energy satisfies only 8 percent of demand, and doesn't even provide a reliable base supply because it depends on the vagaries of the wind. Energy storage technologies are urgently needed so that green energy can be reliably stored in the grid, in anticipation of times when the wind isn't blowing.

According to a report by the German Federal Environmental Agency, "a realistic expansion of renewable energy to the greatest extent possible will not result, by 2030, in a significant potential for surplus electricity" from solar, wind or biomass sources that could be used for hydrogen production. "This cannot be expected to be achieved on a large scale until at least 2050." A rejection of the environmental vision of the hydrogen car couldn't be put more clearly.

Forcing Change

This helps explain why there is so little interest in developing an infrastructure for this type of fuel. Germany has only 15 hydrogen fueling stations. And the recent announcement -- by an industry association affiliated with gas supplier Linde -- that this number will be increased to 400 stations by 2023 seems neither realistic nor environmentally desirable.

Toyota is aware of this. "We cannot solve these problems," says chief developer Saga. But, he adds, the carmaker must perform a pioneering role. According to Saga, it is Toyota's duty to offer a product that will make large-scale hydrogen production from solar electricity make sense in the first place. "Otherwise the change will never come."

There is a valuable idea in what he's saying, and it explains why the gasoline engine prevailed despite the fact that, at the time of its invention, hardly any oil had been discovered. It also explains why the electric car has been a failure. It is failing because it is an immature product, not because of a shortage of electrical outlets.

Competitors Get Into the Game

No one can predict whether the fuel cell car will ultimately be the key to our automotive future. But the competition is certainly impressed by Toyota's dedication. "I have great respect for Toyota, because they think on a long-term basis and they don't engage in technology hopping," says Herbert Kohler, head of R&D at Daimler.

The Stuttgart-based company was the first automaker to show its support for hydrogen-powered cars. Back in 1994, Daimler researchers unveiled a small truck powered by fuel cells. At the time, the fuel cells and secondary batteries took up much of the truck bed.

Daimler has since invested more than €1 billion ($1.37 billion) in fuel cell drives, has entered into an R&D alliance with Ford and Nissan to bring down costs and is preparing for possible series production of the technology. As with Toyota, Daimler's drive modules have since been reduced to such a compact size they can be housed in a standard car without impeding on the passenger or trunk space. The three companies envision a market introduction in 2017.

Also in the running are a manufacturers' alliance consisting of General Motors, Honda and South Korean automaker Hyundai. After paying little serious attention to the issue for a long time, German automotive giant Volkswagen formed an alliance with Canadian fuel cell producer Ballard this year, so as not to be caught unawares in case the technology takes off.

The big question of whether Toyota will once again outpace the competition will depend mainly on the price at which it can sell a hydrogen-powered car. Costs were the main reason behind the slow development of the fuel cell drive. The first units still contained about a pound of platinum. Now, says Daimler executive Kohler, the amount of the precious metal being used has declined to about the level of the first catalytic exhaust converters, and it will continue to decline even further. The question is: how far? Can this car end up being cheaper than a battery-powered electric car?

What Will It Cost?

Satoshi Ogiso is standing in front of a party tent on an asphalted open-air site in Tokyo. He is smiling. Ogiso, 52, is one of the hybrid developers in Saga's team and his potential successor. Japanese and American test drivers are driving prototypes of the fuel-cell car. The engines are on display inside the tent. They are small, relatively light and easy to install. No one doubts anymore that this technology works. Everyone wants to know how much the car will cost.

Ogiso cites two numbers. The price of the first series-produced fuel-cell car will range between five and 10 million yen, he says. That's about €37,000 to €74,000. The higher number would be astonishingly cheap, while €37,000 would be a sensation -- a car with a completely new drive technology for the price of a well-equipped, conventional mid-range car.

Daimler's Kohler prefers not to comment on these numbers, but he doesn't hide the fact that he's impressed. "It's certainly not a marketing gag," he says.

That much is clear.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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