Hydrogen fuel reaches lift-off PDF Print E-mail
electric train in NorwaySoon, electric trains like this in Doverbahn, Norway will be replaced with hydrogen-powered ones. Image: Kabelleger/David GublerCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Trucks, trains and ships using hydrogen fuel cells for propulsion are no longer just theoretically possible: they have reached the trial stage.

Decades of work on refining the technology have coincided with the need to store surplus energy from solar and wind farms when supply exceeds demand.

And making and storing hydrogen from surplus renewable energy that can then be used as fuel for vehicles is good economic sense, according to the Norwegian research group SINTEF

Fuel cells are much lighter than batteries and with hydrogen fuel they provide a better method of propulsion for all sorts of freight and passenger transport. The only residue of burning hydrogen is water, so there is no pollution.

In Germany, the first fuel cell train is already undergoing trials, and Norway is one of many European countries now considering hydrogen-powered trains.

Steffen Møller-Holst, vice-president for marketing, SINTEF

Going mainstream

Top-secret research and development has been going on since 1980 at SINTEF in an attempt to make fuel cells competitive with the internal combustion engine for transport. The technology is already used in some niche markets, but it is now expected to become mainstream, according to Steffen Møller-Holst, vice-president for marketing at SINTEF.

He says: “In Japan, 150,000 fuel cells have been installed in households to generate power and heat, and in the United States more than 10,000 hydrogen-powered forklifts are operating in warehouses and distribution centres.”

In Norway SINTEF has been working on advancing that technology. Engineers there also want to power forklifts, but they’re planning more: they want as well to power heavy duty trucks and passenger ferries with fuel cells.

Norway is also working on a plan to make its railways greener, running long-distance trains on hydrogen as an alternative to electrifying lines currently operated by diesel locomotives.

“In Germany, the first fuel cell train is already undergoing trials, and Norway is one of many European countries now considering hydrogen-powered trains based on the conclusions of a study carried out by SINTEF for the Norwegian Railway Directorate,” says Møller-Holst. He is convinced Norway should follow the German example.


He recently visited Japan, which is also investing heavily in hydrogen. The reason is that 90 per cent of the country’s energy comes from imported fossil fuels, and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions it wants to turn to hydrogen.  It has signed a contract to start importing hydrogen from Australia in 2020. 

The hydrogen truck revolution began in Norway because the country’s largest food wholesaler, ASKO, decided that hydrogen would be more practical than very ponderous batteries. Its first hydrogen-powered lorries will be delivered in 2018.

The project manager, Anders Ødegård, of SINTEF’s department of sustainable energy technology, says: “The use of batteries to power heavy duty trucks would be very expensive. 

“They would also be so large and heavy that the trucks’ payload capacity would be considerably reduced. We have to obey the laws of physics and respect material-related constraints.”

Massive savings

This would also apply to trains. In the spring of 2015, Møller-Holst and his colleagues at SINTEF completed a study for Norway’s Railway Directorate, showing that it was possible to operate several of Norway’s rail lines emission-free, including the country’s longest route, the Nordland line, which runs from Trondheim to Bodø, just north of the Arctic Circle.

Surprisingly, the report concluded that between €36 and 45 billion could be saved annually on one section of the line if battery- or hydrogen-powered trains were used instead of the more conventional electric trains drawing power from overhead wires.

Four regions in Germany are currently taking the lead internationally in using hydrogen fuel cells in trains. They have commissioned 100 hydrogen-powered passenger trains, the first of which is already undergoing trials, and the technology is expected to be ready for freight trains before 2025.

SINTEF is working with Statkraft and TrønderEnergi on the construction of Europe’s largest wind farm on a mountain across the fjord from Trondheim. It will produce more energy a lot of the time than can be used locally or absorbed into the grid – which means it can provide the hydrogen to power many of Norway’s trucks, ships and trains.

SINTEF’s enthusiasm for hydrogen is yet another example of what can be achieved by a judicious mix of ingenuity and the prospect of unchecked climate change.  

Is the Chevy Colorado ZH2 the new Humvee? We Go For a Ride! (Video) PDF Print E-mail


2020 chevy colorado zh2Chevy Colorado ZH2

Chevy Colorado ZH2 is a hydrogen fuel-cell electric 4×4 vehicle, which is a collaboration between the General Motors and the U.S. Military. This is a “test-bed” prototype vehicle, which is currently being evaluated by several branched of the military. The ZH2 provides several benefits when compared to an older personnel carrier, such as the Humvee. The ZH2 is more fuel/energy efficient (although it uses Hydrogen as fuel, not diesel). The electric ZH2 is much quieter and has a lower heat signature. It can tackle difficult off-road terrain, and it can also supply electricity to feed other equipment. The exhaust byproduct is water, so there could be an additional benefit of collecting and reusing the water it generates.

As the name implies, the ZH2 is based on the production Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup truck, but it is heavily modified. The frame, suspension components, and the cab are much like the production truck, but the propulsion system and the bed area are completely changed. The ZH2 rides on 37-inch tires, has front and rear lockers, and the Multimatic spool-valve shocks that can also be found on the 2017 Colorado ZR2.

The fender areas had to be modified to accommodate larger tires. The bed area was redesigned to house the large Hydrogen gas tanks. The fuel-cell stack is located under the hood. The ZH2 is not a pickup truck and does not have a bed to carry cargo. The roof racks can be used to transport additional equipment and provisions.

Roman had an opportunity to go for a ride in this $4,000,000 prototype. Check it out here.

AFRL’s Advanced Power Technology Office efficiently ‘lifts’ C-5 maintainers PDF Print E-mail
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Transforming the way the Air Force uses energy is a key focus of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Power Technology Office as it seeks to enable the use of alternative energy and energy efficient technologies. 


A new, hybrid electric and battery powered mobile dock system for aircraft depot maintenance is one way that the APTO team is refining capabilities for Air Force teams, developing a clean, efficient energy saving system in the process.

“Traditional lift platforms are either diesel or battery powered. The battery powered lifts have limited range; the batteries are typically depleted over the course of a shift, and they have a lengthy recharge time. This system includes a direct methanol fuel cell for onboard battery charging,” said Eric Griesenbrock, the APTO Installation Energy Working Group Lead. “It’s an electric, battery powered mobile dock but it has a fuel cell that continuously charges the battery—it’s like a ‘Prius’ for maintainers.”

Lift platforms and hard stands play a key role in the maintenance of Air Force platforms, enabling maintainers to safely access panels and components of an aircraft during routine maintenance at a hangar. Existing lift platforms are typically battery powered, with a limited range and lengthy recharge time, or they are diesel fueled, which is costly and limits indoor operations with the hangar doors closed.

Hard stands—similar to scaffolding—require maintainers to construct and relocate as they move around an aircraft to complete maintenance duties. Setting up and moving the hard stands can add a week to the time it takes to get an aircraft ready to begin the maintenance process.

Taking cues from commercial industry giants such as Walmart which uses fuel cell powered systems to operate indoors at distribution centers, the APTO team retrofitted commercial lift platforms with direct methanol fuel cells, aircraft maintenance platforms and safety devices and controls.

The result is a new mobile lift platform that is able to move and shift as maintainers move around an aircraft, eliminating the time required of traditional hard stands. Direct methanol fuel cells provide on-board battery charging, thereby enabling around-the-clock maintenance operations.

“This is a key enabler of systems sustainment,” said Griesenbrock. “Typical maintenance cycles for large aircraft can range from about 100 days up to a year in length for the C-5. Shaving off a day or week by improving equipment can save maintenance time and increase operational readiness for an aircraft.”

Another benefit of the new mobile platform is the integration of ‘clean’ technology which enables maintenance teams to operate the system with hangar doors closed. The enclosed methanol fuel cells for onboard battery charging meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration air, noise, heat and vibration requirements for indoor operations—a direct benefit over diesel fuel operation. Methanol tanks can be refueled in a matter of minutes, similar to a gasoline tank, thereby enabling a quick refueling time.

The new platforms are currently augmenting existing lift platforms and hard stands as part of a six month demonstration to validate their efficiency and effectiveness at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex where the 402d Aircraft Maintenance Group is testing the system at the C-5 maintenance hangar. The demonstration will conclude in July, and so far the APTO team has received positive feedback about the systems capabilities.

“We (APTO) were asked to help improve maintenance productivity for Air Force depots. This new mobile dock is an example of how the technologies APTO investigates have the potential to improve maintenance not only for the C-5, but across Air Force platforms,” said Griesenbrock.

US Army Base Goes Green With Renewable Energy Projec PDF Print E-mail

The U.S. military's biggest base on American soil has begun drawing nearly half of its power from renewable energy, days after President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of a global agreement to fight climate change.

Fort Hood, in Texas, has shifted away from fossil fuels to wind- and solar-generated energy in order to shield the base from its dependence on outside sources, a spokesman said.

"We need to be autonomous. If the unfortunate thing happened and we were under attack or someone attacked our power grid, you'd certainly want Fort Hood to be able to respond," Chris Haug, a spokesman for Fort Hood, said in a phone interview.

The project brings the Army base, home to 36,500 active-duty personnel and some 6,000 buildings, in line with the Department of Defense's decade-long effort to convert its fossil fuel-hungry operations to renewable power.

It comes in the wake of Trump's decision last week to withdraw the United States from a landmark global agreement to fight climate change, the Paris accord, a move that drew condemnation from world leaders and heads of industry.

The project is already fully operational. Its 63,000 solar panels, located on the base's grounds, and 21 off-base wind turbines provide a total of some 65 megawatts of power, according to an Army statement.

Previously, some 77 percent of base's energy was generated by fossil fuels, a 2015 draft report assessing the renewable energy plan shows.

Burning fossil fuel generates greenhouse gases that are blamed by scientists for warming the planet.

The Paris accord aims to reduce such emissions, including by encouraging a shift to clean energy.

Fort Hood's new solar field and wind farm will result in savings of more than $100 million over some 30 years, the Army said.

Over the last decade, the U.S. military and intelligence officials have developed a broad agreement about the security threats that climate change presents, in part by threatening to cause natural disasters in densely populated coastal areas, damage American military bases worldwide and open up new natural resources to global competition.

The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015, a Reuters analysis of Department of Defense data previously showed.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a Department of Defense agency assisting the Army in its renewable-energy shift, is also working with the U.S. Air Force on long-term renewable energy projects, a DLA spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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.

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