André Jurres

22 nov 2009

This week I visited a small company that has developed an efficient type of fuel cell or better said an important part of it.  This company is focused on the commercialization and volume production of PEM fuel cell stacks.  As this industry is still very new the world volume is still very small, the biggest producer in the world has a turnover of less than 100 million Euros.  Nevertheless there is a large potential for this type of power production and storage.  Especially if we try to imagine a future were production is decentralized (for a part) and production sites will be small and will have to be sustainable.  A few years ago we saw in the transport sector manufacturers announcing prototypes run on fuel cell technology but these days you only hear of battery run cars.  I wonder what has happened between then and now?  If you look at the potential of both technologies they could and should co-exist with each other.  Perhaps they can even work together in the future cars when you use batteries in the cities or for short distances and hydrogen for the long distance.  Even today we are speaking to investigate the possibility to install refueling stations at waste sites for electrical cars.  Where we(NPG energy) would supply the electricity produced in a sustainable way(read green energy) and as such the electrical cars would run in the most sustainable manner we can think of today.  But also in the grid I see a potential for fuel cells as a flexible way of back-up in the future smart grid.  When we will have tens of thousands of decentralized small production units the grid operators would like to be able to control all these energy flows.  For this it will be necessary to have back-up power and flexibility.  Today there are already fuel cell installations up to 1 MW of production capacity.  I can imagine a smart grid were every 200 households(in the local power grid stations) there is also a stack of fuel cells acting as flexible back-up power.  <span lang="EN">
<span class="headbig1">During the next Olympics in London in 2012 the ferry boats on the Themes will run on electrical power, the waste sites will produce sustainable electricity for these boats when they need to be reloaded.  What is missing today for example to introduce electrical and hydrogen cars is a large distribution network of local reload stations like we know now.  We will need thousands of fuel stations in every country in order to compete successfully with our current petrol stations and as such with the technology.  For the Benelux this could be a real opportunity to take the lead in Europe as we are very small countries with a high density of population/cars/roads.  The investment cost as such will be much more efficient compared with large countries (and less people).   The minute that our transport sector, cars/trucks/boats/motorcycles, can fuel everywhere the manufacturers will provide enough choice for the consumer.  The governments in the Benelux should create a common investment plan and have a role out plan limited in time, preferable five years.  As such the manufacturers will be sure that their heavy investments in electrical and hydrogen cars will be supported by an infrastructure and know in advance when it will be fully available.  This will even be beneficial for are car assembling plants which are having a difficult time to compete against the BRIC countries.  We should aim for the future and innovate as soon as possible our current infrastructure.