Working with the leading players in the hydrogen and fuel cell sector, Hy-Hybrid Energy provides services in clean energy technologies.
Based in Scotland, UK, the team are specialists in all major fuel cell types, renewable energy systems, hydrogen storage and production, and support both low and high temperature fuel cell technology.
Hy-Hybrid Energy is currently leading one of the major fuel cell bus deployment projects in Hungary, a country CEO Dr. Naveed Akhtar says cannot be ignored.
“We believe that Hungary can play a significant role in bringing down the cost of fuel cell buses while maintaining the high-quality standards as required in the automotive sector, already evident by a large group of OEM’s presences in Hungary,” he tells H2 View.
“When it comes to the automotive industry, the geographical location and mass manufacturing competence of Hungary in Europe cannot be ignored.”
Akhtar has nearly 20 years’ experience in the hydrogen energy and fuel cells field, undertaking his first project in 2001 in Pakistan.
Here in an exclusive interview with H2 View, Akhtar tells us more about his extensive background, as well as what specific activities related to hydrogen Hy-Hybrid Energy is pursuing and the challenges he is seeing in the hydrogen space.
Q. What was the first hydrogen-related project you were involved in?
I executed a three-year project on hydrogen storage in metal hydrides – the first-of-its-kind in Pakistan. This project allowed me to travel to Germany for training on PCI Units (used for hydrogen storage characterisation) at the Institut für Kernenergetik und Energiesysteme (IKE), Stuttgart, and to Japan Steel Works (JSW) for training on metal hydride refrigeration units.
Since then, I have learned about various fuel cell types from countries including Germany, Japan, Italy, Netherland, the UK and Canada.
Q. Could you tell us more about your background and interest in this sector?
I have a MSc and PhD with a major in fuel cells and mastered four (PEMFC, DMFC, AFC, SOFC) out of the six major types of fuel cells. One would immediately ask a question at this point, why have you not mastered the remaining two (PAFC, MCFC) types of fuel cell?
The answer is that for the moment the main engineering on the remaining two types of fuel cell are happening in the US by companies such as DOOSAN Fuel Cell America and FuelCell Energy. For family reasons I do not want to go to the US, otherwise I would have done it.
After gaining such a wide experience in fuel cells, I asked a question to myself as to what will be the best use of the knowledge that I have gained? The only sensible answer that came to my mind was that I should support the fuel cell community from my previously gained knowledge in all fuel cell types rather than just sticking to one type.
It was hard to find a company who supports the developments/services on all the major fuel cell types in which I have gained the experience, therefore, this bottleneck appeared as an opportunity for me. The establishment of Hy-Hybrid Energy was the result of this decision.
At this point, I would like to express my special gratitude to the founding President, Professor T. Nejat Veziroglu (International Association for Hydrogen Energy) who mentored me throughout my journey and it is because of him where I stand now!
Q. What specific activities related to hydrogen is Hy-Hybrid Energy currently pursuing?
Hy-Hybrid Energy provides services in clean energy technologies, including but not limited to fuel cells, batteries, supercapacitors, hydrogen storage and renewable energy.
We are currently leading one of the major fuel cell buses deployment projects in Hungary as we feel when it comes to the automotive industry, the geographical location and mass manufacturing competence of Hungary in Europe cannot be ignored.
We believe that Hungary can play a significant role in bringing down the cost of fuel cell buses while maintaining the high-quality standards as required in the automotive sector, already evident by a large group of OEM’s presences in Hungary.
Hungary has the lowest corporation tax in Europe and along with its reasonably lower labour costs, this put the region in an advantageous position for mass manufacturing in order to bring down the cost of fuel cell buses. Unfortunately, this has been simply missed in the past by the fuel cell community to pay attention to.
The other very exciting project we are working on is with a German company where we are collaborating in the development of solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology for automotive applications.
Q. How has policy/regulation helped support the efforts that you are pursuing in the energy space? In an ideal world, what would you like to see happen next?
I have witnessed the technology growth since 2001. To be honest, the policy/regulations were not a major support until 2015-2016, which coincided with the timings soon after the first commercial fuel cell vehicle launched by Toyota (i.e. Mirai).
This has finally broken the chicken and egg scenario which was always seen as the major hurdle in bringing this technology forward. Soon after this, progress in hydrogen refuelling stations started to happen. Taking Germany as an example, there are currently 75 hydrogen refuelling stations open. Now, I can see that the time has come that the fruit is ripened!
“All educational institutions, not only at university level but at much earlier primary and secondary level, should start educating our young generation to build their interest in this technology for the coming years demand.”
Q. What changes have you seen within the hydrogen ecosystem and community in the past year?
It was 2005 when I attended my first hydrogen fair in Hannover and I remember mainly component level exhibitors.
I attended the same event this year (2019) and my experience was the complete opposite. Complete products are now available in the market from stack level to the complete systems level, including hydrogen storage, electrolysers, refuelling solutions etc.
There has been significant growth in the automotive sector followed by green hydrogen projects. Now, moving from passenger cars and buses to trains, ships and aviation, as the community has realised the fact that the major contributor to greenhouse gases is dominant by the heavy-duty sector and fuel cells are an excellent candidate in this category.
Q. What in your opinion is the biggest challenge for hydrogen in the near future, and how would you like to see it being tackled?
The biggest challenge for hydrogen is not the technology as everyone knows it works. It is the skilled manpower which will become the bottleneck in supply chain. As you can see, hydrogen technology is progressing very rapidly, large number of companies are shaking hands together for deployments in clean energy projects.
However, one must question who is going to meet such a high demand unless there is skilled labour available to do the specific jobs? Robots can’t do everything!
All educational institutions, not only at university level but at much earlier primary and secondary level, should start educating our young generation to build their interest in this technology for the coming years demand. I have already started this at my home, but it must happen at every level to meet the future demand.