The potential of hydrogen: interview
The potential of hydrogen
We publish the English version of our interview to e7 magazine, 25 February 2015
Toyota, Honda and Nissan are joining forces to promote and accelerate the rollout of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in Japan. This demonstrates Japan’s determination to have a strong say in the sustainable mobility market, also in view of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Yet the Land of the Rising Sun is not the only one watching with interest this new technology.
The innovative start-up Cinque International recently published the policy brief "Hydrogen mobility in Europe and in the rest of the world" on the development prospects of hydrogen transport, emphasizing its global potential and the lack of a coherent approach in Italy. The study intends to prepare the public to the introduction of this alternative mobility technology solution and is a keystone of a larger project, which aims at streamlining traffic flows to reach the targets set by the European Union. We spoke with the Managing Partner Roberto Francia.
The study marks the launch of a much wider activity plan: what are the premises?
We have been working for almost two years on an innovative concept that aims at tackling problems related to urban mobility in medium-to-large cities, through the integration of complementary solutions that already exist, but have hitherto been used separately. The goal is to improve the traffic flow while ensuring a healthier air and a sharp reduction in CO2 emissions, in line with the requirements of the Covenant of Mayors. Hydrogen is the keystone: on the one hand, it allows storing safely the surplus energy produced by unpredictable renewable sources; on the other hand, it can be used as a clean fuel for transport, including in urban areas. A key factor lies in the fact that no harmful substances are emitted into the atmosphere. In addition, we aim at maximizing energy production from unpredictable RES, even on those sites that lack an adequate electricity grid infrastructure.
Does Italy come out winner from the comparison with other countries?
The study begins with an analysis of the European directives aimed at reducing the negative effects of mobility (such as the 95 gCO2/km threshold) and focuses in particular on the recent legislation on alternative fuel infrastructure rollout. The outcome demonstrates that Italy is late as regards hydrogen transportation planning, despite several important initiatives are being developed on its territory, in particular in Alto Adige-South Tyrol. From Copenhagen to London, from Japan (where hydrogen will play a key role at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics) to Germany (which will count 400 hydrogen fuelling stations by 2023), the most advanced countries have already developed an infrastructure rollout plan in order not to find themselves unprepared when the overall ownership cost of these vehicles will converge with that of traditional vehicles.
Is dissemination of information and knowledge part of your work?
The print media have reported on the recent release of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but a real understanding of what lies behind is definitely lacking. The public opinion does not know why these vehicles are being put on the market today, nor it knows what to expect from the five or ten years ahead in terms of fuelling infrastructure rollout. We have prepared this thirty-page study to provide the customer with all the tools that are necessary to overcome the lack of information so as to provide in a concise but complete manner, all the answers to those who wish to know where we stand today, what is going to happen in the coming years and what are the main issues to be tackled for this type of alternative transport technology to succeed.
What are the key elements of your project?
Our project has four pillars: sustainable production of hydrogen and oxygen; production of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleets for urban use; use of FCEV fleets in the context of sustainable mobility schemes in the urban environment; smart parking solutions, including through the use of sensors. In this framework, hydrogen allows the safe storage of the energy produced from unpredictable renewables that cannot be dispatched, whatever the reason might be; on the other hand, it can be used as a clean transport fuel, especially in urban areas. No harmful substances are emitted into the atmosphere throughout the whole process.
Will this new technology help meet the targets set by the European Union?
Yes, it definitely will. It is perhaps worth specifying that a hydrogen fuel cell car is nothing more than a hybrid variant of a battery electric car. The main difference is that the battery is much smaller and the electric motor is powered by the electricity produced on board through the electrochemical reaction of hydrogen gas with atmospheric oxygen, inside a fuel cell. The use of compressed hydrogen and fuel cells has the big advantage of allowing a very short refuelling time (between two and five minutes for a full tank) and a very long driving range (even beyond 600 km). The use of liquid hydrogen vehicles with internal combustion engine, initially developed by BMW, seems abandoned for a number of reasons. To date, only Hyundai and Toyota have started the market introduction of similar models, while most other major world automakers (especially Honda, Daimler, Volkswagen, etc) will do so between 2016 and 2020.
When is your scheme going to be implemented?
We want to start with no less than 200 cars in an Italian metropolitan city. Once we have demonstrated that the scheme works, is cost-effective and brings measurable benefits for all people in urban areas, we want to replicate it elsewhere, in Italy and abroad. We believe that our sustainability scheme is particularly suited for all those countries that import most of the energy they consume in the transport sector, even where the electricity grid is not developed enough to allow electric mobility. As innovative start-up, we are currently looking for investors and risk capital. We hope to start in 2016.
The graph above (Source: International Energy Agency) shows the stock of vehicles under a 2°C scenario in the EU-4 group (France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom) between 2010 and 2050. Accordingly, the number of FCEV in these four EU member states could reach 40 million by 2050.
Original version of the interview (see page 7)
Canale Energia: Articles in English language
Policy brief “Hydrogen Mobility in Europe and in the Rest of the World” (February 2015)