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06/Jan/2023

The Competitiveness of Auto Suppliers Will Depend on Diversified Power Technologies Led by Hydrogen Power

The development of hydrogen energy has been formally put into commercialization and practical application in the past ten years. Due to its short history, its potential has not been truly developed by the industry, so it is often seriously misunderstood and distorted as a new energy source that lacks competitiveness. In particular, the rising trend of lithium vehicles in the market is considered to be a reasonable inference that suppresses the space for hydrogen vehicles. Even some car manufacturers, including Volkswagen, have expressed extremely pessimistic views on hydrogen energy vehicles; the media has also spread the wrong message that Hyundai Motor has decided to suspend the development of Genesis hydrogen vehicles; even Tesla, which focuses on lithium vehicles, has also joined in the singing declining ranks. These incidents did not prevent the development potential of hydrogen vehicles from being gradually discovered by car manufacturers, and more car manufacturers corrected their original reserved or even negative practices. The record-setting blizzard in North America during the Christmas holiday in 2022 made lithium vehicles, including Tesla, unable to charge and immobilize, further highlighting the fact that lithium vehicles are by no means ideal new energy vehicles. It has become an indisputable fact that hydrogen vehicles are the inevitable trend of the future. The question is how to gradually migrate from fuel vehicles to hydrogen vehicles, and whether to fully tap the potential of hydrogen energy to completely replace fossil fuels will be a major challenge for the industry.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells Are Moving towards Lower Prices

In 2020, Volkswagen Technical Director Matthias Rabe expressed his concerns about the hardware architecture of hydrogen vehicles and the lack of public facilities in a media interview, so he thinks it is unsuitable for passenger cars. Herbert Diess, CEO of the group, also quoted a report published in the German Handelsblatt by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research (PIK) on the inefficiency and high cost of hydrogen fuel cells. Among them, hydrogen vehicles are not the solution, and the debate will only waste time. It is intended to educate German politicians who advocate hydrogen energy. However, with his resignation in September 2022, the succession of Porsche CEO Oliver Blume seems to trigger the possibility of new changes.

In November 2022, it was reported that Volkswagen and Kraftwerk Tubes, a German company, jointly proposed that the patent for ceramic membranes used in fuel cells was published, which caused extensive media reports, and everyone noticed that as early as February 2022, the German Business Insider revealed relevant information in an exclusive interview with the founder of Kraftwerk. The ceramic membrane technology is cheaper than the platinum-containing polymer membranes Toyota and Hyundai use because they can separate substances without platinum. Platinum, a rare metal, is expensive and one of the main obstacles to reducing the mass production cost of hydrogen fuel cells. Kraftwerk Tubes also claims that another advantage of the ceramic membrane is that it does not require wetting during operation, reducing the hidden dangers of freezing in winter, mold in high-humidity environments, and excessive drying at high temperatures. Hyundai and Toyota's current polymer membrane technology must be combined with complex and expensive systems to avoid the above problems. The technology developed by the company is the same as solid-state batteries, both have almost the same electrolyte and similar material structure, the difference is that solid-state batteries have only one solid material for energy storage, but the company's technology can also be used in fuel cells and can advance the endurance to 2000 kilometers.

Although Kraftwerk's current technology plan will not start mass production until 2026, the company is not only cooperating with Volkswagen but also includes at least several car manufacturers such as Infinity. This means that although many car manufacturers have not announced any mass production plans for hydrogen vehicles, or even slandered the development of hydrogen vehicles, they have secretly put them into development. Another significance is that with the deeper investment in the industry, more key technologies will be broken through, making hydrogen vehicles more competitive, and more car manufacturers will evaluate the possibility of commercialization.

Porsche Verifies Feasibility of Hydrogenation of Internal Combustion Engines in Line with Expectations

Although Volkswagen has not announced any change in its attitude towards the possibility of commercializing hydrogen vehicles, Porsche, a subsidiary of its group, is doing its best to study how hydrogen fuel can replace fossil fuels and move towards zero-emission technology. The company is simultaneously developing various possible power solutions for the future, including hybrid systems, pure electric drives, and high-efficiency internal combustion engines. Its initial development direction in hydrogen energy vehicles is not hydrogen fuel cells, but the introduction of its proud 4.4-liter V8 turbocharged internal combustion engine into a hydrogen fuel system as an early test object. After all, the experience in developing hydrogen fuel cells is shallow, and it requires a huge investment in research and development resources, which is time-consuming. Directly using the existing internal combustion engine to switch to hydrogen fuel will have greater development benefits. Porsche has developed four more powerful turbocharging concepts to replace conventional turbos and incorporate the technology previously used on the track, allowing the turbocharger to operate on new fuels with maximum efficiency comparable to the horsepower and torque of current high-performance gasoline combustion engines, as well as low energy consumption and the same cleanliness of exhaust emissions as the atmosphere. The company has no plans to put the hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine into mass production but instead uses the program to research drive technologies with alternative potential and to expand existing engineering R&D capabilities. From this, it can be clearly understood that although Porsche has not announced any plans for the commercialization of hydrogen vehicles, judging by its voluntary disclosure that the test meets the goals of the plan, the company has included hydrogen fuel in the development technology used in future models among them, it should be an indisputable fact.

Toyota Develops Affordable Cars with a Hydrogen-fueled Internal Combustion Engine

As early as 2021, five companies including Toyota, Subaru, Yamaha, and Kawasaki announced at the press conference before the Japan Super Endurance Series held at the Okayama International Circuit in Japan that they will develop internal combustion engines based on hydrogen fuel to expand fuel selectivity and achieve zero emissions. The 5.0 V8 hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine developed by Yamaha is based on the 2UR-GSE, which is currently used in Lexus RC-F, LC500 models, etc., and widely installed by the Toyota Group, and introduces a hydrogen-fueled prototype internal combustion engine. The use of hydrogen fuel to power the internal combustion engine preserves the sound, giving it an advantage over battery-powered models.

In addition to hydrogenation of high-performance internal combustion engines, Toyota has also conducted the same tests on affordable models, including the 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-3 internal combustion engine version of the GR Corolla H2 in all rounds of the Super Taikyu endurance touring car series in Japan, and the GR Yaris H2 in the Ypres Rally in Belgium. The company claims that such regular and intensive activities will help accelerate development and technological progress. It has increased the original hydrogen combustion power by 24%, increased torque by 33%, and the maximum horsepower has reached the same 300hp as the fuel version, which is comparable to that of the fuel version. A breakthrough that rivals the dynamic performance of gasoline internal combustion engines. In addition, the endurance has been extended by about 30%, and the hydrogen refueling time has been reduced from about 5 minutes to 90 seconds. The Corolla Cross H2 prototype vehicle equipped with GR Corolla H2, whose hydrogen storage tank comes from Mirai, has been tested in northern Japan at the end of 2022. At present, the commercialization rate of products such as the Corolla Cross H2 concept car is about 40%, and it is not yet certain that they can reach maturity on the road.

BMW affirms that hydrogen energy vehicles are an inevitable trend, with mass production of the iX5 hydrogen energy version by the end of 2022

The development trend of hydrogen vehicles in 2022 is quite different from the past. In the past, Toyota and Hyundai Motor, the two major automakers in Asia, struggled alone, and gradually evolved into a favorable trend that is widely recognized by major automakers and has established commercialization plans. This trend has spread to the iconic BMW car factory in Europe. In October 2022, Oliver Zipse, chairman of the company, pointed out in the UK that lithium vehicles have lasted for about 10 years and have rapidly expanded in scale. However, the lack of fully developed and maintained charging infrastructure may make the market vulnerable to higher efficiency technologies. Therefore, the next trend will be hydrogen. He believes that the current hydrogen fuel infrastructure is not perfect, but because it is stored in a hydrogen storage tank and can be filled at any time, hydrogen will become the most fashionable thing when it is more scalable.

Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce under BMW, believes that hydrogen vehicles are suitable for its luxury driving style and brand image, which seems to reveal that BMW Group strategically intends to set hydrogen vehicles in the development of high-end models.

The most precise action on the BMW hydrogen vehicle began at the end of 2022, when the pilot production and testing of the hydrogen version of the iX5 began at the Research and Innovation Center in Munich, using the electric motor with the fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology and the high-performance battery developed for the vehicle, combined with two hydrogen tanks and a powerful drive system such as fuel cells integrated into the existing BMW X5 platform for low-volume production operation. And it is scheduled to start demonstrations of carbon-free transportation technologies in selected regions in the spring of 2023. BMW purchases the individual fuel cells needed to manufacture the BMW iX5 Hydrogen from Toyota assembles them into a fuel cell stack and installs all other components to form a complete fuel cell system. Some of the parts used by BMW have equivalent functions to the charge air cooler, air filter, control unit, and other technologies in the internal combustion engine, and the high-speed compression of the turbine and high-pressure coolant pump has also been specially developed for the hydrogen fuel cell system. Its cooperation with Toyota is not only on hydrogen vehicles but also includes the previous Z4 shared platform and Supra twin sports car models. The continuous output of the second-generation fuel cell used in the BMW iX5 Hydrogen has more than doubled, while the weight and size have been significantly reduced. Therefore, the company believes that hydrogen vehicles are already in an ideal position technically, and the technology of the drive system has reached considerable maturity and can be installed together with lithium vehicles to piece together a complete product line of electric vehicles.

Daimler Mercedes-Benz Hydrogen Heavy Vehicle Reaches a Range of 1,000KM

Based on the influence of long-distance transportation of heavy vehicles and adaptation to various environmental factors such as variable terrain and climate, the use of hydrogen fuel cells is the best choice, and it has become a consensus in the industry. The earliest development of hydrogen-powered heavy-duty vehicles began with the strategic development of Hyundai Motor of various models in an all-around way. In response to the necessity of hydrogen-powered heavy-duty vehicles in the mountainous terrain of Switzerland, it announced in 2019 that it would become the first country where the business will be launched. It was officially launched in 2020 and become the world's first mass-produced hydrogen truck for heavy-duty transportation. The truck has a dual array composed of 90 kW stacks, can provide 180 kW of power, is equipped with seven hydrogen tanks, and has a range of 400 kilometers. There are 47 units in operation in Switzerland by the end of 2022. Under the funding of the German Federal Government, 27 vehicles will be introduced into the largest market for commercial vehicles in Europe. Also, it received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deploy five hydrogen trucks in California.

Daimler-Benz Group has no plans to mass-produce passenger cars at this stage, but in 2021, it established CellCentric, a joint venture with Volvo Group, to jointly develop hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles. Then, a fully loaded 40-ton hydrogen truck was released at the IAA Transportation exhibition in Hannover in September 2022, demonstrating its practicality on public roads. The company preferred liquid hydrogen when developing hydrogen fuel drives for a long time, and cooperated with Linde to develop a new technology for processing liquid hydrogen called sLH2; compared with gaseous hydrogen, the energy carrier has a significantly higher energy density relative to volume. It can carry more hydrogen fuel, thereby increasing its endurance. It can reach 1000 KM without hydrogen refueling in the middle, making its performance comparable to that of traditional diesel trucks. It is especially suitable for heavy-duty long-distance transportation that requires flexibility and harsh application environments. Mass production is expected to begin in 2025. The progress of Volvo Group is roughly the same as that of Daimler.

Mining Ultra-Heavy Trucks Powered by Hydrogen Already on the Road

Not only trucks, but even the huge mining machines and ore trucks used by mining companies, there have been many cases of trying to use hydrogen energy in full swing. Since mining-related equipment requires huge power, the use of lithium batteries requires extremely long charging time, which is not conducive to operational efficiency. The use of hydrogen energy has become a consensus in the industry.

In South Africa, Anglo American, ENGIE, Plug Power, and Ballard Power Systems have partnered to produce hydrogen-powered mining transport trucks, launching a zero-emission overweight truck with a payload of 290 tons, currently the world's largest heavy-duty hydrogen vehicle, with a 2 MW powertrain, including Ballard's eight-module powertrain fuel cell and Williams Advanced Engineering lithium battery power modules, integrated by First Mode major integrators of Anglo-American resource technology partners. The three companies plan to expand the production of transport models initially at the Mogalakwena mine and eventually to AngloAmerican’s other mining operations around the world.

Heavy industry giant Cummins and manufacturer Komatsu Manufacturing originally had close cooperation in construction and mining equipment with diesel engines as the main body. In June 2022, the two companies jointly announced that they will focus on hydrogen fuel cell solutions for large mining vehicles.

In Chile, Australian mining company Mining3 partnered with Engie to create the Hydra Consortium, joined by Ballard and Hexagon Purus, seeking to convert mining transporters to run on hydrogen through funding from the Chilean government. It is planned that by 2025, the entire fleet belonging to the Antofagasta copper mine will supply hydrogen using on-site solar electrolyzers.

First Mode is evaluating new fuel power sources and is set to work like current diesel power systems. When a truck encounters bumps on the road and immediately needs extra power, the power must be given immediately. Simultaneous addition of fuel systems and onboard energy storage needs to be replenished quickly and efficiently to minimize downtime. Trucks need to run in the leanest form factor possible to increase the weight the truck can carry. Under careful evaluation, a hydrogen energy vehicle was selected. The insight that hydrogen fuel can replace diesel is in line with Daimler's Benz.

Stellantis Opens the World's First Plant for Light Commercial Hydrogen Vehicle Production

Stellantis, which owns multiple brands under its umbrella, has strategically selected light commercial vehicles with considerable requirements for endurance as a representative of hydrogen energy. As early as 2021, the group has successively launched prototypes of several brands of commercial hydrogen energy vehicles, and in mid-December 2021, the first hydrogen vehicle of the Peugeot brand will start to leave the factory. In October 2022, it was announced that thanks to the flexibility of its manufacturing system, the Houdin plant in France will mass produce hydrogen vehicles for Peugeot, Citroen, and Opel light commercial vehicles. It will be the first in the world to produce hydrogen power, lithium batteries, and internal combustion engines. and other plants that combine three energy sources for commercial vehicles.

Customers of light commercial vehicles in Europe often demand long-range, fast refueling, and zero emissions without compromising payload capacity. Therefore, Stellantis developed a medium-power architecture solution for the above conditions, which can provide a cruising range of more than 400 km in just three minutes, almost the same time as refueling. The hydrogen fuel cell is positioned as the power required for long-distance continuous driving. The peak power is provided by the use of plug-in hybrid lithium batteries. Charging from an external power source can provide an additional 50KM of pure battery cruising range.

It is not just Stellantis that recognizes the hydrogenation of light commercial vehicles in Europe. The German Schaeffler Group also displayed a light commercial vehicle developed in cooperation with REFIRE, a commercial hydrogen fuel cell technology supplier, at the IAA exhibition in 2022.

Toyota Extends Hydrogen Car Lineup Overseas

Toyota, the first to mass-produce hydrogen vehicles, has launched two generations of its representative Mirai, with sales far below expectations, making many media pessimistic about the future development of hydrogen vehicles. Nevertheless, the high maturity of the second-generation Mirai technology has gradually laid the foundation for expanding the product line, and the governments of major countries in the world have attached great importance to the application of hydrogen energy, giving Toyota a chance to show its talents. In addition to gradually pushing the Mirai market overseas, it has also gradually extended its technical capabilities to other car series.

At the beginning of December 2022, Toyota Motor announced that its Advanced Propulsion Center (APC) has received funding from the British government to develop a prototype hydrogen vehicle version of the Hilux pickup. The vehicle will utilize components from Mirai's second-generation fuel cell system, which will be used to develop the fuel cell system in collaboration with UK high-tech engineering partners Ricardo, ETL, D2H, and Thatcham Research. The purpose of this move is to assist the British corporate team to develop relevant expertise and look forward to achieving the goal of self-sufficiency in the next generation of hydrogen powertrain technology. The plan is set as the development of prototype vehicles, which will start in 2023 for a period of two years, but the possibility of limited production has not been ruled out, which may become the first overseas production of Toyota hydrogen vehicles.

In addition, it is also cooperating with Kenworth, an old American truck manufacturer, to replace the diesel engine of the T680 model with Toyota's six hydrogen fuel cell systems, which will be put into production in 2023.

Honda Motor's Return to the Hydrogen Vehicle Market in 2024 is of Great Market Significance

Compared with car manufacturers who are keen on the hydrogenation of heavy vehicles, the price-sensitive passenger cars have been limited to the dilemma of only two car manufacturers, Toyota and Hyundai. However, there is a lot of progress in 2022. In addition to BMW, representing Europe, deciding to start small-scale production, Honda, which was originally mass-produced but suspended, decided to launch the best-selling car model CR-V in the United States in 2024. A hydrogen car version with plug-in functions. Honda launched the first commercial hydrogen vehicle FCX as early as 2002 and resumed sales of Clarity passenger vehicles in 2016. Due to the low market acceptance, the cumulative global sales within 4 years were only about 1,900 units, so it announced the discontinuation of production in 2020. The company has a strong foundation in hydrogen energy vehicles and has verified the reliability and feasibility of hydrogen energy vehicles very early. In 2003, hydrogen vehicles were started and operated at sub-freezing temperatures, long before other automakers such as Toyota. Therefore, it is not surprising to decide to return to the market of passenger cars, but it has deep significance in market strategy. The introduction of plug-in hydrogen energy vehicles is to focus on the lack of battery life of current lithium vehicles. The market has fully reflected that hydrogen vehicles are the real trend that must be followed. Furthermore, for areas with hydrogen refueling infrastructure, hydrogen vehicles can provide the convenience of driving outside that car users who are accustomed to traditional car models are familiar with. At the same time, it is also a necessary means for the company to achieve the goal of fully electrifying the entire vehicle range by 2040.

Like BMW, Honda will start with a small production run at its performance manufacturing center in Ohio, known for its low-volume specialty vehicles such as the Acura NSX supercar. As for the relevant technical details of the car, it will be announced in 2024.

Like Honda, Renault, which is eyeing mass production of hydrogen-powered passenger cars in 2024, plans to launch a new hydrogen-electric hybrid Scenic Vision model. Renault is also developing a new architecture for alternative power systems such as batteries, motors, fuel cells, and hydrogen tanks for hydrogen vehicles, which is currently in the prototype design stage.

Tata Motors with Strong Ambition to Break through the Framework of Hydrogen Vehicles

Even though India, is officially set to have zero emissions by 2070, the largest Tata Motors Group has already prepared for a rainy day and has begun to actively get involved in hydrogen vehicles. Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways of India, even revealed that the Indian government is working hard to promote various alternative fuels to reduce its carbon footprint. While lithium vehicles are the current focus, not only automakers, but even the Indian government believe that hydrogen energy is an important contributor to the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality.

Tata Motors itself has already obtained the project cooperation plan of the Indian government, invested in the development of fuel cell technology, established a special technical laboratory, and developed its hydrogen processing and onboard storage capabilities, and related safety systems. In 2021, a bidding order for 15 hydrogen buses was obtained, using Canada's Ballard hydrogen-based proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, and hydrogen fuel will be provided by Indian Oil Corporation.
In November 2022, the group signed an agreement with Cummins of the United States to develop hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines, fuel cells, and lithium vehicle systems for commercial vehicles in India. Cummins is a well-known engine manufacturer and has formed a joint venture with Tata Motors since 1993 to produce mid-range B-series diesel engines for the latter. Cummins' hydrogen fuel cell engine is in its fourth generation. Tata Motors also plans to showcase a hydrogen prototype at the 2023 Auto Expo.

The biggest significance of Tata Motors' positive attitude toward hydrogen vehicles is that car manufacturers without fuel cell technology can still obtain them from independent professional engine suppliers following the model of fuel vehicles in the past. Furthermore, even in a developing country like India, the Indian government's attitude towards embracing hydrogen energy is positive and affirmative, breaking the framework that the development of hydrogen energy vehicles is limited to developed countries. Due to India's vast territory, complex terrain and climate, and unstable power supply quality, lithium vehicles are not an ideal choice.

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