Members of the hydrogen and fuel cell community gathered this week in Stuttgart, Germany for the annual f-cell event, which discussed what the future of hydrogen and fuel cell technology will look like.
To mark the two-day event, which finished on Wednesday, H2 View has brought you an exclusive interview every day this week with f-cell speakers and exhibitors, as well as other members of the hydrogen and fuel cell community.
Today’s interview, and the last in the series, is with Dean O’Connor, Commercial Director of NanoSUN. Whilst not directly involved in the f-cell event, the UK company develops innovative products that refuel, store, purify and analyse hydrogen.
O’Connor highlights to H2 View that he has seen tremendous progress across multiple commercial scale applications in the past year, and said it feels in many ways like “we crossed the divide from promising lab scale technology into real industry”.
Q. What is NanoSUN doing to shape the future of hydrogen and fuel cells?
NanoSUN was formed to address the challenges of bringing hydrogen as fuel to fuel cell users as they seek to deploy this technology in increasingly diverse real-world applications.
As former executives in a fuel cell technology business, NanoSUN’s founders experienced first-hand the challenges of accessing fuel supplies at the right pressure, quality, price, and in the appropriate packages, in a world where most packaged hydrogen is still supplied as a compressed special gas.
Q. Tell us about some of the innovative products NanoSUN develops?
The products that NanoSUN is working on to address this challenge of bridging the gap between traditional hydrogen producers and users of fuel cell powered devices, range from drones to heavy-duty vehicles. This has meant reimagining the entire value chain across refuelling, storage, purification and analysis, all from the perspective of finding the most cost-effective, application-oriented solutions to the needs of supplying a fuel rather than a technical or process gas.
Examples of this include portable refuellers for early adopters in fuel cell unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and mobility applications. These utilise cascade technology to enable fast refuelling in the field at high pressure, filling from standard gas industry packages but without the need for costly onboard compression.
This technology is now also being applied on a larger scale for the transportation sector where NanoSUN’s Pioneer Mobile Cascade hydrogen refuelling station is gathering significant attention as a way to expand the supply network at a fraction of the capital cost of fixed hydrogen refuelling station alternatives.
“The past year has seen tremendous progress across multiple commercial scale applications. In many ways it has felt like we crossed the divide from promising lab scale technology into real industry”
Another example is NanoSUN’s disruptive approach to purification. Standard approaches to hydrogen purification are extremely costly as it is technically challenging to remove many of the common impurities. Only a limited subset of these impurities are damaging to fuel cells however, so NanoSUN is developing purifier technologies to target those specifically, at much lower cost.
Q. What changes have you seen within the hydrogen ecosystem and community in the past year?
The past year has seen tremendous progress across multiple commercial scale applications. In many ways it has felt like we crossed the divide from promising lab scale technology into real industry.
We saw multiple schemes announced in Europe to deploy hydrogen-powered trains on passenger routes, and hydrogen bus schemes globally have proliferated at an incredible rate. We saw a move by Ballard Power Systems, the largest supplier of fuel cells to buses, set up production in China to address the market there.
Nikola signed huge deals with corporate giants for heavy transport and the range of fuel cell cars from top automotive manufacturers continued to grow apace.
At the smaller end of the scale, application suitability of hydrogen for commercial UAVs was well demonstrated by Intelligent Energy setting a new record for flight duration with a 5kg payload, while Pragma Industries in France supplied 200 fuel cell e-bikes to transport the world’s journalists around the G7 in Biarritz.
Q. What excites you about the potential for hydrogen use globally?
This transition to industrial scale is very exciting because it brings a heightened promise of accelerating growth, reducing costs and faster adoption. In the 1990s the LCD industry went through a similar transition and the years since have seen production scale up hundreds of times over and costs fall by more than 95%. In 1999, a pale imitation of the high-resolution desktop monitor, that today sells for less than £100, would have cost upwards of £3,000.
The entry of more and more major corporate players to the hydrogen space brings a new level of capability to invest in advancing the technology, while issues of both air quality and climate change are ramping up the pressure on governments to do more to encourage progress across the entire value chain.
With less than 0.1% of the hydrogen produced in the world currently being used in fuel applications, the scope for growth is close to limitless.