Jaguar Land Rover is the latest automaker to jump on the fuel cell bandwagon.
The company announced late Monday it is developing a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle using the new Land Rover Defender. Testing should begin later this year, officials noted, including assessing the vehicle’s off-road capability and fuel consumption, among other attributes.
It’s part of the company’s “Reimagine” strategy, announced in February that calls for Jaguars to become purely battery electric by 2025, with Land Rover offering six such vehicles at the same time. Any fuel cell-electric vehicle would complement its BEV siblings.
As for Jaguar Land Rover’s fuel-cell plans, the company will be testing the vehicle’s off-road capability and fuel consumption, among other attributes. The vehicle is the initial salvo emanating from Project Zeus, the automaker’s advanced engineering project.
It is funded in part by the UK government-backed Advanced Propulsion Center, and aided by R&D partners Delta Motorsport, AVL, Marelli Automotive Systems and the UK Battery Industrialization Center.
Fuel cell interest remains strong among automakers
While fuel cell interest is increasing among the world’s vehicle producers, it’s most intensely being considered for heavy-duty trucking applications. This is why two of the world’s biggest makers of big commercial trucks, Daimler AG and Volvo Group, announced in April 2020 that the companies are working together on the development of trucks powered by fuel cells, even as Daimler halted all fuel-cell development for passenger cars at the same time.
But not all automakers agree with Daimler’s decision.
Hyundai announced in November that it was partnering with chemical manufacturer Ineos in developing hydrogen technology, which Ineos will no doubt use in their forthcoming Ineos Grenadier SUV.
Even General Motors, which has been experimenting with hydrogen fuel cells for more than five decades, announced in January that it would supply its new Hydrotec fuel cell power cubes to heavy-truck manufacturer Navistar. Several cubes would be used per rig, with each cube producing 110 horsepower — enough range to last more than 1,000 miles between fill ups.
But automakers are already selling cars powered by fuel cells, albeit in limited numbers on the West Coast, including the 2021 Toyota Mirai ($49,500), Honda Clarity Fuel Cell ($58,490) and Hyundai NEXO ($58,935).
You thought the car is expensive? Trying filling it up
While the U.S. Department of Energy reports that green hydrogen, which is hydrogen produced from renewable sources including renewable power, nuclear and thermal conversion, costs about $5 per kilogram, a hydrogen fueling station that opened last month in Studio City, California charges $13.14 per kilogram for renewable hydrogen. Given that the Toyota Mirai’s tank hold 5.6 kg, a fill-up in Studio City could set you back $73.58.
This explains why the DOE unveiled a hydrogen initiative June 7 geared toward cutting the fuel’s cost to $1 per kilogram within a decade. The announcement comes as Europe looks to eliminate carbon emissions within 30 years. There are more than 120 planned hydrogen projects slated on the continent, with major European oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and BP, increasing their hydrogen investments.
Similarly, Japan is making hydrogen a national priority, with the country becoming emissions free by 2050. Experts believe Japan could revolutionize hydrogen as a power source in the same way the country pioneered liquified natural gas in the 1970s.
All of this could prove a defensive measure against China, which is increasing its dominance in battery and solar technology.
Barriers remain to hydrogen implementation
When it comes to the implementation of hydrogen fueling technology, the gorilla in the room remains how to safely store and move it. In certain circumstances, hydrogen is explosive if ignited, and it is the least-dense element in the universe, so it requires more space to store. And currently, hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, not renewable resources.
But it’s not all bad news.
Hydrogen can be used in existing power plants and machinery designed to run on coal, gas or oil with some modification. And it flows approximately three times faster than natural gas in pipelines.
And recently, U.S. truck-stop company TravelCenters of America formed eTA, a business that would supply alternative fuel to drivers at more than 270 locations nationwide. As you’d expect, the effort starts in Southern California, where TravelCenters and electric-truck maker Nikola will offer hydrogen fueling for heavy-duty trucks at two locations.
The company is installing electric-vehicle charging stations along Interstate Highway 5 with the help of FreeWire Technologies. But more are coming. The Hydrogen Council, a global CEO initiative to foster the transition to clean energy, predicts that by 2030, there could be 10 million hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles and 10,000 refueling stations worldwide.Of course, none of this is inexpensive. Then again, saving the environment doesn’t come cheaply.