Intelligent Energy's hydrogen fuel cells could unlock a zero emission future for passenger cars

Fuel cell developer and manufacturer Intelligent Energy has unveiled a brand-new hydrogen fuel cell system that is smaller and more powerful than any other solution on the passenger car market – creating a breakthrough opportunity to unlock a global, zero-emission future for the sector.
Intelligent Energy
Courtesy of Intelligent Energy.

Fuel cells have the potential to help overcome some of the challenges associated with Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), namely a dependency on limited natural resources, limited electric grid capacity, long battery charging time and limited vehicle range. Fuel cells can also be as cheap to manufacture as internal combustion engines (ICE) and can be produced from recycled and recyclable materials.

Intelligent Energy’s brand-new and patented IE-DRIVE system has been designed to give passenger car manufacturers direct access to the smaller, more powerful, turnkey and commercially-viable hydrogen fuel cell solution that is needed to make zero carbon emission mobility a global reality in the passenger car market.

The single stack platform, which is the first of its kind to be designed, manufactured and tested by a British company, recently broke cover during a launch event at Intelligent Energy’s Loughborough headquarters where it powered a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) provided by Changan UK.

Intelligent Energy claims that the specification of the IE-DRIVE platform brings significant benefits when compared to other fuel cells that have been developed by large automotive groups and their third party fuel cell suppliers:

In its current configuration, Intelligent Energy’s DRIVE fuel cell stack is capable of 157kW gross electrical power. The company claims that this is higher than any other single stack application that is currently available for the passenger car sector.

Patented direct water injection technology means DRIVE’s heat exchanger is up to 30 percent smaller than its competitors at equal net power output. The single pass heat exchanger in IE’s test SUV only measures 0.34m² but enables cruising at 130km/h in peak temperatures and a speed of 90km/h to be achieved when travelling up a long, steep hill. Having a small heat exchanger makes vehicle packaging much easier and benefits fuel cell vehicle design, particularly in relation to bonnet height and improved driver visibility.

Designing its novel direct water injection system has allowed Intelligent Energy to reduce its component count and bill of materials. An example of this is shown by the fact IE’s fuel cell doesn’t require a humidifier and related parts.  

DRIVE is a complete fuel cell system in the shape of a traditional engine and is designed to meet the low bonnet requirements of passenger cars. It includes the fuel cell stack, electronic control unit, heat exchanger and Balance of Plant (BOP). It represents a genuine turnkey solution for car manufacturers.  

Under full-scale, high-volume manufacturing conditions, Intelligent Energy predicts its DRIVE fuel cell system will cost around 100 GBP per kW by the end of the decade, making it less expensive than BEV solutions and comparable to ICE.

Intelligent Energy’s quest to develop a new breed of patented hydrogen fuel cell technology is the result of a four-year project – named ESTHER – that got underway in November 2019 and was supported by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC).

The £22 million initiative was a collaborative effort involving Intelligent Energy, Changan R&D Centre, Lyra Electronics and Alexander Dennis. Changan provided essential support during the project, including the provision of three SUVs to enable fuel cell testing.

Throughout the entire project, Intelligent Energy has revolutionised its manufacturing processes, streamlined assembly, and worked hard to secure new cost efficiencies – without sacrificing quality.

The company is now ready to roll its technology out to the passenger car market, in partnership with suitable car manufacturers.

“With 25 percent of all passenger cars expected to have hydrogen fuel cell powertrains, this clean technology represents the future” said David Woolhouse, Intelligent Energy’s Chief Executive. “I’m proud that, as an independent and privately-owned company, Intelligent Energy has developed a breakthrough solution that can open up the market for passenger car manufacturers that need to package a more powerful system into their vehicles. Our DRIVE product has the potential to shake up the hydrogen fuel cell market and accelerate the transition towards zero-emission mobility. As an IATF-compliant business we are looking to grow our capability as a tier 1 supplier. Fuel cell manufacturing will be a major driver of economic growth.”

Intelligent Energy’s work doesn’t just stand to benefit the drive to zero emission mobility. The addressable global fuel cell market for passenger cars and vans is anticipated to be worth $750 billion (£596 billion) by 2040, and if car manufacturers adopt its IE-DRIVE fuel cell technology, the company could scale up its manufacturing capability in the East Midlands – a move that would create significant new employment opportunities and provide a major boost to both the regional and UK economy.

“The support provided by the APC has been fundamental to the development of this passenger car fuel cell system, along with the valuable input of the other programme partners” added Dr Ashley Kells, Intelligent Energy Programme Director. “The IE-DRIVE product is a ground-breaking advancement in the automotive industry and the work we have undertaken clearly illustrates the UK’s ability to be a global leader in the hydrogen fuel cell arena.”

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Intelligent Energy

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