Toyota drives ‘Digiman’ project to develop 50,000 fuel cell stacks by 2020

Japanese carmaker Toyota will be responsible for best practice requirements in a £3m programme created by several public and private bodies which aims to create a platform for fuel cell production for zero-emission cars.

Clean energy provider Intelligent Energy will take the technical lead in the scheme, aiming to demonstrate cost reductions of fuel cells through digital manufacturing techniques.

“Hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles are available now, but to continue to drive customer adoption, we need to ensure future fuel cell stacks are robustly industrialised and remain cost competitive in the future,“ Intelligent Energy’s head of manufacturing Richard Peart said.

The three-year programme, named Digiman, will be supported by an academic department at the University of Warwick, which provides research in manufacturing and technology. The scheme has received funding from the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) under the EU programme Horizon 2020.

Commenting on the project launch, FCH JU executive director Bart Biebuyck said: “The project will indeed improve the manufacturing techniques by reducing the production time and costs, and increase the quality levels of proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) stacks.

“The project, which gathers industry, academia and research centres, is contributing to maintain Europe at the competitive edge on the key technologies for clean transport.”

Significant potential

After spending 20 years being fine-tuned in R&D, hydrogen vehicles are finally beginning to filter into the market. Fuel cell industry shipments grew by two-thirds in 2016 – compared with 2015 levels – with transport-related fuel-cell capacity doubling to 280MW.

Toyota recently pledged to work with ministers to help the UK “realise the significant potential of hydrogen as a clean and sustainable source of power”. The Japanese company has used its fuel cell technology to create a static array to power its Honsha Plant in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Using fuel cells with an output of 3.5kW – and similar to the ones found in the Toyota Mirai – Toyota claims that this marks the first time that fuel cells have been operational in a commercial environment.

Last month, edie reported that the world’s only independent hydrogen fuel cell vehicle manufacturer, Welsh firm Riversimple, had exceeded its crowdfunding target of £1m which will enable the UK trial of innovative and affordable hydrogen cars.

But while hydrogen cars have endorsement at the ready, concerns remain about the lack of availability of refuelling stations. To combat the issue, oil giant Shell recently launched its first fully-branded hydrogen refuelling station in the UK, with plans already in place to open two more stations in 2017. Shell is a founding member of the Hydrogen Council, which will pledge $10.7bn towards hydrogen projects over the next five years.

George Ogleby

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