Hydrail in Germany: another welcome first

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

About 12 years ago, when I first became interested in what’s now called hydrail (hybrid hydrogen fuel cell and battery railway traction), I caught a glimmer of the idea online from Germany in the State of Schleswig-Holstein. Someone there had seen that wireless electric trains could be powered by wind turbines via hydrogen .

Eight or nine years went by and I met Dr. Holger Busche, who later chaired and assembled the Ninth International Hydrail Conference (9IHC) in the railroad city of Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein. When we met and compared notes it turned out that it was Dr. Busche who had conceived of wind-powered hydrail  back then.

Last year in Neumünster, Dr. Busche and his colleague, Herr Detlef Matthiessen MdL, Speaker for Energy Policy and Technology in the Schleswig-Holstein Parliament, proposed that Germany inaugurate an annual German hydrail event. All the country-specific accomplishments, needs and opportunities could be hashed-out and the results brought to—and shared with—the International Hydrail Conference, wherever it happened to be held each year.

The more I think about the Busche-Matthiessen concept, the better I like it.  For the introduction of ideas, an international forum is probably most productive. But, for the production of results on the ground where market-disruptive innovation is called for, a backdrop of national cohesion makes breakaway ideas more palatable. The Germany-specific  hydrail event is such a good idea I’ve recommended sponsoring similar national events to prospective IHC hosts in the UK and China.

Germany, the UK and China have critical masses of hydrail awareness great enough to benefit from a national event. Though I hate to say it, it seems unlikely that the USA could muster the momentum—even though we’re the birthplace of hydrail and the first country to manufacture and export the technology commercially.

The last serious hydrail story I’ve seen in a major US paper was an excellent piece by environmental writer Bruce Henderson in the Charlotte Observer, way back in 2006.  Since then—although the Charlotte-area Hydrail Conference organizers have made invited presentations in Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, England, France (just a cameo), Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and around the US—all offers to update The Observer’s 2006 piece have been declined.

2015 is the first year of the annual German-specific hydrail event and they’ve got a lot to talk about. At the top of the list is the forty hydrail commuter train order that Alstom Transport’s Salzgitter works will deploy in four German states by year-end 2020. Alstom unveiled their hydrail vision nine years ago at the Second International Hydrail Conference in Herning, Denmark. [http://www.hydrail.org/conferences/47]

So far as I know, the German hydrail event’s still unnamed. But the location will be Kiel; the date will be 29 April, 2015; and the results will be summarized at the Tenth International Hydrail Conference, to be held at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte this year on 21-24 June. [http://railconference.uncc.edu]

For presentations at all nine International Hydrail Conferences, visit http://www.hydrail.org/conferences.

NanoFlowcell QUANTiNO Water Fuel Cell Car Stuff

So, is the nanoFlowcell QUANTiNO a hydrogen fuel cell car or not? This may be a tough call. The vehicle doesn’t use a traditional hydrogen fuel cell with compressed H2 gas and oxygen from the air flowing over the polymer exchange membrane (PEM).

Instead the nanoFlowcell uses an ionic liquid catalyst in two 175-liter tanks and the liquid flows over a fuel cell to create electricity.

According to NanoFlowCell AG, “With its two 175-litre tanks, the QUANTiNO is able to carry 350 litres of ionic liquid in total – one tank with a positive charge and one with a negative charge. The refuelling process is similar to the procedure which is customary today, the sole difference being that two tanks are filled simultaneously, each with a different fluid.”

They go onto say, “As an alternative drive system, the nanoFlowcell® is operated with an ionic liquid. “Instead of using hydrogen and oxygen as in a conventional fuel cell, we work with two ionic fluids – one with a positive charge and one with a negative charge,” explains Nunzio La Vecchia.”

The NanoFlowcell QUANTiNO has a range of over 600 miles and generates around 136hp. The QUANTiNO is definitely some sort of electric vehicle and some sort of fuel cell vehicle. One can argue that it is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle since it uses a liquid hydrogen carrier which transports both positive ions and negative ions through the fuel cell device in order to create electricity. It can also be argued that this is more of a battery electric vehicle with the ionized water replacing other lithium-type batteries.

One can also argue that this is a new class of vehicle that is neither battery-electric, nor hydrogen fuel cell. I’ll let you make the call on this one.


External References





2 Consumers Criticize the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell Vehicle

Hyundai FCV Tucson at dealership in Tustin, CAIt’s true that the Hyundai ix35 Tucson Fuel Cell Vehicle has won several awards such as Ward’s 10 Best Engines. But there are also a couple of consumer critics who need to be listened to as well. Ultimately it is the consumers who decide the fate of the hydrogen cars and not those giving the awards.

For instance Michael Goldstein, who is an automotive journalist, tried to lease a Hyundai ix35 FCV from the Tustin dealership in Southern California, just two months after the SUV’s were offered for lease. What he found out when looking at the paperwork was a hidden $70/month surcharge that made him walk away from the deal.

Gabe Shenhar, who leased a Hyundai FCV in Connecticut, has two main complaints including the vehicle feeling underpowered and the lack of hydrogen fueling stations.

According to Shenhar, “A more serious problem–and the biggest obstacle to the rapid adoption of hydrogen as a fuel–is the scarcity of hydrogen filling stations. We have access to only one, in Wallingford, CT which is 32 miles away from our track. That situation could change, but for now anyone with a hydrogen car will be on a short leash or will need to carefully plan their travel plans.”


Lessons to be learned?

First, c’mon Hyundai dealerships, you don’t need bad PR for hidden fees when rolling out brand, spankin’ new technology which will greatly influence future sales.

Second, Hyundai and consumers, leasing a vehicle that only has one filling station 32 miles away seems like a setup for frustration and failure. This negative consumer reaction needs to be anticipated and accounted for when rolling out future vehicles.

France Fuel Cell Businesses Face Off with Japanese Market

The French say “in your face” when it comes to introducing fuel cells to the Japanese market. Last month I had talked about 5 plug-in hybrid fuel cell Renault Kangoo ZE vehicles with Symbio FCell Range-Extenders rolling out in France.

This month, 3 French fuel cell companies, McPhy, PaxiTech and Atawey (which a way?) will be presenting at the 2015 Japanese Fuel Cell Expo.

According to McPhy Energy, “Japan clearly shows its determination to become the Fuel Cell technology world leader, including hydrogen cars. Three French industries located in Rhone-Alpes, will be present at the Fuel Cells international exhibition in Tokyo.

“From February 25 to 27, Atawey, McPhy and PaxiTech will show their expertise to the Japanese manufacturers at the Fuel Cell Expo . From isolated sites energy supply to portable energy systems through the production and storage of hydrogen, they offer turnkey solutions. During three days, they will be the ambassadors of the French hydrogen technology in the land of the rising sun.” (and not to be confused with the House of the Rising Sun).

And wait, there’s more. On January 26, 2015, the French opened their 1st hydrogen fueling station in the region of La Manche. The Man of La Manche, Jean-François Le Grand has stated that they won’t be tilting at windmills by using wind power to create renewable hydrogen via Air Liquide to serve the Renault Kangoo ZE FCVs.


Halanaerobium Hydrogeninformans Rocks Out H2 Production

Dr. Melanie Mormile, a researchers at Missouri S&T, has discovered that the extreme bacterium halanaerobium hydrogeninformans can produce large amounts of hydrogen under the right conditions.

According to Missouri S&T, “Mormile, an expert in the microbial ecology of extreme environments, wasn’t searching for a bacterium that could produce hydrogen. Instead, she first became interested in bacteria that could help clean up the environment, especially looking at the extremophiles found in Soap Lake. An extremophile is a microorganism that lives in conditions of extreme temperature, acidity, alkalinity or chemical concentration. Living in such a hostile environment, ‘Halanaerobium hydrogeninformans’ has metabolic capabilities under conditions that occur at some contaminated waste sites …

“…The infrastructure isn’t in place now for hydrogen to replace gasoline as a fuel for planes, trains and automobiles. But if hydrogen becomes an alternative to gasoline, ‘Halanaerobium hydrogeniformans,’mass-produced on an industrial scale, might be one solution …”

Now, I’ve talked many times before about using bacteria to create hydrogen but this new extreme bacterium may breathe new life into the all of the above approach to organic hydrogen production.


Renault Kangoo ZE with Symbio FCell Rolls Out

In France, 5 plug-in hybrid fuel cell Renault Kangoo ZE vehicles have rolled out as part of a rapid launch project aimed at deploying 40 such vehicles. They are calling the fuel cell part of these vehicles “range extenders.”

According to the press release on BusinessWire, “Today Symbio FCell announces the launch of five first new hydrogen powered Light Commercial Vehicles equipped with the Symbio FCell Range-Extender, as part of a venture directed by the Conseil Général de la Manche, whose ambition is to pioneer the green hydrogen production and distribution in France. La Manche indeed counts amongst the first departments in France to own a hydrogen filling station (active in Saint Lo) and five plug-in hybrid battery fuel cell light vehicles. Furthermore, it has an important potential for low-carbon electricity production, based on marine renewable energies (hydrokinetic and offshore wind) and nuclear.

“The Conseil Général de la Manche aims to put on the road a total of forty hydrogen-powered Renault Kangoo ZE utility vehicles equiped with the Symbio FCell Range-Extender. This technology recharges the battery when it drops below a certain level and permits the vehicle to be refueled with 1.8kg of hydrogen, 1kg of which powers a distance of over 100km; the range-extender therefore almost doubles the daily range of battery powered vehicles, a significant improvement that makes hydrogen-powered electric vehicles more competitive in the automotive markets.”

Symbio FCell believes that adding a hydrogen fuel to the vehicles will do things including first extending the range of the vehicles over battery electric vehicles and second, reducing the need for a large EV charging infrastructure.


First Toyota Mirai Delivered and Hyundai Cuts Prices

On January 15, 2015 Toyota delivered its first production Mirai fuel cell vehicle (pictured above) to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Handing off the keys was Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda.

Mr. Toyoda is quoted saying, “This is a historic step and I’m truly excited. This will be a long journey, and to make this first step truly historic we will all need to work together.”

Now according to the Korea Herald, the relatively low price of the Mirai is forcing Hyundai to drop the price of their ix35 Tucson fuel cell vehicle almost in half.

The Korea Herald states, “Toyota debuted the FCV Mirai, a mid-size four-door sedan, at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show in November with a price tag of 7.24 million yen ($62,000). The price is almost half that of a Tucson FCV priced at 150 million won ($139,000). Both prices exclude the government rebates …

“…In Korea, the government subsides $55,700 per Tucson FCV unit, meaning that individual Korean consumers still have to pay $83,500 to buy Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered car … Hyundai Motor recently informed Gwangju City, a major local buyer of the Tucson FCV, of its internal decision to cut the car price.”

Because of the high price tag Hyundai had only sold 10 Tucson FCV’s in South Korea last year. Compare this to Toyota which has already received orders for 1,500 Mirais in Japan of which 60-percent are going to government agencies and 40-percent to individual consumers.

At least now Hyundai is headed in the right direction towards finding a price point that will get both government and commercial consumers excited about buying their cutting edge vehicles.


Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion Fuel Cell Vehicle Unveiled

At the 2015 CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas the Mercedes Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion fuel cell vehicle has been unveiled. This concept vehicle is also a self-driving car.

According to Sci-Tech Today, “The F 015 is built from lightweight carbon fiber, aluminum, and high-strength steel. The car is technically a rechargeable hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. It has a battery that recharges by parking it on a charge pad, a technology that will likely arrive as an alternative for plug-in electric vehicles before this concept car goes on sale. The F 015 also has a fuel cell powered by tanks of compressed hydrogen.

“Such a concept car allows Mercedes to flex its technical and creative muscles, and keeps the Mercedes name at the forefront of the self-driving conversation. Both experts and automakers say it isn’t a question of if these vehicles hit the road, it’s when.”

Mercedes-Benz says that this vehicle won’t be available until around 2030, but it wants to start the conversation now about the benefits of luxury models of self-driving cars that are also zero emission vehicles. At some point Limo drivers may need to find a new line of work.


Lexus LS Fuel Cell Limousine in the Works for 2017

In late 2014, Toyota unveiled its production fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai. Now there is a fairly credible rumor floating that the car company will also unveil its luxury Lexus LS Fuel Cell Limousine in 2017.

According to Motoring.com.au, “Like the Mirai, the LS FCEV will employ the Toyota Fuel Cell System (TFCS), but it will be reconfigured for retro-fitment within the LS’s conventional layout.

“According to one source, the LS’s nose section will be redesigned with larger air intakes to ventilate the hydrogen powered electric system. The car will incorporate a fuel-cell unit under the front seat, a hydrogen tank under the rear seat and another tank under the rear parcel shelf.

“Tipping the scales at around 2100kg (at least 200kg less than the existing LS hybrids), the LS FCEV will incorporate a power unit combining a 150kW fuel-cell stack and a powerful 220kW electric motor to deliver a potential emissions-free driving range of 384km.”

Presumably priced at over $100,000 including subsidies, the Lexus LS Fuel Cell Limousine will most likely be produced in small numbers. It also may be a desirable solution for the Hollywood elite and business executives who would like to make a statement about the merits of going green.


Preview: hydrail in 2015

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

Long before he was honored with with his own automobile brand, Serbian inventor-engineer Niccola Tesla had an annual tradition of predicting on his birthday the future of technology.  Lesser lights, including myself, use the birthday of the New Year to make predictions. Here are ten for 2015:

2015-1     The announcement last year by Alstom Transport that its Salzgitter works will produce 40 hydrail trainsets for northern German states by 2020 will move substantially toward becoming a norm rather than just an introduction.

(see search argument:  alstom+forty+trainsets+salzgitter+gazette) Hydrail is hybrid electric railway traction powered by hydrogen fuel cells and batteries in combination. It needs no power applied along the track and so is far less costly.

Specifically, hydrail will become the traction power of choice (replacing diesel) for those European lines where traffic has not been considered adequate to justify the cost of constructing and maintaining external electrification.

Last month I got a call from the staff of a member of the European Parliament.  He asked to be put in touch with hydrail experts in the EU. His Member’s interest had to do with northern Italy.

While it’s dangerous to extrapolate a paradigm shift from just two points, a European shift of rail traction from carbon to sustainably-derived hydrogen is natural for a couple of reasons: (1) oil has become an economic weapon in Europe’s neighborhood and railways are an asset important enough to shield from it; and (2) Europe takes the role of carbon fuels in climate change very seriously.

Well before the German hydrail fleet is deployed, its planned existence could make further extension of track electrification—even where traffic growth might formerly have justified it—non-fungible. The European economy is too stressed allocate millions of Euros to a doubtful legacy technology, just on the basis of tradition and familiarity. If the Alstom innovation becomes generally known, public funding for expensive, 130-year-old overhead electrification could become hard to justify.

2015-2    The venerable Oxford English Dictionary will finally—if belatedly—include a hydrail entry.

2015-3    The developing hydrail collaboration among North Carolina’s Appalachian State University (“ASU”), the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (“UNCC”) and the University of Birmingham, UK (“UB”), will be formalized.  Ever since UB hosted the Seventh International Hydrail Conference in 2012 they have been exchanging speakers and graduate students with UNCC.  UB granted its first hydrail Ph.D. to Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter (now at Warwick University) in 2013. I expect to see the first advanced railway technology school in the Americas to offer hydrail courses begin to take shape  at UNCC in 2015.

2015-4   UNCC will, I predict, host the Tenth International Hydrail Conference in North Carolina this year, becoming the first host to organize two Hydrail Conferences. (UB will host the Eleventh Hydrail Conference in the UK, becoming the second repeat host.) Appalachian State will continue to play the central organizing role in both, as they have for every Hydrail Conference since the first in 2005.

2015-5  The small fleet of hydrail mining locomotives now being tested in the Republic of South Africa will be expanded and plans for the total replacement (or upgrading) of battery powered mining locomotives in the country with hydrail will be disclosed.

Now, following are some predictions that I devoutly hope to get wrong.  They are things that could be going to happen in 2015 but which won’t—not because of any technological or financial reasons but simply because of Niccolo Machiavelli’s principle explaining “The Difficulty of Change.”

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.

For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have actually had experience of it.

Thus it arises that on every opportunity for attacking the reformer, his opponents do so with the zeal of partisans while the others only defend him halfheartedly, so that between them he runs great danger.”

Machiavelli was referring to innovators. His principle, though, is just as applicable to the innovations themselves—including hydrail. Here are some predictions concerning what might have been but almost certainly won’t:

2015-6   SICA (the Spanish acronym for the Central American Integration System) will not announce the first leg of a hydrail train line connecting Panama to Guatemala (and all the intervening countries), powered by hydrogen electrolyzed from the abundant hydroelectricity  in the region. The United States, whose Congress funded the invention of hydrail at the beginning of this century, will not take a leadership position to facilitate such a rail line, which could enhance relations with Latin America. But China, whose Southwest Jiaotong University recently produced their first hydrail locomotive, may do so.

2015-7   The USA will not include, as part of its thaw with Cuba, help with the integration of the Island’s railroads into a system of  hydrail tourist trains powered by renewable biomass hydrogen made from bagasse—the fibrous waste product of cane sugar production.

2015-8   News media fixation on electric automobiles (whose manufacturers buy retail advertising) will largely eclipse the offshore emergence of hydrail trams/streetcars (whose makers sell only to governments and don’t advertise), further retarding reintroduction of streetcars. The resulting harm to public transit will reprise the 1940’s effort toward displacement of streetcars by private auto manufacturers—though the insistent emergence of an urban no-car generation will assure an eventual streetcar market;  just later in developing than it could have been.

2015-9   The job-creating ability of wireless hydrail streetcar lines to move materials and finished products in and out of urban areas during the wee hours of the morning will not help either Europe or the USA to grow their manufacturing sectors and grow walkable employee commuting. This is a shame; Volkswagen’s brilliant innovation in Dresden could be applied in a lot of lagging American cities, including—ironically—Detroit.  (see search argument:   volkswagen+dresden+urban+factory)

2015-10   US municipalities will continue to pour public money into short-lived, extravagantly priced, legacy trolley lines—restringing unsightly aerial plant and eliminating tree-lined city-scapes—because of a want of news coverage disclosing to the public the existence of a far less costly wireless hydrail alternative.

So much for a look at what will and won’t be. To see what is (for hydrail news references and access to presentations at International Hydrail Conferences since 2005), visit: http://www.hydrail.org.



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