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The Future of Transport

Dr Henri Winand, Chief Executive, Intelligent Energy Holdings PLC (MMBA 1999–2003)

Published August 2010

Today's transportation industry is over 90 per cent dependent on oil. A range of vehicle technologies for transport fuel is needed in the future to both increase diversity of supply and reduce our carbon footprint. However, the current popular option - battery electric vehicles - may not be the best choice. Dr Henri Winand, Chief Executive of Intelligent Energy Holdings PLC, argues that consumers need a range of fuel technologies in order to suit particular life styles - not a pure 'electric' transport system', but a 'more electric' transport system.
Electronic car chargingDiversification of transportation fuels

According to the International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook, today’s worldwide transportation industry is over 90 per cent dependent on oil. The introduction of hydrogen as a transport fuel for use in fuel cell hybrid or other hydrogen vehicles would increase diversity of supply as well as reduce the carbon footprint of the sector. A recent report from the US National Research Council suggests that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could lead to a reduction in gasoline consumption of as much as 50 per cent by 2035, reducing CO emissions from light duty vehicle transportation by a similar level.

A portfolio of vehicle technologies

A portfolio of vehicle technologies is needed to address future transportation needs. There are roles for battery only electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, gasoline or diesel hybrids as well as fuel cell hybrid vehicles. Pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are getting a lot of attention right now, but they are not a realistic option for the long-term transformation of how we think about energy and clean transport. Distance per recharge and time to recharge will always be challenges. Most fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) use batteries alongside the fuel cells in what are essentially hybrid power systems – batteries and fuel cells are complementary technologies.

Fuel cell hybrid vehicles are the best technology to simultaneously address emissions, air quality and energy security concerns in a cost competitive and scalable manner. Moreover, this can be achieved in vehicles that deliver similar performance in terms of range and refuelling time to today’s combustion engine vehicles. These are critical factors that consumers and fleet customers consider when making their purchasing decisions and which cannot be ignored in ensuring prompt market take-up.

This is a view shared by the leading automotive companies. Major car makers Honda, Toyota, and Daimler all recently made announcements on when FCV commercial production will begin. Furthermore, in September 2009, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Renault, Nissan and Toyota to cooperate on the successful introduction of hydrogen-fed fuel cell vehicles to market, targeting the year 2015.

Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs), Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and consumer attitudes

When pure BEVs and FCVs are compared, it is worth considering the infrastructure to support them and consumers’ behaviour in selecting and using their vehicles. The ‘refuelling’ time required to charge a pure BEV is much longer than needed to refuel vehicles with petrol, diesel, compressed natural gas (CNG) or hydrogen. While FCVs will need a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure, this can be a hub-and-spoke supply network similar to how oil and gas is supplied today. Whether BEVs are supported by home recharging points, curb-side recharging points or battery swapping systems, a highly networked and distributed recharging infrastructure is needed that requires larger capital outlays and attracts larger operational and maintenance costs.

The way consumers buy and use their cars is often ignored when looking at pure BEVs. Where consumers have the opportunity to recharge at home in their own garages, as in the USA, the land available on a per capita basis means they also drive further than in regions such as Europe where houses are usually smaller with more street-based parking. Therefore, geographies where people have the space to charge at home involve longer commuting distances and so the range of BEVs becomes a concern. Where people have shorter commutes, space for curb-side BEV recharging reaches saturation.

Strategies for the rapid take-up of alternative vehicle technologies often ignore the fact that consumers purchase vehicles with mobility freedom in mind. Having to plan one’s journey around the operational needs of a pure BEV will require significant customer education. This is often slow, costly and dependent upon sustained and consistent government incentives to achieve a complex shift in modes of transport.

In summary

Pure BEVs have a particular niche in our future transportation system: large cities where consumers have the opportunity to recharge at home, at work and on the curb-side and where range is not an issue. FCVs serve a wider combination of transport needs and consumer preferences. The solution is a portfolio approach to cleaner and more efficient transport with hydrogen playing a central role. Not a pure ‘electric’ transport system, but a ‘more electric’ transport system.

Dr Henri Winand joined the Board of Intelligent Energy Holdings PLC as Chief Executive in September 2006. He was most recently Vice President of Corporate Venturing at Rolls-Royce PLC, the power systems provider for land, sea and air. During his time with Rolls-Royce, Dr Winand managed a power systems business, introduced new manufacturing technologies into the group and was responsible for defining and supervising the implementation of strategies for deriving additional value from the group’s technology assets.