The first session kicked off with the Grove chairman, Lars Sjunesson introducing Sir David King, scientific adviser to the UK government, a suitably heavyweight speaker to start the conference. He was very clear on the effects of carbon dioxide (anthropogenic or otherwise) in terms of causing significant global warming and climate change.
Looking at carbon dioxide levels over the last 800,000 years, warm periods have seen atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of 260ppm whereas today's levels are 380ppm, showing an increase from the last ice age 20,000 years ago and an even more dramatic rise since the start of the industrial age.
The good news is that CO2 levels have been this high before. The bad news is that, last time, the levels were 1000ppm, sea levels were 100 m higher (that's right, 100 metres higher) and it was 50 million years ago. As David King said, \\$quot;Climate change is happening, we must adapt.\\$quot; The UK is aiming to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, for instance, hopefully showing the way.
To trump this though, apparently California is even more aggressive. Alan Lloyd was therefore in a good position to receive the Grove medal for his contributions to fuel cells and hydrogen. He gave us a taste of his journey from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to CARB and the Californian EPA. It was also nice to hear him admit some healthy scepticism on the fuel cell front. He is not a fuel cell person but \\$quot;a clean air person with a job to do\\$quot; and fuel cells are helping.
In the afternoon fuel cell bus tours around London were available for conference attendees.
Compared to a conventional bus the ride was not only smooth and odour free but extremely quiet. Driving past the Houses of Parliament, London Eye and Trafalgar Square generated a lot of interest from passing tourists, many pointing and obviously commenting about the bus (and the steam coming out of the top!). The most satisfying part of the ride however, was driving through congestion zones knowing there was no charge for the journey and that the vehicle was emission free!
One of the buss’ regular drivers explained his experience of driving the bus. Apparently it covers around a hundred miles in eight hours (not a problem due to the fuel cell, just London traffic for the uninitiated) before returning to its base for the evening. He was very positive about the experience, citing low noise, low vibration and positive customer feedback. And, in almost every other respect, it resembles the diesel buses it may eventually replace, with similar performance.
In the afternoon, Ausilio Bauen of Imperial College's icept (Centre for Energy Policy and Technology) gave his thoughts on the background in energy and important policy developments in this area. Again, he talked about some really big challenges. Even stabilising CO2 concentrations at 500ppm may be very challenging indeed. Fuel cells are not the whole answer, but, according to Bauen, are part of the solution.
On day two the focus switched to events in the exhibition hall. It was certainly a busy area with a hum – and not just from the fuel cells on display. As well as chatting to visitors the team had a chance to go and meet other exhibitors to find out their latest news and developments.
One of the most interesting chats was with Brendan Bilton, of Ceramic Fuel Cells, on the new NetGen 1.1 kW micro-CHP unit. This unit, which went from drawing board to fully functioning unit in less than eight months, will be sent into the field, in Europe, next year for testing and verification. As Ceramic are moving forward on its development path it is also in talks with utilities and manufacturers.
Naturally Ballard were also there showing off its two current success stories - the Mark9 SSL (which are going into a number of forklift trucks) and the Mark 1030 (over a hundred of which are now in Japan being used in CHP units).
From our side it is very interesting to see that the manufacturing companies are starting to exhibit here. Companies such as Nutek, DEK and BTU were all there looking to help the industry move from hand made test units to large batch, high quality manufacturing.
Many attendees picked up on the feel of the conference with a number of individuals to the stand commenting on the positive vibes from the exhibitors as the industry starts to move from test units to products from sale.
Looking back to some of the presentations, we were busy enough to see relatively few. However, one that did stand out was Yamaha's on the development of its FC-me fuel cell system for small scooters. What the presenter focused on, as well as the market opportunity, was the set of compromises needed in order to make the best possible product. The balance between stack output and efficiency is important and depends on methanol concentration, which they have fixed at two per cent, monitored continually.
Apart from the obvious local emissions benefits, he also focused on the carbon dioxide benefits. Although pure electric vehicles offer a sixty per cent saving in CO2 terms over the conventional ICE version and the DMFC version offers about a forty per cent saving, or even more if it is using methanol from biological sources.
Later Arnold Miller gave a very considered view on the possible introduction of hybrid locomotives. Vehicle Projects has already built mining locomotive and is building a further life-size locomotive, with pure fuel cell power.
Day three dawned with an evocative mist over the City of London. The footsteps of fuel cell conference attendees echoed over the cobbled streets and the crowds shuffle in to learn more about the technology.
Shimshon Gottesfeld, MTI Microfuel Cells opened up the first session on DMFC. As a senior representative of MTI, one of the more progressive companies in this area, he spoke about the issues of methanol crossover and the Mobion technology.
The question he was trying to ask, \\$quot;When and how can we have ten hours multimedia communication with a single battery?\\$quot; This is equivalent to five sets of batteries for today's technology. When asked, 84 per cent of Japanese, for instance, would like to see television screens on phones and since \\$quot;power eaters (like camcorders before and G4 phones in the future) drive battery evolution\\$quot; fuel cells are very much of interest to many people in the electronics industry.
Addressing the issue of methanol crossover, Gottesfeld didn’t believe it is a vast issue. It does cause some problems but operating at high current works well.
In the exhibition hall things started off quiet but picked up again later in the day. The lull in footfall allowed a very interesting chat with one of the newcomers to Grove, UPS Systems. The UK based compnay has a long track record in the field of UPS, providing advice and solutions to a number of clients. Recently they have teamed up with APC of Denmark to provide a fuel cell ups option. The units are on sale now and the first will be up and running very shortly
The positive sign with this company was that the prices were not something for discussion only after a confidentiality agreement had been signed. Their marketing manager was able to provide an on-the-spot figure of £25,000 for a 10kW system, 10,000 hours run time and 5,000 stop / starts with a five year extended warranty also available. A 20kW system is also available at £46,000.
If this honesty and move to product availability continues then hopefully we will see the Grove Fuel Cell Exhibition become more like a trade fair with products on offer and customers through the door.