Two weeks ago, at a specially convened DTI conference in London, energy minister Malcolm Wicks made a point of underlining the government's commitment to the future of fuel cells as well as the possible rewards for the UK's burgeoning fuel cell industry.
The conference — designed to highlight the government's £15m fuel cell demonstration programme — coincided with the launch of the new Low Carbon and Fuel Cell Knowledge Transfer Network. This newest member of the KTN family aims to bring together all the stakeholders in the
Cenex was formally established last April but the concept of a Centre of Excellence for low-carbon and fuel cell technologies arose from the recommendations by the Automotive Innovation and Growth Team (AIGT) in a report of November 2002. The AIGT brought together leading figures from the
According to Cenex's chief executive Robert Evans, now is the time for the
The critical stage for fuel cell technologies in the
As well as championing fuel cell development, Cenex addresses a wide range of issues and technologies that can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. By the centre's own definitions these fall across a number of categories. The first is the development of lightweight materials for vehicle weight reduction, which includes the usual suspects of composites, aluminium and reinforced plastics.
The group also looks at advancements in powertrain development for improved fuel efficiency including advanced engine technologies and electric and hybrid electric drive-trains. It also follows advances in mechanical transmissions and electrical components such as energy storage devices like batteries, flywheels and ultra-capacitors.
Finally, one of the most important areas is the use of alternative fuels that can help lower carbon dioxide emissions. Cenex is currently brokering a number of small-scale demonstration programmes with local authorities to test low-carbon technologies such as the use of biogas derived from animal waste and rubbish as fuel in council vans.
However, despite much of the good work undertaken by Cenex the
'Where we have three or four hybrids available here in the
'We don't want a situation where there are no
One of Cenex's member companies is
For the past few years the firm has been developing the world's first fuel cell-powered aircraft. Working with Boeing, it has designed an engine that is undergoing final testing and integration into a small two-seater Diamond Dynamo aircraft.
Its first test flight is due to take place towards the end of this year and Hayter sees this as a crucial step in the development of fuel cells for aerospace applications. The plane is fitted with a 20KW fuel cell that works in tandem with a lithium ion battery to generate 65KW to allow the plane to take off. Once at cruising altitude the aircraft switches to fuel cell only which provides enough power to enable it to manoeuvre. While it carries only enough hydrogen for the plane to stay in the air for around 90 minutes, this is sufficient to prove the concept.
Hayter believes that fuel cells could have a large role to play in the aircraft of the future. 'It will be a few years before there are many of these in light aircraft but, once you've got the proof of concept, fuel cells can then be introduced into the more-electric aircraft and the gradual transition to all-electric aircraft,' he said. 'When there are more electronics than hydraulics on-board the fuel cell could operate as a distributed generator.'
As well as being a major step forward in the fuel cell industry, Intelligent Energy's work with Boeing was also a major coup for a
An example of this is the way that Intelligent Energy is currently involved with MicroCab, a small
'We are a fuel cell firm, not an automotive company so we need contact with the organisations that are a part of Cenex and the KTN to be able to support the fuel cell supply chain and help in codes and standards interoperability — both of which are very important parts of the process,' said Hayter.