Hydrogen – an all-rounder in demand

Dec 15, 2020

In bicycles, cars, motorcycles and garbage trucks – hydrogen, the fuel with the chemical formula H2, is powering ahead. Read Part 1 about this promising all-rounder.

Mobility: hydrogen-powered Popemobile

The Holy Father uses hydrogen. The latest addition to the Pope’s vehicle fleet, the new Popemobile, is a specially converted Toyota Mirai powered by hydrogen. Like all of the Pope’s cars, the Mirai has been painted completely white. The roof has been replaced with a rectangular construction holding a large number of glass panels. It’s 2.7 meters high – tall enough for the Pope to stand while he’s on the move. However, filling up might be problematic. The Vatican chose a tried-and-tested model. The Mirai broke onto the market in 2014 and was the first fuel-cell car to go into series production. Now the next generation is available. Whereas the first-generation vehicles were largely hand-made, the second generation is based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform. Around the globe, Toyota currently uses over 100 different platforms and sub-platforms. TNGA will reduce the number of different layouts the company needs to just five for its entire vehicle fleet. That should make (generally expensive) hydrogen-powered cars somewhat cheaper. And customers will get more for their money. Toyota is adding a third hydrogen tank in the new Mirai, taking the capacity to six kilograms. The range will increase by a good 30 percent, to 650 kilometers on a single tankful of hydrogen.

The hydrogen-powered Popemobile in Rome © Toyota
The hydrogen-powered Popemobile in Rome © Toyota

Mobility: hydrogen on two wheels

The Germans love their cars – but second place goes to bicycles. The total number of bicycles in the country has risen to almost 76 million, according to estimates by the Zweirad-Industrie-Verband (ZIV, the German bicycle industry association). E-bikes in particular are booming, and have become a common sight on roads all over the world – from San Francisco to Beijing and Tel Aviv. But now competition could come from hydrogen. In 2015, Linde Gas presented its H2 Bike. A compact fuel cell generates electricity from hydrogen and oxygen from the ambient air. The electrical energy charges up the battery, which ensures that electricity is available to power the motor when needed. The powertrain provides a range of over 100 kilometers, supplied by 33 grams of hydrogen gas delivering around 3.6 megajoules of energy. Linde says this is the amount of energy you would find in five cigarette lighters. After that there’s no support. It won’t take more than six minutes to fill the tank. Another highlight is that the fuel cell’s heat exchanger is integrated into the bicycle frame, so the heat developed can keep the user’s hands warm on the handlebars on cool days. The bike’s disadvantage is that the fuel cell must not be used if the outside temperature goes below minus 20 C or above plus 40 C. And for safety reasons, smoking is not allowed while the bicycle is in motion or being filled up, because of the risk of explosion. The French firm Pragma Industries presented its “Alpha 2.0” at the CES 2019. The design is based on a powertrain producing 250 watts, a two-liter gas cylinder for the hydrogen and a 150-watt fuel cell. The big difference is that it will use compressed gas instead of electricity. Refueling will only take two minutes. However, to begin with, the makers are only aiming their fleet packages at municipalities and companies. One package consists of ten bicycles and one charging station.

A fully equipped hydrogen bike from Linde © Linde
A fully equipped hydrogen bike from Linde © Linde

Mobility: no more roaring

What’s possible in cars should also be possible in motorized bikes. The idea of running a motorcycle on hydrogen is actually not totally new – but nonetheless new enough for it not to have been taken to series production. In 2007 Suzuki demonstrated its “Crosscage” prototype, the world’s first motorcycle with an air-cooled fuel cell powertrain. The integrated fuel cell produced energy using oxygen from the ambient air and hydrogen carried in the 35 megapascal tank. The system was coupled to a lithium-ion battery and the firm put the range at 200 kilometers. After that nothing was heard for a long time. Honda is apparently the only one of the Big Four in the motorcycle industry (along with Yamaha and Kawasaki) to make any serious progress in H2 bikes. In recent years, the trade press has reported on several patent applications by Honda. The last one was in 2019, and concerned the air intake system supplying the fuel cell with oxygen. The intake duct is designed so that dirt particles and water droplets entering the system will be deposited and therefore not reach the fuel cell. After the air has flowed through the fuel cell, it is expelled at the rear by a fan.

Commercial vehicles: green hydrogen from waste

For the first time ever, an electrically powered garbage truck with fuel-cell technology is going into regular service. The manufacturer Faun has been working for years on a hydrogen solution to replace conventional garbage trucks. The “Bluepower” truck system combines batteries and fuel cells to supply energy. The main source of electricity is a lithium-ion battery integrated into the chassis, which in 30 minutes generates enough power for two trips with ten tons of trash. The truck also has a range extender consisting of a fuel cell and hydrogen tanks. The fuel cell provides sufficient energy for a range of 180 kilometers. The company plans to start series production in 2021. The difference here is that green hydrogen can be obtained from incinerating biogenic waste such as food or garden waste. Energy from the hydrogen is then used to propel the vehicles. It should take only four minutes to fill the tank.

(Stage photo: © DLR)

All-electric undercarriage with battery and hydrogen fuel cell ©Faun

The IAA MOBILITY is transforming itself from a pure car show to an international mobility platform with four pillars: the Summit, the Conference, the “Blue Lane” and the downtown Munich Open Space. Under the slogan of “What will move us next”, it stands for the digital and climate-neutral mobility of the future. From 7 to 12 September 2021, the car, bike and tech industries come together at IAA MOBILITY in Munich.