Currently urban transportation is depends for 95% on fossil fules (petroleum, natural gas, coal) that exist in finite quantities and are subject to supply uncertainties, combined with much higher energy costs. The increase in world population and the industrialisation of developing nations will eventually increase energy requirements.
Through the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the European Union was committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 8% by 2008-2012 compared to 1990. Therefore, the European Union and its member States proposed new solutions for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, preserving the health of its citizens and reducing our dependence on fossil fuel imports.
The use of hydrogen as a source of energy is an alternative that has been on the drawing boards for about ten years and that has been now embraced by the European Union. Since 1998, the European Commission has been funding several dozen projects at a cost of over € 250 million. The HYCHAIN MINI-TRANS project was added to two other major European pilot projects. One is the CUTE Project, in which 30 buses and their associated filling stations operated in ten European cities (in 2004, these buses covered almost 300 000 kilometres, transporting 400 000 passengers). The other is the ZERO REGIO Project, which developed a fleet of vehicles fuelled by service stations in Italy (Lombardy) and in Germany (Rhein-Main).
Used in a fuel cell, hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air to produce electricity with a high generating efficiency of almost 50%, expelling only water. This has tremendous potential to supply quiet, clean energy, meeting both challenges that the European Union is facing in the area of transportation.
For the coming phase of transition to a hydrogen energy system it will be a key challenge to establish commercially viable pioneer markets for fuel cells and hydrogen applications. One the one hand, this requires the provision of attractive end-use technologies that meet the market demands. On the other hand, manufacturing, service and hydrogen logistics need to be developed from a laboratory to an industrial mass-production scale.
The ultimate objective of HYCHAIN MINI-TRANS was to bridge the gap between R&D and early market development by deployment of several fleets of innovative fuel cell vehicles in four regions in Europe (in France, Spain, Germany and Italy) operating on hydrogen as an alternative fuel.
More specifically, HYCHAIN MINI-TRANS aimed at:
- providing attractive solutions for clean light transport by optimising existing prototypes of five fuel cell applications in the power range of 250W to 10 kW and obtaining European certification of these innovative small fuel cell powered vehicles;
- setting-up pre-commercial manufacturing lines to reduce costs as well as to improve quality. Therefore, the fleets were based on similar modular technology platforms in a variety of applications to achieve a large enough volume of vehicles that allow for an industrial approach to lower costs and overcome major cross sectional barriers;
- establishing market-orientated hydrogen distribution logistics and services (transport, distribution, dispensing) based on an even exchange of innovative refillable storage solutions. For this purpose, more than 2 000 refill storage units using innovative high pressure gaseous hydrogen technology would be designed, certified and deployed to obtain a representative sample and achieve a critical mass sufficient to seed an early market;
- demonstrating the operation of 158 fuel cell hydrogen vehicles under real-market conditions in several fleets in four countries in Europe, hereby proving the technical and economic feasibility of using hydrogen as an alternative fuel;
- launching a first commercial hydrogen model with the financial participation of the end users from the local communities that combines financial contributions for the use of the vehicles with guaranteed support services for maintenance and operation.
The HYCHAIN MINI-TRANS project deployed fleets of innovative fuel cell vehicles in four European regions (France, Germany, Spain, Italy) operating on Hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The fleets were based on similar modular technology platforms in a variety of applications with the main objective to achieve a large enough volume of vehicles (180) to justify an industrial approach to lower costs and overcome major cross sectional barriers. Addressing early adopters for transport, the first sustainable business cases for hydrogen based fuel cells in Europe would be initiated where they would have the best chances to continue and grow beyond this project. Following a four step approach the project started from:
- Existing prototypes of seven low power fuel cell applications that were optimised in design and functionality.
- Pre-commercial manufacturing lines would be set up to reduce costs.
- The required hydrogen distribution logistics and services (transport, distribution, dispensing) would be established based on an innovative refillable storage solution.
- A network of comparable subprojects using the common demonstration vehicles would be implemented in the four regions of Europe.
The deployment was expected to enable a large and wide variety of end users to be attained in a cost effective way, providing favourable conditions for achieving a significant reduction both in manufacturing and operating costs. It was envisaged the technical deployment to be complemented by socio-economic research targeted at increasing public awareness and overcoming the main current barriers, such as poor public acceptance, lack of certification, training, etc. Dissemination and exploitation activities provided the framework for maintaining the momentum and triggering a sustainable market growth.
HYCHAIN achievements were:
- Developing and deploying fleets of small fuel cell vehicles;
- Getting all the necessary approvals for operation on public road;
- Setting up the associated hydrogen infrastructure;
- Assisting and servicing all the customers;
- Collect and analyse operating data, assess public acceptance.
The HyChain Mini-Trans project deployed fleets of innovative light-duty urban transport hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in four European regions. The HyChain project officially ended on 15 July, 2011. However, many vehicles will continue to run on the streets under real market operation conditions. The HyChain midibuses in Bottrop had driven for over 50 000 km by the end of the project, and it is expected that they will continue to be used for another two years.
On June 27, 2011, a final event took place in the city of Herten, Germany, addressing experts and the general public. At the Ewald innovation centre, a former coal mine, vehicles deployed in the project were displayed and could be used on a Ride&Drive Event. The Energy Agency of North-Rhein Westphalia and the Ruhr's Hydrogen Network organised the event with the support of Air Liquide Germany and Hydrogenics. Project partners presented the lessons learnt, celebrated the achievements and said goodbye after six years of close collaboration.
In line with HYCHAIN's objectives of bridging the gap between R&D activities and early markets the project will have the following impacts:
- Through the optimisation of advanced low-power fuel cells systems based on similar modular technology platforms and the set up of pre-industrial manufacturing lines, competitive products will be made available for a wide range of pioneer market applications.
- A major hurdle to hydrogen mass-markets will be overcome thanks to the large-scale deployment of customer-ready solutions for hydrogen distribution that use innovative high-pressure storage exchangeable cartridges.
- The operation of demonstration fleets of up to over 50 vehicles and the demonstration of vehicle safety and reliability under every day conditions will serve to communicate the advantages of the use of hydrogen for transport to users and stakeholders, and to raise public awareness.
- The regions involved in HYCHAIN and the resulting regional networks will serve as nuclei for future 'lighthouse' demonstration projects and evolving hydrogen markets in Europe.
- The technical, environmental and socio-economic assessment will provide rigorous monitoring of the performance and impacts of the project and bring about further improvements to fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.
HYCHAIN MINI-TRANS will moreover serve to strengthen the competitive position of European consortia vis-a-vis world suppliers of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. It thus contributes to establishing a leading edge industry in Europe, creating jobs and opening up further opportunities for research.