The Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Revolution Has Started PDF Print E-mail

Maria Guerra 1 | Jun 01, 2017

The feasibility study called “Project Portal” will begin at the Port of Los Angeles this summer with the support of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC). The CEC is investing in hydrogen fuel-cell infrastructure to support refueling needs while CARB follows the feasibility study to develop appropriate regulations and incentives to expand this market. The Los Angeles port is one of the largest stationary sources of pollution in the region and to reduce emissions in and around the ports, the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) proposes to gradually transition to zero-emission heavy commercial trucks by 2035. For the feasibility studies, a hydrogen fuel-cell truck from Toyota Motor North America will haul cargo between the port and warehouse facilities up to 70 miles away.

The concept’s gross combined weight capacity is 80,000 lb. and its estimated driving range is more than 200 miles per fill, under normal drayage operation. (Courtesy of Toyota


“Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles play a role in California’s efforts to achieve greenhouse-gas emission-reduction goals, improve air quality, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” says Janea A. Scott, commissioner of the California Energy Commission.  “That’s why the California Energy Commission is investing in the refueling infrastructure needed to support adoption of these vehicles. The Commission applauds Toyota for putting this cutting-edge technology to use in a heavy-duty freight proof of concept. This demo will show how fuel cells can help support the heavy-duty sector’s efforts to increase efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase competitiveness.”

This technology has already been used as fuel for spaceships by NASA. Making it even more desirable and interesting is the fact that it is more efficient than diesel or gas. In addition, it has the potential to eliminate pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, reduce noise, and more. The technology must overcome disadvantages and challenges, too, such as the lack of hydrogen infrastructure. Planning for hydrogen infrastructure is very much needed, as it is so far an expensive power source solution. Also, fuel cells require water to be humidified to generate electricity. To ensure that vehicles operate under freezing conditions, vehicle designers needs to take this aspect into account.

According to Toyota, the truck was created using a Kenworth chassis. It generates more than 670 horsepower and 1,325 lb/ft. of torque from two Mirai fuel-cell stacks and a 12-kWh battery (a relatively small battery to support class 8 load operations). The Toyota Mirai was the first hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle to sell more than 200 units a year in the U.S.

“Toyota believes that hydrogen fuel-cell technology has tremendous potential to become the powertrain of the future,” says TMNA Executive Vice President Bob Carter. “From creating one of the world’s first mass-market fuel-cell vehicles, to introducing fuel-cell buses in Japan, Toyota is a leader in expanding the use of versatile and scalable zero-emission technology. With Project Portal, we’re proud to help explore the societal benefits of a true zero-emission heavy-duty truck platform.”

Kudos to studies like Toyota’s Project Portal for seeing a potential for the technology in California and opening the doors to zero-emission trucking.  Fuel-cell technology for trucks is not in commercial production yet. But projects like these are the first step toward building a business case for the consideration and adoption of new zero-emission technologies where clean-air goals are a major economic driver.

Saudis take 100% control of America's largest oil refinery PDF Print E-mail

America's largest oil refinery is now fully owned by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Aramco, the kingdom's state-owned oil behemoth, took 100% control of the sprawling Port Arthur refinery in Texas on Monday, completing a deal that was first announced last year.

Port Arthur is considered the crown jewel of the US refinery system. The Gulf Coast facility can process 600,000 barrels of oil per day, making it the largest refinery in North America.

Aramco previously owned 50% of Port Arthur through a joint venture co-owned with Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) called Motiva Enterprises.

But the two oil giants had a rocky relationship and reached a deal in March 2016 to separate their assets. Shell put out a statement on Monday confirming the "completion" of that break-up.

In addition to Port Arthur, Aramco is acquiring full ownership of 24 distribution terminals. Aramco also gets the exclusive right to sell Shell-branded gasoline and diesel in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, the eastern half of Texas and the majority of Florida.

Related: Trump's energy plan isn't a game-changer

Aramco's deal allows the oil giant to shore up one of its best customers -- the US -- ahead of next year's planned IPO. Now that it controls the largest American refinery, Aramco can send more Saudi crude into the US for refining to sell to North American drivers.

Saudi Arabia is already America's second-largest source of crude, behind only Canada. The US imported 1.3 million barrels of Saudi crude a day in February, up 32% from last year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Saudi Arabia is hoping the Aramco IPO will be valued at a stunning $2 trillion. The kingdom continues to grapple with low oil prices and a bloated budget, making it critical that the Aramco IPO goes off without a hitch. Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter in the world, dramatically slashed taxes on Aramco in March in an effort to quell concern about the oil giant's valuation.

Related: Saudi Arabia reverses pay cuts for state workers

Even as Saudi Arabia extends its reach in the US, the Trump administration has pushed for American energy independence by unleashing the domestic energy industry. Trump said in a May 2016 speech that he wants to bring about independence from "our foes and the oil cartels."

Trump also threatened before he was elected to halt imports of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries if they didn't commit ground troops to fight ISIS.

After Trump was elected, Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih later warned that blocking the kingdom's crude could backfire.

"Trump will see the benefits and I think the oil industry will also be advising him accordingly that blocking trade in any product is not healthy," Falih told the Financial Times in November.

Despite that rhetoric, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia appear to have improved under Trump. Saudi Arabia's powerful deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Trump in the Oval Office in March, a meeting heralded by the kingdom as an "historic turning point" between the two countries.

Amazon gets huge stake in Plug Power under $600 million deal PDF Print E-mail

Amazon, the online retailer, has agreed to contract with Latham-based fuel cell manufacturer Plug Power that could  total $600 million and give Amazon a large stake in the companyPlug Power's stock was up 71 percent on the news, reaching $2.22 a share in afternoon trading Wednesday.

The deal, the biggest in Plug Power's history, would also mean $70 million in added revenue this year alone for Plug Power, a company that had $85.9 million in total revenue last year and has never turned profitable.

"This agreement is a tremendous opportunity for Plug Power to further innovate and grow while helping to support the work Amazon does to pick, pack and ship customer orders," Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh said in a statement. "Our hydrogen fuel cell technology, comprehensive service network, and commitment to providing cost savings for customers has enabled Plug Power to become a trusted partner to many in the industry and we are excited to begin working with Amazon."

Amazon will also work with Plug Power on its new line of fuel cell engines designed for cars and trucks.

Plug Power's main product right now is its GenDrive fuel cell used in fork lifts that operate in warehouses.

Plug Power said it started talks with Amazon a year ago and actually shipped GenDrive fuel cells to Amazon warehouse sites last fall.

Under the deal, which would give Plug Power $70 million in additional revenue this year alone, Amazon has been given warrants to purchase more than 55 million shares of Plug Power stock at $1.18 a share, although adjustments on the exercise price would be made over the life of the deal.

BlackRock was the single largest Plug Power shareholder with 9 million shares as of last April, a 5 percent stake. But Amazon could obtain a 23 percent stake if it exercises all of the warrants it can obtain.

The warrants would vest over time as Amazon spends $600 million on Plug Power's fuel cells over multiple years.

Amazon was granted 5.8 million stock warrants upon the signing of the deal. It would get another 7.2 million warrants after spending $50 million with Plug Power. 

That means that Amazon could become Plug Power's largest shareholder sometime this year, although the company is currently in the process of selling an additional $75 million in stock.

Chevrolet ZH2 Truck Brings Hydrogen Closer to the Battlefield PDF Print E-mail

April 3, 2017

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 hydrogen fuell cell truck.jpg

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 hydrogen fuell cell truck. (Photo: Ryan ZumMallen/

The camouflaged military truck sped across the dirt and mud in near silence. The only noise was a low air-compressor whine and the crunch of tires through the rough terrain.

This futuristic pickup – a modified Chevrolet Colorado – runs on electricity generated by a hydrogen fuel cell. The zero-emissions truck is the result of a $4-million partnership between General Motors and the U.S. Army to determine whether hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are ready for the combat zone.

GM brought the truck, code-named ZH2, to its proving grounds in Milford, Mich., on a windy March afternoon to demonstrate the pickup’s capabilities.

The ZH2 will soon be delivered to the Army for testing. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have the potential to offer greater range, fuel efficiency and noise reduction than the diesel-powered trucks currently in use.

In this test, the off-road truck, based on the Colorado ZR2, demonstrated that it brings new-age efficiency and ample muscle to the front line. More than 1,000 pound-feet of torque provided brisk and consistent acceleration. Like the ZR2, it can scale soggy moguls and romp down steep descents with ease. Even at high speed over gravel and gopher holes, the ZH2 is stable and smooth.

“The vehicle can power through that, unimpeded by the terrain, and you’re doing it efficiently,” said Charlie Freese, director of GM Global Fuel Cell Activities. “We’re doing it with more than twice the efficiency of the internal combustion engine.”

The vehicle has four radiators, and various parts from Chevrolet’s Camaro and Corvette. Except for the stock Colorado doors, all body panels are made of carbon fiber infused with Kevlar.

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 hydrogen fuell cell truck side

Chevrolet ZH2. (Photo: Ryan ZumMallen/

The ZH2 has a top speed around 70 mph and peak range around 200 miles, but is capable of much more, Freese said.

GM used an older-generation fuel cell system in the ZH2 because it had proven capability in more than 3 million miles of testing. The company is currently working on systems that are smaller, quieter, more powerful and more affordable.

“This is already a stable system, so we know how it performs,” Freese said. “This one’s good. The next one’s fantastic.”

Reporting for Duty

Hydrogen “really provides flexibility and options because we can produce it from any number of ways,” said Brian Butrico, chief engineer at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC.

Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of sources, such as natural gas and fossil fuels, or renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

The Army wants to learn if it can transition to hydrogen fuel from JP-8 – a form of diesel that powers tactical vehicles and generators.

It is enticed by the potential benefits of the ZH2 fuel cell system, Butrico said. Its only emission is water. In a pinch, it could provide water to soldiers at a rate of two gallons per hour. The Exportable Power Take-Off unit loaded in the truck bed can be removed and used as a mobile generator with 25 to 50 kW of power.

“That’ll run a subdivision,” Freese said.

The military has long been interested in hydrogen fuel cell technology. As far back as 1995, the Department of Defense deployed fuel cell vehicles around the world for testing. TARDEC ordered and tested a number of Ford Escape fuel cell vehicles for years in the late 2000s. GM is currently working with the U.S. Navy on an unmanned underwater vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 hydrogen fuell cell truck battery

The fuel cell system inside the ZH2. (Photo: Ryan ZumMallen/

“It’s really evolved to be a vehicle that is quite impressive,” said Scott Samuelsen, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.

The ZH2 itself is not likely to make its way into military fleets. The Army, however, is serious about implementing hydrogen fuel cell technology on the battlefield as soon as possible, Butrico said.

The Army will take delivery of the ZH2 on April 10. The truck will spend several months at different bases around the country, each one providing new challenges and testing scenarios. After one year, the military will evaluate the tests and decide how to proceed.

“If there’s one thing our guys are good at, it’s breaking stuff,” said Doug Halleaux, a TARDEC spokesman.

How the ZH2 responds to Army testing will determine the next steps.

“Really it’s what do the soldiers think about it?” Butrico said.

Finally Time to Shine?

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles also are starting to show up in the civilian light vehicle market. Automakers are investing heavily in technology as they work to meet increasingly stringent emissions standards.

In California, the Hyundai Tucson, Toyota Mirai and Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are already on public roads.

A 2014 report by research firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that nine automakers will produce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2020. General Motors has logged more than 3 million miles of testing its own hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and is partnered with Honda on further development

Nick Loris, analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has in the past been skeptical of government investment in alternative fuels. The Department of Defense has been mandated to spend public money on renewable energy for political reasons, Loris said. But if the military now sees a practical purpose for hydrogen fuel cells, that’s different, he said.

“If it makes sense for the military and Department of Defense to invest in alternative fuels and it increases their operational readiness, or increases their capabilities and improves their missions, then that makes all the sense in the world,” Loris said.

“The more we can rely on the private sector for those things; you’re not creating a market out of thin air. You already have the developed technology, so that’s certainly an added benefit.”

Butrico said he can see hydrogen fuel cell technology in military vehicles within the next five years. He said hydrogen fuel cells could feasibly provide supplemental power to even a 30-ton Bradley tank.

But the first step, he said, is the ZH2.

Military Marches Forward On Green Energy, Despite Trump PDF Print E-mail

Corporal Robert G. Sutton and Corporal Moses E. Perez installing solar panel on a combat post. U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Alexander Quiles via REUTERS

President Donald Trump and his top advisors have often scoffed at government support of green energy. His chief strategist called it "madness."

But the largest U.S. government agency - the Department of Defense - plans to forge ahead under the new administration with a decade-long effort to convert its fuel-hungry operations to renewable power, senior military officials told Reuters.

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The reasons have nothing to do with the white-hot debate over climate change. In combat zones, green energy saves lives by, for instance, reducing the need for easily attacked convoys to deliver diesel fuel to generators at U.S. bases. Mobile solar-power units allow soldiers to prowl silently through enemy territory.

At sea, gas-electric hybrid battleships save fuel and allow for fewer stops – making them less vulnerable to attacks like the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, when al-Qaeda militants killed 17 U.S. soldiers during a refueling stop in Yemen.

The military’s zeal for renewable power has already had broad impacts on energy contractors, generating hundreds of millions in contracts for solar companies and helping to reduce fuel consumption by the world's largest single petroleum buyer.

The armed forces nearly doubled renewable power generation between 2011 and 2015, to 10,534 billion British thermal units, or enough to power about 286,000 average U.S. homes, according to a Department of Defense report.

The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015, department data showed, with a number of utilities and solar companies benefiting. Many of those projects are at U.S. bases, where renewable energy allows the military to maintain its own independent source of power in case of a natural disaster or an attack - or cyber attack - that disables the public grid.

The White House did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on the military’s use of green energy. Although Trump has blasted solar subsidies, vowed to boost fossil fuel development and questioned the science behind climate change, military leaders remain confident that the president won’t halt their march toward renewable power.

"We expect that it's going to continue during the Trump administration," said Lt. Col. Wayne Kinsel, head of the infrastructure unit of the Air Force Asset Management Division for Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection. "It's really not political."

Other senior officials in the Navy, Air Force and Army also told Reuters that they expected their renewable energy programs to continue.

Lt. Col. J.B. Brindle, a Defense Department spokesman, said the agency "spends very little appropriated funding" on renewable energy projects, but declined to give any figures or to answer additional questions about such efforts.

Trump's Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, has long supported efforts to reduce troop dependence on petroleum. He saw first-hand the vulnerability of diesel convoys to attacks by militants while serving as Commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. As far back as 2003, he urged Navy researchers to find innovative ways to unleash the military from the "tether of fuel."

The military's push into alternative energy started under Republican President George W. Bush in 2007, when he signed a law requiring the Pentagon to get 25 percent of the electricity for its buildings from renewable energy by 2025.

The effort accelerated under President Barack Obama, who required the Army, Air Force and Navy to each deploy 1 gigawatt of renewable power and directed the Army to open a lab developing energy technologies for combat vehicles.

In an apparent nod to Obama's efforts to curb global warming, the Pentagon also reported to Congress in 2015 that the droughts and floods caused by climate change pose a security threat – contributing to foreign political and economic instability that could require substantial troop deployments.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in his parting memo in January that the Navy has already met its goal, producing 1 gigawatt of electricity - while the other forces are on track to meet their targets.

The programs have their opponents. The conservative Heritage Foundation, for example, has railed against the military's support of renewable power and biofuels.

"The administration right now needs to focus specifically on combat power," said Rachel Zissimos, a Heritage researcher. "Investing money on optional initiatives right now I think is problematic."

Solar companies such as SunPower Corp and utilities including Sempra Energy and Southern have won utility-scale renewable energy contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, according to the companies and Department of Defense documents reviewed by Reuters.

Southern, for example, has 11 solar projects totaling 310 megawatts on bases in states including Georgia and Alabama. In December, Sempra completed the 150-megawatt Mesquite Solar 3 in Arizona to provide about a third of the power needed at 14 Navy and Marine bases in California for 25 years.

SunPower has already landed a major deal under the Trump administration - a $96 million contract finalized on Feb. 3 to provide power to Vandenberg Air Force base in California until 2043, according to a Pentagon database.

Sempra and Southern said they were committed to serving their customers but declined to comment on whether they were discussing new contracts with the military. SunPower did not comment.

Last year, the Navy began outfitting Arleigh Burke destroyers with gas-electric hybrid engines developed by L3, which won a $119 million contract in 2013.

Tesla, which produces electric cars and batteries, is another company that analysts say could benefit from military contracts. A Tesla spokesman said the company is "supportive” of the military's interest in clean energy but declined comment on whether it was pursuing Defense Department contracts.

The U.S. military's use of oil, meanwhile, fell by more than 20 percent between 2007 and 2015. The bulk of the decline likely stems from declining combat operations rather than rising efficiency and use of renewable energy. But traditional military fuel suppliers - such as Exxon Mobil, BP, and Shell - nonetheless have a lot at stake if the military accelerates its move away from fossil fuels. (For a graphic on Pentagon's oil purchases click

The military’s average annual oil bill was about $14.28 billion between 2007 and 2015.

BP is constantly reviewing its marketing strategies to ensure growth, a spokesman said.

"As fuel slates change, we will adapt, and continue to provide our customers with the products they demand," he said in response to questions about the potential impact of the military’s increased use of renewable fuels.

Hauling fuel to the battlefield has been a hazard for militaries since at least World War I and continues to take a grim toll. One in nearly 40 fuel convoys in Iraq in 2007 resulted in a death or serious injury, according to a study commissioned by the Defense Department. In Afghanistan the same year, one in 24 fuel convoys suffered casualties.

Marines in Afghanistan began carrying solar panels in 2009 to forward bases in battles with Taliban fighters. They used them to power batteries for communications, GPS and night-vision goggles. The panels not only reduced the need for convoys, they allowed marines to shut off generators, hushing operations and making them harder for enemies to detect.

Arotech subsidiary UEC has sold $25 million worth of the solar arrays and expects a bigger business in systems working with batteries and solar to slash dependence on generators, said business manager Nancy Straight.

Col. Brian Magnuson, the head of the Marines' expeditionary energy office, established in 2009, said his office aims to replace diesel-powered generators on the battlefield with solar power, and to reduce energy use with efficiency measures such as insulated tents and the deployment of advanced batteries.

"These technologies are a way to become more effective in combat," Magnuson said. "This is about war-fighting capability."

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot)

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