How can we balance our desire for personal mobility with the need to protect our climate more effectively? Does the answer lie in hybrid drives, battery-operated vehicles or hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars? Each of these solutions has its own advantages but just one of them combines long driving ranges with short refuelling times and low environmental impact: hydrogen technology.
For years, leading car manufacturers have been working hard to develop series-ready fuel-cell cars that run on hydrogen. Now, for the first time, we are about to see larger numbers of these cars on our roads. And Linde is responsible for the supply and refuelling infrastructure.
In summer 2014, the company opened the world’s first small-scale production facility for hydrogen fuelling stations in Vienna (Austria), once again confirming its pioneering role in this field.
“Hydrogen is the next logical step forward”
Similar to Linde, Japanese energy and gas company Iwatani is also committed to building up a hydrogen infrastructure. In an interview with the editorial team, Marketing Managers Hiroyuki Kusaka and Sadao Yasumi explain why this environmentally friendly source of energy is attracting growing interest in Japan. They go on to describe why Iwatani chose to build its refuelling technology around ionic compressors from Linde.
Hiroyuki Kusaka and Sadao Yasumi, Marketing Managers from Iwatani, at Linde’s Application Centre in Vienna (Austria).
Linde’s proprietary ionic compressor is at the heart of the company’s hydrogen fuelling stations.
Interview: Hiroyuki Kusaka, General Manager, Gas Marketing Development, and Sadao Yasumi, Senior Manager, Gas Marketing Development, Iwatani Corporation
Choose a question
Hiroyuki Kusaka: Historically, in Japan and elsewhere, hydrogen as a product of coal gasification is not really considered a novelty. However, Iwatani is doing a lot to familiarise people with the more recent perception of hydrogen as a clean fuel. For example, we are organising public forums and hold science classes.
Hiroyuki Kusaka: Sometimes safety concerns are raised, and we address these by explaining that hydrogen is at least as safe as other fuels. Overall, confidence in hydrogen technology has increased considerably in Japan lately. The leading role that domestic car manufacturers play in the development of fuel-cell vehicles has proven very helpful here. By the way, more than 80,000 households have already switched to stationary fuel cells to heat their homes.
Sadao Yasumi: Our company grew substantially on the strength of its LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) business, which made Iwatani an important part of the fuel revolution taking place in Japanese households in the fifties. Against that background, you could call investing in hydrogen the next logical step forward for Iwatani. In line with our corporate philosophy, we want to contribute to the realisation of an environmentally friendly “hydrogen society”.
Hiroyuki Kusaka: Comparable to the initiatives in Europe and the US, a group of 13 companies, including three OEMs and Iwatani, is currently engaged in building a national H2 fuelling station network in Japan. The initiative is supported by the METI, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The plan is to have around 100 stations up and running by the end of 2015, rising to over 1,000 in another ten years. By that time, METI envisages two million hydrogen-powered vehicles on Japan’s roads. Toyota’s recently launched fuel-cell vehicle is a clear step in the right direction.
Sadao Yasumi: When it came to choosing the right partner for our increased focus on hydrogen, a company delegation travelled to various countries in 2008 to talk to candidates and evaluate their technological expertise. What can I say – what Linde had to offer was simply the most compelling package. Especially the ionic compression technology sets Linde apart. So far, we have purchased four hydrogen plants and ordered a total of 28 hydrogen fuelling stations from Linde.
Sadao Yasumi: Linde and Iwatani have worked extremely closely and productively from the very beginning – an alliance framed by our technical cooperation agreement. A team of Japanese engineers was almost constantly at Linde’s Application Centre in Vienna in order to check design compliance with Japanese regulations, discuss necessary adjustments with the Linde engineers and integrate custom components. We were also part of the intensive test procedures completed before the compressor stations were shipped to Japan.
Sadao Yasumi: There were – and still are – many challenges to be tackled to obtain the necessary approvals for the Japanese market due to very strict Japanese codes and standards. Overcoming these obstacles in cooperation with Linde was a very positive experience.
View into a completely assembled hydrogen compressor station.
Linde employee Kubulay Avci assembling components of a compressor station.
Key Account Manager Martin Pfandl (centre) shows Sadao Yasumi (left) and Hiroyuki Kusaka (right) around at Linde’s new series production facility in Vienna.
Hydrogen – a global movement
H2 fuelling stations
by the end of 2015
H2 fuelling stations
by the start of 2016
H2 fuelling stations
by the end of 2015
No motorist will buy a car they cannot refuel. And no energy company will open a station unless the cars are lining up. The solution to this hydrogen variant of the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma lies in gradual, coordinated expansion of the H2 infrastructure – starting in the urban areas that are home to the first fuel-cell test vehicles. In Germany, this approach – with Linde playing a key role – has led to 16 public hydrogen fuelling stations opening for business over the past few years.
The number of fuelling stations is now set to increase sharply, keeping pace with production ramp-up for fuel-cell vehicles. The plan, supported by the Federal Ministry of Transport, is to expand the German hydrogen network to cover 50 locations by the end of 2015. And that is just an interim measure. The industry initiative “H2Mobility” has already agreed on a plan to step this up again, setting its sights on around 400 hydrogen fuelling stations nationwide by 2023. Total investment in this pioneering infrastructure project is estimated at around EUR 400 m, making Germany the trailblazer for hydrogen mobility in Europe. But at international level, too, automotive manufacturers, energy and gas companies, and public institutions are coordinating their activities in this field. The most recent example is the pan-European HyFIVE initiative, founded in London in April 2014, which is investing around EUR 40 m in H2 infrastructure expansion.
Japan is pursuing similarly ambitious plans. There, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is supporting an industry initiative to build 100 H2 stations, scheduled to go on stream by the end of 2015 interview, page 34. Meanwhile, the nation’s car manufacturers are adding further impetus, with Toyota presenting its first series-produced fuel-cell vehicle in November 2014. Experts anticipate that as many as two million fuel-cell cars will be driving the streets of Japan by 2025 – served by around 1,000 hydrogen stations.
In California – traditionally at the forefront of environmental protection movements – the California Fuel Cell Partnership (a counterpart of the Clean Energy Partnership in Germany) currently lists nine open hydrogen fuelling stations, predominantly in the smog-afflicted region of Greater Los Angeles. In December 2014, the first retail hydrogen station built by Linde opened for operation in West Sacramento, supplementing the two existing stations Linde constructed near San Francisco in 2012/13 to supply fuel-cell buses operated by AC Transit. Preparations for further H2 fuelling stations are under way, with California set to boast around 70 by the start of 2016.