The second quarter of this year was a very good one for Tesla, with 201,250 electric cars delivered – a record. On the other hand, more and more comments are appearing that the quality of the vehicles leaves much to be desired. In addition, the market share of this frontrunner in battery-electric mobility is falling massively. In Europe, it is only about 5 per cent in the last quarter (but 13 per cent in China), because companies like VW are gaining a lot of ground and other manufacturers are constantly launching new models. Tesla will certainly find answers, such as a low-cost variant, Model 2, which according to media reports could make its début in 2022.
Two truck heavyweights become partners
Volvo and Daimler have substantiated their plans to use hydrogen for large long-distance trucks. During an online presentation event at the end of April 2021, Martin Lundstedt, President of the Volvo Group, specifically named the high possible payloads and the long ranges as decisive criteria for the use of fuel cell technology. He also held out the prospect of large-scale production starting after 2025 and a gigafactory for fuel cells being built by then. Initially, pre-series production is to take place in Esslingen near Stuttgart. The final location question is to be clarified in 2022.
In the 1990s, methanol was seen as a possible new source of power for fuel cell electric vehicles. And yet, at the turn of the century, it nearly fell out of favor altogether, as the equipment needed to burn the fuel was much more complex than systems that used hydrogen only. Still, the past few years have seen renewed efforts to bring methanol fuel cells to market. Some weeks ago, Roland Gumpert, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Audi Quattro’s four-wheel drive, was back in the news, talking about his latest project, a sports car named after his daughter Nathalie (see H2-international, April 2019).
E4tech Fuel Cell Industry Review
In March 2021, the new Fuel Cell Industry Review 2020 was published, complete with market data and detailed analysis. Since 2014, the team led by E4tech has been contacting fuel cell companies from across the globe, aggregating their shipment figures and producing an independent report each year on the current state of the fuel cell sector. Several extracts are provided here.
2020 was not the year many of us expected. But despite the very difficult situation brought about by COVID-19, fuel cell shipments continued to rise. The increase was much less than we anticipated at the end of 2019, both because of supply chain disruption and local economic slowdown, but is a very encouraging sign.
Hot on the heels of the fuel cell-powered motor glider HY4, which was awarded a test flight permit in late 2020 (see cover story in H2-international, February 2021), another venture was given the green light at the beginning of this year. As part of the follow-up BALIS project, whose approval arrived in just six weeks, the four-seater HY4 aircraft is set to become a 40-seater. On Jan. 21, Steffen Bilger, parliamentary state secretary at the German transportation ministry, handed over EUR 26 million in funding to Josef Kallo from the German aerospace center DLR.
There are two sides to every story. And that’s very much the case with the planned cooperation with General Motors, GM, and the cancellation of 2,500 battery electric refuse trucks for Republic Services which turned out to be rather fortuitous in retrospect. In the GM scenario, Nikola would itself have had to spend over USD 700 million on tools, among other things. The participation of GM with USD 2 billion as a “valuable consideration” would have resulted in a dilution of the number of issued stocks.
The company Weichai Power, which I’ve so far only mentioned in this column as partnering Ballard, has a revenue around the EUR 20 billion mark and a stock market valuation of the same order. In 2020, a good EUR 1 billion was marked up as profit, with dividends also paid out. Weichai Power has several bus brands to its name and is the nation’s largest diesel engine manufacturer; it has clearly recognized the potential offered by fuel cells in the commercial vehicle sector and, in its own words, is intent on becoming the market leader.
In my view, Plug Power [Nasdaq: PLUG] is definitely on the right track: Building and expanding liquid hydrogen production facilities while planning to acquire United Hydrogen. The latter’s 6.5-ton annual capacity should be raised to 10 tons, thus meeting 25 percent of Plug’s in-house demand, meaning eventually the profit margin can come from consumables. Plug is also negotiating with an electrolyzer manufacturer that could or should be absorbed. That all looks very good to me. In a few years’ time, Plug intends to cover more than 50 percent of its own production with green hydrogen.
Europe is leading the way in developing the breakthrough technologies needed to realise hydrogen’s energy potential. With hydrogen-powered buses and taxis being used across major cities, we have demonstrated that the technology can be used on a large scale.
This March, the German gas and water industries association DVGW published the findings of a study called “Hydrogen electric vehicles – trends and outlook,” which the organization had commissioned to evaluate the prospects for hydrogen in the transportation sector.