Best success story
As 2018 marks the ten-year anniversary of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), it is inspiring to look back over the many accomplishments of the past decade. The projects nominated illustrate the approach of continuous learning exemplified by the FCH JU’s projects, from creating low-carbon and sustainable solutions, enabling market entry for new products, developing ‘next generation’ products based on previous research, to opening new markets for European expertise in fuel cell and hydrogen (FCH) technology. As one success story includes several projects, we will give the award to the coordinators of all the projects included in the success story.
A series of FCH JU-supported projects have brought hydrogen-fuelled buses to the cusp of commercialization in Europe. By funding demonstration projects and bringing together key stakeholders on the supply and demand side, these projects are yielding impressive results: fuel efficiency has increased three-fold and refuelling time has halved. Now fuel cell buses can operate with the same flexibility as diesel buses without compromising the productivity of public transport. What’s more, the buses are appreciated by city dwellers and passengers as a clean, green, quiet urban transport solution.
As the technology continues to improve, and prices come down, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are well positioned to underpin zero-emissions transport in Europe. This is an exciting prospect, as FCEVs have the potential to replace the internal combustion engine and reduce air pollution, CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use. In Paris, the FCEV taxi fleet is set for exponential growth, and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is expanding across Europe to enable wider uptake of this low-carbon mobility solution. Projects including HyFIVE, H2ME, and H2ME2 are expanding the refuelling network and boosting fleet numbers, setting the stage for wider market uptake of FCEVs – and cleaner air for Europe’s citizens.
Using renewable energy to produce ‘green’ hydrogen opens up new possibilities for energy storage and sector coupling. The FCH JU approach is two-fold: encouraging the development of more powerful and more efficient electrolysers (including projects such as HPEM2GAS, ELY4OFF, PRETZEL and NEPTUNE), and supporting field demonstrations in transport and industrial applications to open up new markets. Key successes here include the increasing power of electrolysers: from 100 kW, with project Don Quichote in 2011, to 6 MW in the 2016 H2FUTURE project. Demonstrating that even energy-dependent sectors can rely on this technology will make for increasingly green industrial production.
Reducing carbon footprint begins at home, but the vast majority of European homes are still heated by individual gas boilers. Fuel cell micro combined heat and power (µCHP) units, for residential or small commercial buildings, provide heating, hot water, and electricity to replace or complement that supplied by the grid. Overall heat and power combined efficiencies can be as high as 90%. Thanks to the FCH JU’s early support for research, along with large scale field trials (ene.field and PACE), consumer confidence is growing, new business models and support schemes are emerging and a solid EU-based industry has been established.
Fuel cells produce little power individually but when combined into layers or ‘stacks’ of cells, they can be scaled up to power vehicles. Developing the technology to produce fuel cell stacks was an early priority for the FCH JU, with the aim of developing a European industrial base. Since 2009, FCH JU-supported projects (including AUTO-STACK, STACKTEST and AUTO-STACK CORE) have helped to create a supply chain, in turn allowing for the standardisation process of stack production and reducing costs. Now, with a major national initiative in Germany launched in 2017, the competitive production of automotive fuel cell stack in Europe is close to becoming a reality.
Aimed at lowering the manufacturing cost of tanks for hydrogen vehicles, the COPERNIC project achieved a reduction of 80% in just three years: bringing down the price of a hydrogen fuel tank from €15,000 to €3,000. Now, the EU-funded HIPHONE (HIgh Pressure tank for HydrOgeN storage) project aims at developing and certifying the hydrogen tank based on COPERNIC results. Also, a new joint venture, HYCE, which grew out of the COPERNIC consortium, is offering the first European tank of 64 litres at 700 bar for on-board hydrogen storage in 2018. Lower costs and higher driving ranges are supporting wider take-up of this clean mobility solution.
Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) are a cutting-edge technology that converts the chemical energy in hydrocarbon fuels directly to electrical power and heat. When fueled by renewables, such as biogas, the operation of the SOFC is effectively carbon-neutral. Between 2014 and 2017, the FCH JU-supported project NELLHI succeeded in developing new high-performance solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) stack, including a 1kW stack which broke the world record for electrical efficiency at that range. Now the project INNOSOFC is adopting the NELLHI stack for home heat and power, and the project qSOFC is focused on mass-manufacturing and quality assurance of NELLHI stack components.
Scotland’s remote Orkney Islands have over 1,000 wind, wave and tidal energy installations serving 10,000 households. But the surplus renewable electricity cannot always be transferred to the UK’s national grid network. The FCH JU-funded BIG HIT project aims to convert this lost energy into hydrogen, which will then be compressed and stored in high-pressure cylinders, providing fuel for other applications, like heating buildings and transport. The production, logistics, usage and managing model being developed in BIG HIT will showcase a replicable and scalable hydrogen territory - demonstrating the feasibility of the path towards decarbonisation and realistic alternatives to fossil fuel power.
From wastewater to heavy industry, fuel cell and hydrogen technology applications are contributing towards the circular economy. The FCH JU-funded DEMOSOFC project operates the largest biogas-fed fuel cell plant in Europe, with biogas from the sludge produced by Turin's wastewater treatment process, generating new energy from a waste by-product. In Linz, Austria, the H2FUTURE project, is producing green hydrogen and ultimately aimed at making carbon-free steel. Another FCH JU-funded project, Refhyne, is on course to build the largest (10MW) hydrogen electrolysis plant in the world, at the Rhineland refinery in Germany. Waste not, want not: these are innovative applications for a greener world.
Public trust in the safety of fuel cell and hydrogen technology is essential to building the confidence needed for widespread take-up. Pre-normative research (research whose results are used to develop regulations and standards) projects include HySEA and PRESLHY. Key successes include the development of regulations and standards, establishing the European Hydrogen Safety Panel (EHSP) and putting together training programs. Among the highlights are: HyResponse, a training programme for first responders; KnowHY, a training offer for technicians and workers in hydrogen fuel cell technology, and NET-Tools, digital education for various target groups: schools, universities and professionals.
In the last five years, small and medium-sized enterprises SMEs have created around 85% of new jobs and provided two-thirds of the total private sector employment in the EU. That’s part of the reason why 27% (€ 77.7 million) of the FCH 2 JU budget is dedicated to smaller businesses. Individual success stories here include the Danish company NEL Hydrogen (formerly H2 Logic), energy storage company Electro Power Systems, Estonian enterprise Elcogen, and French company Sylfen. The FCH JU’s unique public–private partnership structure also provides a network of partners to nurture SMEs (such as utilities, energy service companies, and local government) whose productivity and competitiveness will benefit everyone.
Advancing fuel cells and hydrogen technology is a global effort, so the FCH JU links with other major FCH-related programmes worldwide, such as the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization in Japan and the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, many FCH JU-funded projects include national-level partners or contributors from outside Europe, usually in fields like safety or pre-normative research (for example, HySEA, HyCORA, HyResponse, H2Sense). European expertise in the key polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) technology is helping to ‘green’ Chinese industry in the DEMCOPEM-2MW project, which is demonstrating PEM fuel cells in a large-scale stationary application of at least 2 MWe in China - a real win-win for international collaboration.