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Celebrating an Electrified Autonomous Future

As we race toward a future where we’ll be chauffeured around by autonomous electric vehicles such as General Motors’ Cruise or BMW’s iNext, it’s essential to consider the impact of such vehicles and the most efficient ways to power them. What better day to examine the opportunities of this electrified future than today, the 4th Annual National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. Chosen in reference to the atomic weight of hydrogen (1.008), National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day provides Plug Power, as well as other members of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association the ideal platform to raise awareness of the innovative ways hydrogen energy technologies can be applied both in the present and the future.

To celebrate, we’ve chosen to discuss how these technologies can be applied to another emerging market: autonomous vehicles.

The global self‑driving cars and trucks market size is expected to be approximately 6.7 thousand units in 2020 and is anticipated to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 63.1% from 2021 to 2030. While autonomous technology can act as a catalyst for the technological developments of automobiles it can also inspire advancement in the technology used to power such vehicles. Electric-powered autonomous vehicles are one such technological advancement born from this innovative thinking and from the world’s efforts to decrease our carbon footprint and use our resources more wisely. While electric vehicles have been in existence for decades, a renewed commitment to our planet and a search for more efficient fuels for new technologies have once again made them relevant. Currently, the top two options for power for electric vehicles are battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCVs). There are numerous opportunities for both BEVs and FCVs in the future of transport and both have ideal applications and can even work together.

What is a BEV?

A battery electric vehicle (BEV), or all-electric vehicle is a type of electric vehicle that uses chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. BEVs use electric motors and motor controllers instead of internal combustion engines for propulsion.

What is an FCV?

A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCV) is a type of electric vehicle which uses a fuel cell, instead of a battery, or in combination with a battery or supercapacitor, to power its on-board electric motor. As the cleanest power solution, FCV adoption is accelerating – FCVs replaced BEVs as this year’s #1 key trend until 2025.

FCV Opportunities for Fleet Delivery Companies

The constant increase in online shopping habits means a never before experienced demand on delivery companies. Online shopping is expected to rise at a rate of 17 – 28% each year until 2021, meaning that in order to stay on top of demand, delivery companies must ensure they’re as efficient as possible. Several factors stand in the way of delivery companies running at peak performance both logistically and financially,including the need to stop and refuel as well as the cost of fuel, the need for a driver to stop and rest, and the need to spend hours recharging if using a BEV. BEV electric delivery vehicles have a driving range of around 60 miles, which means once the vehicle reaches its limit it must return to the facility – or an on-road charging station – where it will charge for up to 12 hours. This is an ideal opportunity for FCV-powered autonomous vehicles that can travel farther and longer, cutting down on number of vehicles needed, while also providing drivers with the opportunity to rest, as the vehicle drives itself, decreasing driver exhaustion and possibly even accidents.

Additionally, carbon emissions are predicted to increase by 2.0% in 2018 when compared to 2017 and it could be inferred that this is partly in due to the great demand put on delivery companies. Utilizing a different fuel paradigm that releases far fewer emissions – hydrogen versus gasoline or diesel – could drastically impact those predictions for the better. FCVs are zero-emission vehicles, so replacing the incumbent combustion engine delivery trucks with FCVs would have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

FCV Opportunities for Ride-Sharing Companies

Ride-sharing companies only make money when vehicles are in use. Meaning, if companies like Uber and Lyft could run cars 24/7, taking as few breaks as possible, profit margins would

skyrocket. This is an ideal opportunity for FCV-powered autonomous vehicles, as refueling only takes minutes and fuel cells can drastically increase the range of an electric vehicle after refueling, allowing for more hours on the road and more passengers served. In the long run, the use of of FCVs for all autonomous on-road transportation could even cut down on the total number of cars on the road as it opens new doors for cheaper shared ride applications and public transportation when compared to owning your own car.

BEV Opportunities for Personal Vehicles

On average, vehicles used for personal transport stand idle 95% of the time. Users who have long daily commutes or need a personal vehicle for daily travel, errands, and the demands of daily life utilize their cars often, but not on a constant basis. This is a great opportunity for BEVs, as vehicles that don’t need to be constantly on the move are able to be charged on a regular basis. Additionally, personal vehicles are able to return to a home charging station or local charging station on a regular basis without inconveniencing the driver.

Opportunities for Drones and Urban Air Mobility Vehicles

The fast growing market for drones and urban air mobility vehicles provides opportunity for the use of both BEVs and FCVs. Battery technology has improved and continues to improve rapidly enough that they have become a top choice for companies developing vehicles such as flying taxis and delivery drones. But the weight of batteries can be a roadblock. The hydrogen used in FCVs is much lighter than batteries and promises an extended range when compared to batteries. But the infrastructure can be a challenge as some of these vehicles need to be refueled at vertiports – often found at the top of buildings. Perhaps these future vehicles need a futuristic solution, a combination of FCVs and BEVs, one used as the main source of power and another as a backup to run until more fuel or a charge can be provided.

The sheer number of opportunities both FCVs and BEVs present for the vehicle market alone illustrates the need to keep pioneering in these fields as we work toward a cleaner, electrified future. FedEx’s FCV delivery van now operating in the Albany, New York area is one example of Plug Power’s drive toward this future.  This is only the beginning of an exciting future – keep watching!

On Monday, October 1, 2018, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution designating October 8, 2018 as National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day. This is the 4th year in a row that the Senate has recognized National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day.  We are thankful to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for sponsoring this resolution, and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chris Murphy (D-CT,) and Rob Portman (R-OH) for their leadership in co-sponsoring.

We would also like to thank our local Members of Congress, Representatives John Faso (R-NY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) for joining Representatives Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Jim Costa (D-CA),  Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA), John B. Larson (D-CT),  Michael McCaul (R-TX), Tom Reed (R-NY),  and  Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) for introducing similar legislation in the House of Representatives.




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