Urban carbon emission is destroying the green layer of earth, hence, automobile engineers and innovators are recurrently coming up with new ideas to fight it down. Given the fact that the transportation sector is one of the highest contributors to these nasty emissions, technologies like water-based fuel and the already popular battery-powered vehicles are taking the roads.
Likewise, the hydrogen fuel cell is also anticipated to have the potential to offer a green future to smart cities. According to the Hydrogen Council, a global CEO-led initiative with a vision to foster hydrogen economy, hydrogen consumption could reach 25% by 2050 from the current less than 2% of the consumption at the global level. What could push the statistics? A hint of it is discussed ahead!
The First-Ever Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bicycle
Approximately six years ago, the world’s first-ever hydrogen fuel cell bicycle (with electrically-assisted pedalling) called the ‘Alter Bike’ was introduced through a collaborative effort of three French companies, Pragma (the fuel cell manufacturer), Cycleurope (bicycle designer) and Ventec (battery management systems designer).
And today, the European hydrogen fuel cell specialist, Pragma Industries has successfully increased the maximum range of its green bike, now known as ‘Alpha Bikes’ by 50%.
A fleet of 200 Alpha Bikes is ready to be a part of the 45th G7 World Summit in Biarritz, France, from August 24th to 26th. This fleet will be sustainable transport provision to the journalists covering the event. The initiative is a part of the project funded by low-carbon energy leader, Engie. Once the summit is over, the hydrogen bikes will be available to the public in the city for the long-term rental basis, adding an eco-transport facility in the region.
To understand the fuel mechanism within the bike, there is a lithium-ion battery coupled with a fuel cell that is powered by a hydrogen gas cylinder.
Originally, the Alter Bike consumed a 200-bar-capacity gas cylinder that delivered an electrically-assisted pedalling range of about 100 km per fill. But now, Pragma has replaced the old original cylinder for ultra-lightweight, non-limited life, high pressure (300 bar) carbon composite gas cylinder with a potential to reach a maximum range of 150 km, as per the claims. This advanced high-pressure cylinder is from AMS Composite Cylinders.
Nevertheless, there is more that can magnify the practicability of these bicycles. In the near future, it is envisioned that the riders could carry multiple reusable hydrogen cartridges with them as they ride and refill the cylinder when required. Until then, hydrogen refuelling stations will take the charge.
Besides the increased range, Alpha bikes will offer several other practical benefits. As per Pierre Forte, founder and CEO of Pragma Industries, the Alpha bikes are better than electric battery bikes in terms of both range and refuelling. While batteries typically need several hours to recharge, hydrogen cylinders can be refuelled within two minutes. This benefit is invaluable for fleet applications.
The upgrade with Alpha bikes will enable the rider to use it for a week (approximately), further curbing the time, cost and hassle that comes with refuelling.
Launched in 2018, Alpha bikes are commercially available hydrogen fuel cell bicycles. Riding the same as an ordinary bicycle, with extra electric support, its design offers a green transport solution to private owners and commercial services such as last-mile delivery, government-bike schemes etc.
Pragma is expanding the production of the bikes to meet the increasing international demand and is also having plans to explore greater range extension with AMS cylinders in the upcoming models.
Another Hydrogen Revolution In France
Similar to the hydrogen-based bike fleet, the city of Paris is witnessing the augmentation of hydrogen fuel cell taxis. HysetCo, the first only company devoted to the development of hydrogen mobility has been launched in Paris as a result of a partnership between Société du Taxi Électrique Parisien (STEP), Idex, Toyota, and Air Liquide.
The joint venture is believed to be a significant step in the advent of a hydrogen-based society in France. This is clear with the Hype fleet expansion of 100 Hyundai Hydrogen taxis in Paris in the first quarter of 2019, with 500 Toyota Mirai yet to be launched by the end of next year. This is inclusive of the HysetCo’s mission to roll out 600 taxis by 2020. In addition, the joint venture includes the distribution of hydrogen and the advancement of mobility-related applications.
Through the hydrogen mobility project, the partners are committed to green transportation and the improvement of air quality. With the rollouts, the collaboration will also be demonstrating hydrogen mobility as a practical solution for clean passenger transportation, across the world.
HysetCo’s mission is to encourage the sector’s transition towards zero emissions to achieve zero emissions for taxis by the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
As said by Thierry Franck de Préaumont, President, IDEX, they are convinced that the fuel cell electric vehicles will advance and rapidly reach the heavy goods vehicles. The main reason would be the limitations of battery storage capacity. Idex believes that hydrogen will play an important role in the energy value chain.
Currently, with a fleet of 100 hydrogen taxis, Paris has four hydrogen recharging stations built as a result of the joint venture. As another 600 taxis hit the roads next year, it is estimated that it will lead to a visible contribution to air quality.
The new French revolution happening with hydrogen taxis is seen as an incredible project that combines technology, ecology and economy to yield great benefits. This has been focused on taxis, as they are one of the primary modes of mobility in smart cities.
Hydrogen has one of these interesting characters of being the most abundant chemical element in the universe (and Earth), but not capable of occurring naturally. Hence, the innovators use a technology involving the extraction of the element from natural gas, electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen among others.
Hydrogen is such a high energy resource, that even NASA has been using liquid hydrogen as a fuel since the 1970s.
To be clear, hydrogen gas is not a direct source of energy but rather a carrier of energy. Mainly, it serves as the purpose of storing renewable energy when all of it cannot be consumed. Moreover, it can also be used to manufacture energy to power hybrid as well as autonomous vehicles.
In fact, the heat produced during the hydrogen production process can be utilised locally to heat buildings. For example, Japan has 250,000 homes being powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Furthermore, water steam is the only emission caused by hydrogen, meaning that it does not emit any pollutants or greenhouse gases. And therefore, the use of element can contribute to an enormous reduction in carbon emissions.
Despite several benefits, some are concerned about the safety, as hydrogen is explosive material. But now even that seems like a manageable characteristic when Hyundai’s first-ever hydrogen fuel cell SUV ‘Nexo’ has been awarded Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the US.
Perhaps, it is likely that owing to the benefits of the technology, its usage might overshadow the usage of battery-powered vehicles in the future because battery-based vehicles have some limitations like bulkiness, extended recharging time and high costs. But considering the current situation, electric vehicles are leading the charge in smart cities.