Personal mobility without electric cars? Hard to imagine this future. But – in spite of incentives – sales in Germany remain slow. The Hydrogen Council – an alliance of 13 leading industrial and energy companies – has now been formed in Davos, with the aim of pushing ahead with hydrogen propulsion.
Where is the brave new world of cars in which we travel the world networked and virtually free of emissions? We’re still a very long way from that – in Germany, at least. Electric cars just aren’t leaving the showrooms. And even purchase incentives aren’t changing the situation for these clean machines (at the moment). Still, the Federal Government has been handing out €4,000 for battery-powered e-mobiles and €3,000 for plug-in hybrids since June last year – which still have a combustion engine alongside the electric power unit for propulsion. By the end of January this year, the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control received just 10,835 orders, with only 5,100 or so coming from private individuals. There are around 42 million passenger vehicles in Germany overall, so the current figure of around 74,500 electric cars is marginal – a long way off the stated aim of the Federal Government to have a million electric cars on the roads by 2020. The sticking point: high acquisition costs in spite of the environmental incentives, the range problem, so many different charging cards and an insufficient network of quick charging stations. “Tank und Rast” has installed around 70 quick charging units on highways to date, and this is to increase to 400 by the end of the year. But still, the EU recorded a total of 25,000 public charging points in Germany for 2016, including over 1,800 “express stations”. The total was around 5,500 in 2015. To make electric cars more attractive, the Federal Government has just launched a comprehensive 300 million funding program for building 15,000 new charging stations . They have to be accessible to the public and provide electricity from renewable energy sources. Thanks to comprehensive funding, Norway is the undisputed champion of Europe when it comes to e-mobility. Between January and November 2016, over 41,000 people chose to buy electric cars – the figure was only around 22,300 in Germany. China is the world champion with 370,000 units.
Charging Times are Still too Long
Yes, theoretical ranges for battery-powered cars are increasing – depending on driving style and the engaged motor units – now up to around 400 km with the Tesla, for example. The new Opel Ampera-e should even be able to do over 520 km. The problem we have is the (still) relatively long charging times. Experts expect that a major incentive for e-mobility will come from further restrictions being imposed on emissions. Major cities like London, Paris and Mexico City are already talking about bans on combustion engines, China has announced a quota for electric cars and Norway is even considering a general ban on petrol and diesel engines from 2025. The Hydrogen Council was formed at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January this year. It is the first global initiative of its kind – an alliance of the world’s top industrial and energy companies, including auto manufacturers Daimler, BMW, Honda and Hyundai, petroleum companies Shell and Total and hydrogen providers Linde and Air Liquide. The objective: to establish hydrogen as the central solution for the energy revolution. Members of the Hydrogen Council stressed their intention to increase their investment in the development and commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cells – currently running to 1.4 billion a year. The consortium will help to achieve the ambitious goal set by the Paris Agreement in 2015 – to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. “But we can’t do it alone. We need clear political recognition for hydrogen,” said Benoît Potier, Head of Air Liquide, in Davos. “Mobility will be electric and networked in the near future, and hydrogen and fuel cell technology will have a major part to play,” says Martin Sheldon, Managing Director of TÜV Rheinland InterTraffic, with conviction.
Berlin Puts its Money on Fuel Cells
The Federal Government is also looking more towards fuel cell technology as the second mainstay of electric mobility. Hydrogen (H2) and oxygen produce electricity on a membrane and this powers the electric engine. The only environmental emission is water vapor. Benefits compared to batteries: longer ranges and rapid charging, as with conventional vehicles. According to information from the “Welt” newspaper, a quarter of a billion euros are going to be invested in making hydrogen cars viable for mass purchase in Germany by 2019. Funds are to be injected into vehicle research and development. The aim is to make technically mature products competitive. The hydrogen infrastructure - such as service stations , for example – is also to be developed. “With electric mobility and automated and networked travel, we find ourselves on the verge of the biggest mobility revolution since the invention of the automobile. The fuel cell is a key technology for such development,” Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt told the newspaper. A study conducted by the joint venture H2 Mobility Deutschland, with members including Daimler, Shell, Total and Linde, demonstrates the potential of this alternative fuel. According to this, hydrogen could meet up to 40 percent of the energy requirement of the German transport sector by 2050. But this requires rapid expansion of the hydrogen service station infrastructure in urban areas and along major transport routes. There are currently only around 20 service stations open to the public nationwide. But the H2 Mobility joint venture has set itself the target of opening 100 stations by 2018. The plan is to have a supply network of up to 400 stations by 2023. An ambitious project, which will also require the corresponding, affordable production vehicles. So far, the “fleet” is limited to the Toyota Mirai (a bargain at € 80,000) and the Hyundai ix35 (€ 65,000). Mercedes-Benz intends to introduce the GFC F-CELL this year and Honda plans to bring the Clarity – already available in Japan and the USA – to Europe. But it will be a long time before we can drive a hydrogen vehicle at a mid-range car price round the corner to a service station – totally emissions-free.
Bus on Stilts for Mega-Cities
While the auto industry has been pursuing e-mobility somewhat half-heartedly, the Chinese have been thinking ahead. Within the foreseeable future, they aim to put a tram powered by fuel cell technology on the rails to curb air pollution in urban areas. For the first time ever, rail experts at TÜV Rheinland have prepared a safety report for the use of a fuel cell drive in a tram. And a futuristic “rail bus on stilts” – beneath which private transport will simply travel through mega-cities – has already completed a test journey (see photos above). And that’s not all: China is also ahead of the field in terms of electric cars, too. Compared to the powerful rapids of the Yangtze river, the European offerings look like tiny streams.