Hydrogen Fuel and The Transformation of Transportation

Manufacturers like Tesla have brought electric vehicles (EVs) to the mainstream. According to McKinsey, EV sales rose a staggering 80 percent in the United States from 2017 to 2018. As EVs continue to gain widespread adoption, other clean energy sources are emerging. We sat with Robert “Bob” Chew, managing partner for a newly formed hydrogen company, to learn more about how hydrogen will help the U.S. transition from a gasoline and diesel-based transportation system to an all-electric system.

The transformation of transportation

The emerging zero emission vehicles based on battery storage and hydrogen storage and the conversion of stored power or hydrogen to electricity is going to completely transform the transportation market over the next twenty years. This will also reduce the value of the petroleum industry because the markets for gasoline and diesel (and to a lesser extent jet fuel) will eventually be replaced by hydrogen and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

There will be a clear bifurcation of the transportation markets between fuel cell electric vehicles powered by hydrogen and vehicles powered by battery electric technology. To determine what transportation asset type would go to a hydrogen fuel cell technology instead of a straight battery electric drive train application will be determined on two primary criteria: weight concerns and the charging/refueling time required.

Vehicle weight and recharge times give hydrogen fuel cell vehicles an edge

When weight and the time required to refuel/recharge are important issues, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, ship, or airplane will have superior economics over a battery electric vehicle. When weight is not a critical issue, such as for a passenger car when you consider center of gravity benefits by having the weight of the batteries on the bottom of the car, battery electric vehicles for the passenger car market appear to be the winner as a technology.

The length of time it takes to repower a battery electric vehicle is probably not important if you’re staying in for the evening and can charge your car in your garage. Or for fleet operations, like Amazon, where trucks can make roundtrip deliveries and then recharge at the warehouse over four hours.

But if time is important, that is where hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have an edge. These vehicles can refuel completely in a matter of minutes instead of over an hour for a battery electric vehicle. It’s also important to note that most DC fast chargers will only charge an electric vehicle up to an 80% charge to reduce the potential damage to a battery from heat incurred while charging.

In the tables below, one can determine that a battery system, when compared to a FCEV system, will add at least 10 times the weight to the vehicle than a 100% battery electric vehicle system. For large trucks, ships, and airplanes, where weight is a big consideration on the economics of the vehicle, the fuel cell technology will have its place and be a growing market.

New proposal in California will draw attention to clean transportation

The recent announcement from the governor of California will bring investment and interest to clean transportation and fuels. Although the governor’s announcement hasn’t been signed into law, there are already mandates in place for car and truck manufacturers to sell fuel cell and EV vehicles (Zero Emission Vehicles, ZEVs) in California.  It is already law that 55% of all trucks sold in California by 2035 must be 55% zero emission vehicles. For passenger cars, the mandate by 2035 is 22% of all cars sold in California must be ZEVs. The mandates for ZEVs in California are creating the incentives for vehicle manufacturers to invest in BEVs and FCEVs, which will eventually be available for other states in the nation.

About Robert Chew

Robert “Bob” Chew has over 30 years’ diverse international experience in developing energy projects ranging from building over two hundred and forty 125 kW electrical substations in the City of Sao Paulo (Grupo Energia, Brazil), to developing with a team a 240 MW gas-fired power plant in Pernambuco, Brazil (Teco Power Services). Bob has diversified experience with solar, wind, and hydroelectric, coal gas-to-liquids (World-GTL), and CO2 to dry ice project at a Brazilian steel mill (CarbonAgro).

Bob has a focus in evaluating new processes and their markets. Some examples include evaluating Brazilian ethanol mills and biodiesel projects to assist the capital raise for Comanche Clean Energy. In the United States, he negotiated and developed operational plans for a private equity group to acquire three anthracite coal mining companies with Kidd Company. Bob’s experience with large energy businesses include Tenneco (Grupo BTB), TECO, Ameresco, and DQE Energy. Bob is now developing a network of retail energy centers in California that will sell both power and hydrogen to cars and trucks.

If you're interested in learning more about this growing industry or would like to connect with Robert Chew, please contact Michelle Dutemple, Senior Consultant, at:
[email protected].

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