Having just attended the Hydrogen + Fuel Cells Asia event, Pressure Tech’s Iulian Maciuca believes the UK and the rest of Europe are four to five years behind the stronger hydrogen ecosystems in the Asian market.
But he says there is an increasing realisation of the growth potential elsewhere, with bigger companies taking stakes in various ventures, reinforcing their positions as the hydrogen applications become more important.
UK-based Pressure Tech develops high-quality stainless-steel pressure regulators for use on gas and liquid applications, which are supplied all over the globe.
Maciuca is the company’s International Business Development Manager for the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Market, a role which sees him attend lots of industry events around the world, as he tells us more about below in an exclusive interview with H2 View.
H2 View (H2V): Thanks for your time today. Let’s start by talking about Pressure Tech and the role it could play in a future hydrogen economy?
Iulian Maciuca (IM): As specialists in the supply of pressure regulators, we believe Pressure Tech can make a significant impact on the way hydrogen pressure is controlled in a number of areas within the distribution and use of hydrogen for the fuel cell market.
Our background to-date, and core business, is within the offshore oil and gas sector where the principles of quality, safety and reliability are applied to our product designs.
The same principles are akin to the hydrogen fuel cell sector, with an additional prerequisite of making the products lighter!
Our success in both markets is due to two key factors: listening to the needs of our customers and having a team of people who can design and deliver solutions in a timely manner.
At Pressure Tech we are investing heavily in a number of products that will be able to provide accurate pressure control under extremely challenging conditions, namely high inlet pressures, low temperature conditions and, obviously, on a very light ‘searching’ hydrogen gas.
Our investments are being supported by grants, associations with universities and working with research establishments throughout Europe, which will ultimately lead to Pressure Tech offering products with unique features and benefits over many of our competitors.
We see the significant investment we are making in various product development programmes providing an excellent return on investment for the company over the coming years.
We’re very excited about the potential business levels and environmental benefits being created by the growth of the hydrogen economy.
H2V: Which areas of hydrogen development and deployment is Pressure Tech currently investing in?
IM: We’re investing heavily in a number of areas. In fact, anywhere critical pressure control is required for vehicles and the supply infrastructure necessary to replenish vehicles whilst in transit.
Our initial focus has been on hydrogen pressure regulators for transport and lightweight vehicles, together with high pressure regulators for hydrogen refuelling stations.
We are working on exciting and unique designs that will allow automated pressure control of the refuelling regulators without the need for separate compressed airlines.
We believe this will be of great interest to system builders involved with transport refuelling stations.
We are also working on a range of isolation/supply valves for compact hydrogen cylinders used on UAV drone applications – this will be submitted for TPED approval to allow these products to be used on cylinders whilst pressurised in transit.
The important thing for us at Pressure Tech is to listen to our customers to ensure all angles are covered with the designs we’ve created.
We’d therefore welcome the opportunity to hear from your readers to understand their needs and how we can work with them to offer an exact solution.
H2V: What changes have you seen within the hydrogen ecosystem and community in the past year in the UK?
IM: I believe the UK and the rest of Europe are four or five years behind the stronger hydrogen ecosystems in the Asian market.
However, there is an increasing realisation of the growth potential elsewhere, with bigger companies taking stakes in various ventures, reinforcing their positions as the hydrogen applications become more important due to the excellent potential of the commercial opportunities they represent in the future.
With the recent announcement regarding the ‘North West Hydrogen Alliance’ and ‘H2 Aberdeen’ planning to introduce a hydrogen economy in the Aberdeen region, the pace of change in the hydrogen ecosystem is phenomenal and exciting.
A good benchmark for this growth projection is from the organisers of hydrogen fuel cell exhibitions across Europe who have reported a 25% increase in exhibitor numbers for the past three years.
Conversely, numbers for exhibitors in the oil and gas sector are going in decline. I think this says a lot about where the interest is at right now.
At a recent UK HFCA event, we have seen representatives of local government viewing hydrogen applications as an opportunity to attract investments, for example the Tees Valley region and North West England, in addition to Aberdeen.
If we continue with the drive initiated by government agencies and the combined commercial realisation of a good ROI from the large corporate entities, the future is looking very positive for the hydrogen community.
H2V: You most recently attended and exhibited at the Hydrogen + Fuel Cells Asia event in October. How did you find the event? What would you say were the key takeaways?
IM: I’d describe the exhibition in China as the younger sibling to the H2+FC event in Hannover where we’ve exhibited for the past three years with great, and ever increasing, success.
This was the first time the organisers had attended the exhibition, but as China is one of the most advanced and important markets in the hydrogen world, this event gave Pressure Tech the opportunity to test the reaction to our products in the region.
Undoubtedly it will grow to be one of the main events in the calendar, but for now, it has strong competition from other local events.
Running concurrent with the large CeMat Asia exhibition, to me it served as confirmation that the next big fuel cell application in China will be for material handling equipment.
During the event we had great interest from Chinese visitors, as well as French and German delegations.
H2V: And finally, what hydrogen-related innovation, application or technology makes you most excited for the future?
IM: It’s a tough question as there are so many! Our initial step into the hydrogen fuel cell market was by working with Intelligent Energy in developing a light weight pressure regulator for the UAV Drone market, which resulted in the development of a regulator weighing only 200g.
Despite its light and compact footprint, it is still able to control 0.5 bar (+/-0.1 bar) from a 300 bar (4,350 psi) supply pressure.
One of the main benefits of these hydrogen-powered drones is their longer flight time over the alternative battery powered design, which is a real benefit to areas where drones are used for surveying, security, or search and rescue.
And with recent suggestions made by Amazon that customer deliveries could be made via drones in the future, this whole market has excellent potential in terms of volumes and return on investment.
Another key area Pressure Tech is targeting is heavy goods vehicles such as buses, trucks and trains, and the associated refuelling infrastructure.
Both have huge potential for our business, and we are shortly due to submit the regulator for use on HGVs for EC79 approval, which is key to unlocking the potential from this rapidly developing market.
Whilst EC79 approval is essential to supply products to market, the design itself has benefits for end users over many of the alternative products we’ve come across.
Our single-stage pressure let down and easy to service seat cartridge means our design reduces the risk of failures and minimises vehicle down time during routine servicing.
On a personal note, in the future, I would like to see small companies integrating fuel cell technology into classic cars.
Just imagine the timeless design of a 1964 E-Type, a 930 911 or a Datsun 280z running on hydrogen fuel cells.
Classic looks with modern and clean power, all wrapped into one – that would be something exciting for the future, making sure that the icons of the past would still be on the roads when zero emission regulations will be mandatory in big cities.