Coming In Out Of The Cold; Hybrids put to the test

By Jennifer Lee

Reporting for and

Point Roberts, WA, Delta B.C.- May 25, 2004 With gas prices reaching an all time high and not much promise of an end in sight, hybrid technology is falling under the lens of some careful scrutiny these days with investors. In a recent article in MIT’s Technology Review, author Peter Fairley estimates “though buyers would have to pay more initially for gas-electric hybrids, they could save, on average, $5,000 at the gas pump over the 15-year life of a vehicle.”

That’s a considerable chunk, especially when we look at this past Monday’s chain reaction in rising prices, with US light crude futures increasing to around $1.30 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, bringing the price of West Texas Intermediate July delivery up to around $41.25 per barrel. In London, Brent crude also rose $1.24 (3.4%) to $37.75 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange.

But some of the questions we have for hybrid technology are now dependability in cold weather starting, reliability in highway driving standards, added to these ever so alluring fuel cost savings. If we’re going to pay the dime to buy a hybrid, just what is it we are going to be getting, we’ve asked?

Dr. Tae Won Lim, senior engineer with Hyundai Motor Co. in Korea reports that the Tucson, the SUV hybrid vehicle currently being developed by the company, “stores 152 liters of compressed hydrogen gas and the range is 186 miles per hour” on highway driving. The Tucson comes after Hyundai’s first model, the Santa Fe, which Lim comments, “was originally designed to be a pure fuel cell-powered vehicle. Later, Hyundai developed the hybrid version of Santa Fe for better fuel efficiency.

The Tucson is a fuel cell hybrid vehicle which has a battery electric driving mode.” The Santa Fe goes in the range of 80 miles per hour on a 72 liter tank and this has been Hyundai’s starting point in developing a road worthy hybrid vehicle.

Reportedly, Hyundai is now targeting 2010 as the bench mark to make fuel cell vehicles available to the public in small volume. At the moment, Hyundai is starting to release its hybrid vehicles to fleet consumers with a group being released in November and December, 2004. First in line for these releases are the University of California, Davis, AC Transit, Hyundai America Technical Centre and Southern California Edison.

Presently Dr. Lim reports, “our Tucson FCEV will be capable of starting up at -10C and operating at -20C.”

In Vancouver, Canada recently caught up with Mike Rosenberg, Director of Corporate Relations at Ballard Power Systems, a leading supplier in fuel cell technology, to ask some of the key questions about how the company is leading the way in the industry:

With all the recent attention and popularity that is being given to hybrid vehicles, as an emerging choice for fuel conservation, a good deal of customers will be standing in line in northern parts of the world. Keeping this in mind, how is Ballard working on the cold weather start up problem, associated with hybrid and fuel cell vehicles?

Answer: Today, Ballard® fuel cells run in sub-zero conditions. In fact, Ballard has already demonstrated freezability (i.e. freeze storage) in the lab down to –40o C for its current MK 902 stack module. Individual unit cells have been tested and have operated in multiple freeze start cycles from -15o C without degradation to normal operating performance.

In 2004, Ballard has set a goal to demonstrate freeze start capability along with increased durability and a reduction in catalyst loadings while ensuring overall engine performance, reliability and cost. Achievement of this goal will be clear evidence of Ballard’s continued technology leadership.

How would you outline Ballard’s fuel cell strategy and participation in the hybrid market over the next 6 months to 3 years?

Answer: We, as well as most of the auto industry, believe that internal combustion engine (“ICE”) / battery hybrids are an interim solution that will condition the market for fuel cell vehicles. Hybrids have a better environmental profile than ICE vehicles but they are costly, complicated and designed specifically for a city driving cycle.

Fuel cell vehicles, in comparison, offer zero tailpipe emissions and improved fuel efficiencies, and are considered a no-compromise vehicle in that they will provide similar or better performance than today’s ICE vehicles.

Hybrid vehicles, however, will help pave the way for fuel cell vehicle introduction by expanding the public’s experience with new drive trains and by reducing electric drive train component costs that will be shared with fuel cell vehicles.

Ballard, as the world leader in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, will continue to lead the industry by leveraging our extensive auto and bus field trial experience and state of the art lab and manufacturing facilities.

Who are some of the car companies Ballard currently supplies fuel cell technology to and has there been any recent interest from new clients?

Answer: Ballard continues to see strong interest by automotive companies in its fuel cell products. In 2003, Ballard supplied fuel cell products to six of the top ten worldwide automakers, including DaimlerChrysler, Ford and Honda. In 2003 Ballard added two new automotive customers. Ballard’s industry leadership and capability results from our experiences since 1993 with ten of the top 15 automakers that have built more than 110 vehicles (including 45 fuel cell buses) using Ballard® fuel cells.

In 2004, we continue to deliver fuel cells to our partners and customers that are being integrated into fleet vehicles. These fleet vehicles powered with Ballard® fuel cells will yield a wealth of operational data under everyday driving conditions that we will use to optimize the design of our next generation fuel cell engine which is currently under development.

As far as public transport is concerned, it is noted that Ballard has supplied over 100 fuel cells for fuel cell vehicles across various cities. There is approximately 100 more expected to go out over this next year, with recent partnerships made with DaimlerChrysler and Ford. Can you describe more of what’s involved with this partnership?

Answer: Ballard, DaimlerChrysler and Ford entered into an Alliance for the development and commercialization of fuel cells for cars, buses and trucks in 1998. Ballard is now the exclusive supplier of fuel cell products to its partners through 2021. Ballard is responsible for developing proton exchange membrane (“PEM”) fuel cells, PEM fuel cell systems and electric drives.

From 1998 to 2002 Dc and Ford placed numerous prototype vehicles on the road. In 2004 we continue to deliver fuel cells to our partners that are being integrated into fuel cell vehicles. These fleet vehicles powered with Ballard® fuel cells will yield a wealth of operational data under everyday driving conditions that we will use to meet our commercialization targets for durability, performance and cost.

Our Alliance is stronger than ever, and we look forward to our partners placing additional vehicles in field tests worldwide – in California, Michigan, Florida, Japan, Singapore, Australia and Europe.

What, to the knowledge of Ballard, is the plan for hydrogen fueling stations on the planned Hydrogen Highway in British Columbia?

Answer: Ballard strongly supports the Hydrogen Highway™ because it will solidify Canada’s leadership position in the development of a hydrogen and fuel cell economy as it serves to accelerate the commercial introduction of fuel cells in transportation and stationary applications.

To support the advancement of hydrogen as an alternative energy source, while showcasing the benefits and viability of hydrogen refueling, seven hydrogen fueling stations will be located at Vancouver's International Airport (YVR), the University of British Columbia, the Municipality of Whistler, and other locations in Vancouver and Victoria. The Canadian Transportation Fuel Cell Alliance has already contributed to the building of fueling stations at the National Research Center and at BC Hydro’s Powertech facility.

The stations, utilizing unique production methods for making hydrogen, will allow hydrogen-fueled vehicles such as the Ford Focus FCVs expected to arrive later this year, to travel and operate in a wide array of climatic and topographic conditions.

Jennifer Lee Jennifer Lee has a degree in English Literature from the University of British Columbia. She holds a publishing certificate from Simon Fraser University and has worked at both Vancouver and Western Living magazines, where she began her career as an editorial intern.

She has worked as an editor in countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, producing books, newsletters and editing various quarterly magazines on a variety of international development related topics.

In South Africa, she worked to help produce a bi-weekly newsletter for the Institute for Security Studies on crime and corruption headlines which appeared in all national and provincial papers. Prior to working in southern Africa, she wrote articles for DMR Consulting, on mergers and acquisitions taking place in the market during 2001. She now produces a quarterly publication at the University of British Columbia and works on the side as a freelance writer.