Part 2 – Real World Transport Applications

Transport is going sustainable at a faster rate than ever before – with the world moving to more sustainable electric vehicle technology for road, rail, sea and air applications.

Two technologies are driving this change – lithium ion batteries, and hydrogen fuel cells.

At AMS Composite Cylinders, we’ve been at the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell technology for several years – providing ultra-lightweight carbon composite cylinders for several projects, including the World’s first hydrogen bike and Europe’s first hydrogen drone.

In part 2 of this series (check out part 1 on the technology and environmental impact), we’re looking at some of the real world lithium ion and hydrogen fuel cell applications across road, rail, sea and air, looking at how these technologies will transform the world in the coming years.

Sustainable Road Transport

All the world’s automakers are investing heavily in electric passenger cars – with the primary focus being on lithium ion battery models.

Earlier this year, Tesla became the most valuable US car maker, and is quickly closing in on VW (the world’s second most valuable auto company). With dozens of new models planned by all the major players. it seems clear that electric battery technology has a bright future in the passenger vehicle market.

Can hydrogen catch up? Possibly, but it does have a long way to go! There are already several passenger car models on the road with a fuel cell option, including the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity and Hyundai ix35.

The market is small but growing, and developing a dedicated following in certain markets, such as Japan and California, where the refuelling network is starting to mature.

Other automakers, including BMW, Daimler, Mercedes, Audi and Ford are also planning to release hydrogen vehicles in the near future. By the middle of the decade, virtually all the world’s major automakers have plans in place to release hydrogen powered variants.

Infrastructure Maturity

Over the last decade, the infrastructure supporting lithium-ion battery cars has matured significantly – with an established network of recharging stations across the developed world. This has laid the groundwork for significant growth in the electric car market, which could make up around 30% of all road vehicles by 2030.

Currently, the same simply cannot be said for hydrogen. Although infrastructure is growing steadily, the lack of available refuelling stations outside of Japan and California is a major roadblock to widespread consumer adoption of passenger vehicles.

However, it is a different story for commercial and fleet applications – where we’re starting to see the creation of small hydrogen processing plants at refuelling stations, business premises and distribution hubs.

A few years ago, this was a hypothetical concept, but today, standalone hydrogen refuelling stations (like this one from Ataway) using electrolysis are appearing across the world. Scaling up this technology opens up opportunities across rail, road, sea and air.

Dedicated, on-site hydrogen processing plants at ports, rail depots, logistics centres and airports linked to renewable sources of energy production offer the potential for huge growth in the coming years.

Applications – The Future of Flight

One area where hydrogen fuel cells have shown particular advantages over battery technology is in flight.

Drones

At AMS Composite Cylinders, we have already been heavily involved in several Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) projects. Using hydrogen fuel cells and our ultra-lightweight cylinders, the drone manufacturers have been able to deliver UAVs with flight times of several hours.

Currently, comparable lithium ion drones deliver maximum flight times of around 30 minutes, so it’s a huge step change in terms of performance. This could enable the development of a number of exciting potential applications, such as delivery by drone and personal transport.

Commercial planes

Although there have been successful flights of small battery-powered aircraft – the power to weight ratio makes it particularly challenging to scale up to larger commercial aircraft.

Hydrogen does not pose the same problems, and there are a number of hydrogen fuel cell and liquid hydrogen powertrains under development. ZeroAvia is currently testing the first commercial hydrogen plane. It features 20 seats and a 500 mile range, and is aiming for a commercial launch in 2022.

Another big advantage here is that hydrogen fuel cell and liquid hydrogen systems can be retrofitted to existing airframes – something that is more challenging with battery systems.

In terms of cost, the advances in hydrogen production outlined earlier in the article mean that is makes sense from a financial standpoint as well. It’s predicted by 2024, hydrogen will cost less than jet fuel.

Sustainable Shipping – Battery, Hydrail and Hydrogen

Battery systems and fuel cells are also finding favour for larger applications, such as ships and trains.

Maritime

The world’s first electric cargo ship, the Yara Birkeland, is set for launch in 2022 – but the limits of the battery technology mean that it will be reduced to relatively short routes.

At the same time, The Energy Observer – the world’s first hydrogen powered ship, is currently on a six-year round the world voyage. The ship produces hydrogen by demineralising seawater, then separating the hydrogen through electrolysis – using built in solar panels, wind and wave turbines to power the process.

It’s fully self-sufficient, and capable of sustaining a speed of more than 7 knots.

Although sustainable shipping is in its infancy, hydrogen looks to provide a more realistic, efficient and effective option for the future of long-range cargo shipping.

Hydrail

The first hydrogen powered trains are now in operation in Germany, and the UK has plans to bring several units online by 2022, as part of its ongoing mission to phase out all diesel trains by 2040.

Hydrogen powered trains have the potential to offer an excellent alternative to electric trains in areas where there are no overhead power lines.

A Bright Future – Conclusions

Electric battery and hydrogen technology are developing at an incredible rate – and today, it’s difficult to see a future where both systems don’t play an integral part in the transport matrix.

For passenger vehicles, the established infrastructure and market share of battery systems suggests that these will make up the majority of electric cars in the next 20 years, although we are likely to see some hydrogen cars join them on the roads.

For fleet vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells are much more promising.  For municipal vehicles, delivery and freight, hydrogen is already showing its potential.

Outside of this, for flight, rail, maritime and personal transport applications, we believe that hydrogen fuel cell technology will be integral to the transformation towards zero emission transport.

Lightweight Carbon Composite Cylinders from AMS

AMS Composite Cylinders supplies a full range of advanced, lightweight gas cylinders to customers across the UK and Europe.

In addition to hydrogen fuel cells, our cylinders are used in a wide variety of applications, including healthcare, respiratory, SCBA, laboratory, industrial, emergency, aerospace, and environmental uses.

Carbon composite cylinders offer high pressure (300 Bar), low weight, and NLL (Non-Limited Life) performance, and are accredited for use worldwide, in line with ISO 11119-2, UN-TPED Pi, DOT (USA), TC (Canada).

Additional information about AMS Composite Cylinders Ltd can be found at www.ams-composites.com.

This blog was written by Steve Langron PhD, Director of AMS Composite Cylinders