Total cost of ownership of platinum-based hydrogen fuel cell vehicles forecast to be unrivalled by 2026/7

24th March 2023

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor


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The total cost of ownership (TCO) of platinum-based hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) is forecast to be less than that of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) by 2026, and less than that of internal combustion engines (ICEs) by around 2027, with an overall estimated 50% FCEV cost decline in the next ten years.

Further, FCEVs are demonstrably greener and cleaner and more environment-friendly across their entire life cycle than BEVs and ICEs, with more improvements to come as hydrogen production shifts towards a broader role in renewable energy development.

Ballard Power Systems CEO Randy MacEwen notes that society has consistently proven that when it comes to innovation and disruption, ‘it’s always slow – until it’s not’. His expectation is that the energy transition, including the adoption of low-carbon hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles in heavy mobility, will happen at scale much faster than most industry reports are forecasting.

“In 2030, with the benefit of an obvious tipping point, many will be looking back to 2023 with revisionist history, saying, ‘Of course, this was going to happen’,” adds MacEwen on LinkedIn.

Platinum-based fuel cells are already used in various mobility applications.

TCO-wise they might not yet compete with BEVs in the passenger vehicle sector, but significant advantages exist for high loads and when longer ranges are required.

Responding to a series of questions on queries around the technical and economic viability of platinum-based fuel cells, Heraeus Precious Metals executive VP: new business development and innovation Philipp Walter highlights to Engineering News & Mining Weekly that the current landing zone for fuel cells is primarily in the heavy-duty bus, train and perhaps maritime areas.

With the expected economies of scale, cheaper green hydrogen through scale and optimisation and an infrastructure converted to hydrogen, fuel cells will, Walter says, also hit the passenger vehicle sector and compete with BEVs and ICEs head to head.

“It’s basically not reasonable to predict the future of fuel cells based on the past, as several parameters have changed. “Today’s fuel cells are significantly improved in terms of cost and performance compared with those of the first generation. It’s a journey that has started and has not reached its end so far.

“Sustainability and decarbonisation became a strong impetus to the energy and mobility strategies of various regions and countries, giving a significant push to alternatives to ICEs, including FCEVs.

“BEVs have their space in the future mobility concepts, as do FCEVs, and ICEs will not fade away overnight. “Comparing the life cycle of BEVs with a range up to 250 km, it can be stated, depending on the energy mix, that they are environmentally more friendly.

“However, BEVs with big battery packs are burdened with a heavy carbon dioxide rucksack (battery capacity above 50 kWh). Especially for trucks and larger passenger cars, FCEVs are the more climate- and customer-friendly solution.

“For applications where ICEs are under replacement due to decarbonisation efforts and long ranges and constant use of a vehicle is demanded, FCEVs are the way to go anyhow,” he says.

A study by Deloitte and Ballard entitled ‘Powering the Future Mobility’ provides answers to the economic viability of FCEVs and highlights hydrogen as once again taking centre stage in humanity’s quest for energy sources.

Taking a bottom-up approach of TCO analysis across the US, China and Europe over a 13-year timespan in FCEVs forecast leadership at the TCO level, the study forecasts that the energy efficiency of FCEVs will see dramatic improvement.

Further, the authors of the Deloitte Ballard study describe their TCO superiority conclusion as being relatively conservative in several aspects.

“For example, as history would show with emerging technologies, production costs often decrease much more dramatically than forecast. We have also not included any government subsidies and incentives (acquisition, infrastructure, or operational) in the TCO model.

“When looking at the specific case scenarios in Shanghai, California, and London, the crossover of FCEVs with BEVs and ICE vehicles are much faster, due to a variety of subsidies on FCEVs in each geography, or additional taxes on ICE vehicles or fuel,” the study states.

On fuel cells potentially not using platinum, Walter draws attention to proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology in response to Engineering News & Mining Weekly: “There are fuel cell technologies which do not rely on precious metals, and then there is the PEM fuel cell technology, which is based on platinum as electrochemically active material mainly, and the PEM technology is by far the most prominent one in mobility applications.”

He also draws attention to the Deloitte Ballard study calculating that only up to 1% of the cost of a fuel cell stack system is platinum-related.

Further, as with all precious metal-based ‘mass’ applications, thrifting will always occur to bring down further the use rate and the cost, as has happened with solar panels, autocatalysts and electrolysers.

So far, there are only scientific approaches towards PEM fuel cells that are free of platinum group metals (PGMs).

“As Heraeus Precious Metals, we believe that stability and high performance will require platinum in fuel cells also in the future, at least for quite some time,” says Walter.

Meanwhile, the

European Commission’s allowing for a wider range of hydrogen powertrain propulsion systems for use in the decarbonisation of the multifaceted commercial transport sector has drawn welcome response from Hydrogen Europe mobility policy director Darko Levicar, who describes the revised carbon dioxide emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles as an incentive for the scale-up of hydrogen-powered solutions in the European commercial road transport fleet, with hydrogen powertrains being very well placed to meet operational requirements in a wide range of use cases.

To support the ongoing efforts to lower carbon emissions from the road transport sector, he believes that all technologies that can contribute should be given a chance to do so.

Road transport is responsible for one-fifth of the European Union’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Under the proposed rules, heavy vehicles will be mandated to reduce their emissions by 45% by 2030 and 90% by 2040, and city buses at zero emissions by 2030, targets which are viewed as striking an acceptable balance between ambition and feasibility.

India Developing Hydrogen Train

The World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) has reported on LinkedIn that India is currently developing a prototype of a hydrogen train at the Northern Railway workshop.

WPIC adds that Indian Railways is looking to introduce hydrogen-fuelled trains on its narrow-gauge heritage routes by the end of this year.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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