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Japan: Hydrogen prototype takes to the road in race toward fuel cells-Toyota offers test drives

Fueling a dream: Employees of Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corp. operate a hydrogen station in Tokyo during a demonstration Thursday. | BLOOMBERG

by Alan Ohnsman

Bloomberg–Toyota Motor Corp. has long held out hydrogen as the ultimate alternative to gasoline for powering automobiles. Soon, consumers will be able to kick the tires of its fuel-cell car and those of other automakers.

To demonstrate how far hydrogen cars have come since the early 2000s, Toyota offered test drives of a small, prototype sedan in Japan this week. A similar vehicle with a different exterior will debut at next month’s Tokyo Motor Show. The car, which showed quick acceleration and sharp handling, will arrive in the United States, Japan and Europe as early as next year as a 2015 model.

“Earlier would have been better, but it’s taken a long time to get to this point,” said Satoshi Ogiso, the Toyota engineer managing its fuel-cell development and electric-drive vehicle programs, in an interview in Tokyo Thursday. “We’ve already started work on the next-generation vehicle. We can’t wait.”

While Toyota is racing to establish itself at the leader in this technology, it has a lot of company. Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Daimler AG and General Motors Co. have poured billions of dollars into fuel cells since the 1990s, spurred by hydrogen’s allure as an abundant, low-carbon fuel.

Critics, such as Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, deride it as too complex, too costly and not clean enough, since most hydrogen is generated from natural gas. Toyota argues that it’s a game changer: petroleumlike performance with zero tailpipe emissions and avoiding the size, range and refueling-time issues of battery-powered autos.

Used in spacecraft since the 1960s, hydrogen fuel cells make electricity and emit only water vapor. For mass-market appeal, carmakers are competing to cut the cost of fuel-cell “stacks,” which use expensive precious metals, and the high-pressure carbon-fiber tanks that store fuel on the vehicle.

Solving those means hydrogen vehicles may not be a “significant technology” until 2018 or 2020, said Alan Baum, an independent auto analyst at Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

“I see fuel cells as a technology for the decade of the 2020s, with a small but growing ramp-up in the first half of the decade, not unlike what we are seeing now with EVs,” he said.

Toyota hasn’t set a volume goal for its hydrogen car, though deliveries should reach tens of thousands annually by 2020, Ogiso said. By that point, the cost of the system should fall by at least half, he said.

Toyota’s 2015 model fuel-cell car will have a range of more than 500 km per fueling, according to the company, a level matched only by Tesla’s $70,000 Model S among alternative-powered vehicles. Pricing hasn’t been announced, although U.S. Toyota executives have previously said it may cost about $50,000.

Prototype fuel-cell cars cost $1 million or more in the mid-2000s, according to automakers.

The prototype driven this week had the new powertrain system in the chassis of a Lexus HS 250h, a model that is larger than a Corolla compact and smaller than a midsize Camry, or about the size of a Prius. The new model, which will be sold under the Toyota brand, will be on a modified platform of the HS, which is sold as the Toyota Sai in Japan.

Toyota’s new model holds about 5 kg of compressed hydrogen in tanks that can be fully refueled in three minutes, the company said. Fueling is about as easy as filling up with gasoline. A sensor in the hose ensures a proper attachment and fills until the tank is full to maximum recommended pressure. Total system power will be about 100 kw, Ogiso said.

Honda, which has leased a few dozen FCX Clarity fuel-cell sedans to Los Angeles-area drivers, has said a new version of the midsize car is due by 2015. The Tokyo-based automaker in July announced an alliance with GM to bring even more advanced fuel cars to market by 2020.

Hyundai, seeking to make its mark as a technological leader, also plans to commercialize fuel-cell vehicles next year, said John Krafcik, the Seoul-based company’s U.S. chief executive officer.

The largest South Korean carmaker has started making a hydrogen-powered version of the Tucson crossover vehicle that goes on sale in the U.S. “early” next year, Krafcik said in an email message.

Ford Motor Co. is in a fuel-cell development alliance that includes Daimler, Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA. Likewise, Toyota and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) are collaborating on the technology to improve the odds of hydrogen getting a market foothold.

Cutting the cost of fuel-cell cars is only half the battle: Stations dispensing the fuel are few and far between.

“The technology is here and automakers are ready,” Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the world’s biggest hydrogen-vehicle evaluation program, said in a statement. “Before they can sell or lease fuel-cell electric vehicles, a much larger fueling infrastructure must be in place.”

Japan, Germany and South Korea have government programs to create hydrogen fuel station networks. California has also approved funding for 100 stations over nine years. It has nine public hydrogen stations open and 19 more in development, according to the partnership’s website.

Automakers “seem genuinely committed to advancing the technology and the market,” said Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis and a member of California’s Air Resources Board. The powerful agency requires carmakers to sell a range of low- and no-emission models to address the state’s persistent air-quality problems.

Just as the Prius was derided as too complex and costly when it arrived in 1997, Toyota sees the challenges as solvable, said Koei Saga, director and senior managing officer for research and development. “We think in the future this technology will be required.”

October 11, 2013 - 1:36 PM No Comments

Ballard Launches New Outdoor Hydrogen Fuel Cell Solutions for Telecom Backup Power Market

VANCOUVER, CANADA – Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ: BLDP)(TSX: BLD) has announced the launch of a standardized fuel cell backup power cabinet solution suitable for outdoor deployment as part of the ElectraGen™ product portfolio for telecom network operators. The new outdoor enclosures are designed to accommodate Ballard’s direct hydrogen backup power systems, and feature modular construction and options enabling customization.

“We continue to expand our portfolio of telecom backup power solutions in response to growing market demand,” said Tony Cochrane, Ballard Director – Product Management, Telecom Backup Power. “The flexibility of this new outdoor modular power solution, using direct hydrogen fuel, further increases the range of applications in which we can offer unique advantages to telecom operators.”

Ballard’s new outdoor enclosure is available in two versions, standard and compact. This new enclosure features flat-pack construction, enabling on-site assembly, and permits customizable configuration of Ballard’s ElectraGen™-H2 direct hydrogen fuel cell backup power system. In addition, the standard cabinet includes an optional cold weather kit allowing operation in temperatures to -40 degrees.

ElectraGen™-H2 system features include:
• Customizable power output; up to 10kW in the standard cabinet, and up to 5kW in the compact cabinet
• Battery-free bridging energy available through the use of ultracaps
• Fully integrated power management
• Extended duration runtime
• Simplified plug and play integration
• Small footprint
• Zero emissions
• Attractive lifecycle cost compared to incumbent solutions

The ElectraGen™-H2 system and new outdoor enclosure are developed, manufactured and distributed by Ballard’s backup power subsidiary, Dantherm Power based in Denmark.

Today’s launch of an integrated outdoor solution for telecom backup power is further evidence of Ballard’s fuel cell product leadership, underpinned by acknowledged excellence in technology and validated by a growing base of commercial customers and systems.

The new outdoor ElectraGen™-H2 backup power solution will be on display at “Intelec 2013” (www.intelec2013.org) in Hamburg, Germany, October 14-17. For more information please visit www.ballard.com.

Ballard also offers ElectraGen™- ME methanol-fuelled systems designed for high reliability, long life and minimal preventive maintenance. They include a fuel reformer that converts HydroPlus™ (a methanol-water liquid fuel mixture) into hydrogen gas to power the fuel cell.

About Ballard Power Systems
Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ: BLDP)(TSX: BLD) provides clean energy fuel cell products enabling optimized power systems for a range of applications. Products deliver incomparable performance, durability and versatility. To learn more about Ballard, please visit www.ballard.com.

October 11, 2013 - 8:28 AM No Comments

Toyota says slashes fuel cell costs by nearly $1 million for new hydrogen car

(Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp said it has slashed the cost of the fuel cell system in its next hydrogen-powered car by almost $1 million, putting it on course to launch a mid-sized sedan in 2015 with a price ticket below $100,000.

The world’s best-selling auto manufacturer and maker of the Prius gas-electric hybrid car says the fuel cell system will cost about 5 million yen ($51,000) compared with prototype costs of over $1 million.

The company is betting on fuel cell cars, which convert hydrogen to electricity, emit only water vapour and have a similar range to conventional petrol-driven cars, as the next-generation alternative fuel vehicle.

“We aim to sell tens of thousands of fuel cell vehicles a year by sometime in the 2020s,” Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso told reporters earlier this week in Tokyo where Toyota showed off its advanced technologies.

Toyota engineer Hitoshi Nomasa said the company had cut its use of platinum, which sells on world markets around $1,380 an ounce (28 grams), from around 100 grams in the fuel cell of its current hydrogen-powered SUV model to around 30 grams.

The figure would come down more with improvements in platinum coating technology, Nomasa told Reuters.

Diesel catalytic converters currently use some 20 grams of platinum, Nomasa said, adding: “If we can bring it down to around there, then that would be about the same level of platinum being used in cars that are widely used.”

Toyota will also use less carbon-fiber in the high-pressure hydrogen tanks and will use more cheaper, mass-produced components to cut costs, the company has said.

Unlike electric cars, whose range is often limited to 100-200 km and which need hours to recharge, hydrogen vehicles can refuel within minutes and travel distances similar to those of autos with conventional combustion engines.

But for fuel cell vehicles to take off, hydrogen refuelling infrastructure needs to be in place and the car price must drop.

Toyota currently leases around 100 fuel cell SUVs to governments and local authorities in Japan and the United States, though they are not available to the general public.

The new fuel cell sedan will be sold in certain areas in Japan, the United States and Europe, Toyota said. It is set to unveil a concept model of the sedan at the Tokyo Motor Show in November.

Toyota is also working on a fuel cell vehicle system with Germany’s BMW AG and has said it wants to introduce a new fuel cell vehicle around 2020 using the jointly developed technology.

($1 = 98.0900 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by David Cowell)

October 11, 2013 - 7:31 AM No Comments

Plug Power Senior Management Present at the California Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Summit

The California Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Summit will cover the advances and opportunities of hydrogen and fuel cell technology for transportation, energy storage, back-up power, goods movement, and stationary power.

LATHAM, N.Y.– Plug Power Inc. (Nasdaq:PLUG), a leader in providing clean, reliable energy solutions, today highlights presentation schedules for senior management team members, Andy Marsh and Erik Hansen, at the California Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Summit, held in Sacramento, CA.

Following the conference, both Mr. Marsh and Mr. Hansen’s slide show presentations will be posted to Plug Power’s blog at http://www.plugpower.com/archives/blog/default.aspx.

Andy Marsh, president and CEO, will present on October 9 at 12:05 pm ET / 9:05 am PT. Mr. Marsh will speak as part of the “Keynotes: Visions of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Business Chief Executives” session. His presentation will discuss factors influencing the evolving fuel cell industry and how Plug Power is successfully building a leadership role.

Erik Hansen, Vice President of Sales and Hydrogen, will moderate a panel on October 10 at 6:15 pm ET / 3:15 pm PT. Mr. Hansen’s session topic is “Spotlight on Goods Movement: Forklift Trucks, Ports and Other Off-road Vehicles.” Mr. Hansen will discuss the market penetration of fuel cells into the goods movement market segments along with panelists Martin Schuermann, CEO, Vision Motor Corp, and John Chimenti, Hydrogen Energy Systems, Air Products and Chemicals.

The California Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Summit will cover the advances and opportunities of hydrogen and fuel cell technology for transportation, energy storage, back-up power, goods movement, and stationary power. The full program for the California Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Summit can be found at http://www.californiahydrogensummit.com/program.asp.

About Plug Power Inc.

The architects of modern fuel cell technology, Plug Power is revolutionizing the industry with cost-effective power solutions that increase productivity, lower operating costs and reduce carbon footprints. Long-standing relationships with industry leaders forged the path for Plug Power’s key accounts, including Walmart, Sysco, P&G and Mercedes. With more than 4,000 GenDrive units deployed to material handling customers, accumulating over 12 million hours of runtime, Plug Power manufactures tomorrow’s incumbent power solutions today. Additional information about Plug Power is available at www.plugpower.com.

October 11, 2013 - 6:19 AM No Comments

Hydrogen Future Corporation, Formerly A5 Laboratories, Signs LOI to Acquire Hydra Fuel Cell Corporation

HOUSTON, TX — Hydrogen Future Corporation, formerly A5 Laboratories, Inc. , announced today that it has entered into a Letter of Intent with American Security Resources Corporation (ARSC) to acquire its wholly owned subsidiary, Hydra Fuel Cell Corporation. The LOI calls for an all-stock transaction between the two corporations.

Closing of the transaction is dependent on Hydrogen Future arranging production financing for Hydra and the conclusion of a definitive exchange agreement between the two parties.

About Hydrogen Future Corporation

Hydrogen Future Corporation, formerly A5 Laboratories, Inc., (traded as ‘AFLB’), is focused on building shareholder value by focusing on the acquisition and development of alternate energy products and services with an emphasis on hydrogen.

October 11, 2013 - 5:08 AM No Comments