Since its inception, Ballard Power Systems has relentlessly improved technology for the transport sector, delivering marked changes in the technology used by businesses and vehicle manufacturers across the whole sector spectrum.
Ballard’s hydrogen fuel cell expertise is vital at a time when cities across Europe are committing themselves to policies that will see harmful emissions drastically reduced and, in many cases, completely eradicated.
Strategically based in Europe, Ballard and its technology is changing the face of transport on the continent and the company’s CEO and President, Jesper Themsen, told Business Britain all about the origins of Ballard and how its fuel cell technology is set to improve the transport industry now, and for future generations.
The full interview will appear in Issue 5 of Transport Britain.
Can you give us an overview of the company and its origins?
Ballard Power Systems Europe a/s is a European-based company with headquarters in Denmark. Our focus is to introduce our technology even further into the European marketplace.
We provide fuel cell stacks and modules, as well as generators for a whole host of market sectors, and our fuel cells are run on hydrogen so we offer organisations the most environmentally friendly solutions.
Our sectors of operation vary, with mobility a key one, but working with transit bus fleet providers is the most mature market we are involved in.
Our technology has been used in buses for 15-20 years and we currently have 45 fuel cell electric buses running in Europe. Ballard also work on fuel cell trains and have a development contract with Siemens; elsewhere, we are working on fuel cell electric trucks and fuel cell-power systems in the maritime sector, from smaller barges to ferries and cruise ships.
How has the company grown over time and can you explain the process of fuel cell technology?
For fuel cell technology to work, the process needs hydrogen and oxygen (air) to generate electricity with heat and water as by-products.
We feel that our fuel cell technology is ideal for Europe because it is a rapidly growing market for Ballard and with zero emission and green transportation dominating conversation about the way vehicles should be powered in the future, we know there is scope to grow.
When you’re talking about fuel emissions, we have the battery technology for smaller vehicles and shorter distances, whereas for longer distances and vehicles with more weight, there is a real need for an on-board generator that is the zero-emission, fuel cell generator.
This battery fuel cell hybrid power train is one that we are selling into a wide range of stakeholders in the automotive market especially for heavy duty applications. It will provide our customers more stored energy on board their vehicles than can be expected from batteries on the market.
So our focus is to have a commercial solution for clients based on fuel cells and hydrogen.
How many vehicles do you supply on average?
Right now we have around 45 buses on the roads in Europe and in the next three years, we expect to have more than 300 new buses deployed.
We are working on projects beyond that, such as the 1,000 bus project, and investigating how to get the volume even higher because as soon as we do, the better.
Do you provide this technology for vehicles other than buses, or is that the main focus?
Trains and trucks are other heavy duty vehicles that use our fuel cells and hydrogen fuel technology. Hydrogen high energy density per weight makes it a very attractive solution for freight transportation where battery solutions will be competing with payload.
In the automotive sector, we also have an important collaboration with Audi – part of the Volkswagen group – where we have a technology solutions project, meaning we support Audi in using our technology, who then build their own fuel cell engine based on our technology.
What solutions do you offer the industry and its vehicles that are unique?
Our solutions offer zero emissions to the customers who use them in their vehicles. Zero emission has been mandated in many places and from 2020 onwards, more cities are targeting this.
When we talk about zero emission, the combinations of battery and fuel cells hybrid solutions are invaluable for any vehicle that needs to travel real distances and long duty cycles because batteries run out of energy and can only be charged to run so far.
Furthermore it only take a few minute to refuel a fuel cell vehicles with a full tank of hydrogen against several hours for batteries; which is very important to maximise asset utilisation of commercial vehicle fleets.
Read the full interview in Issue 5 of Transport Britain.