20th July 2024

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There are three lengthy operating supporting forged members in stagings of the unhappy farce that’s trials of hydrogen for fleets, FuelCell Vitality, Plug Energy and Ballard Energy Techniques. All of their market capitalizations peaked roughly 99% above their present inventory valuations in 2000. They’ve all participated in innumerable hydrogen fleet trials, but not one of the trials has resulted in a whole bunch or 1000’s of autos working on hydrogen. Fairly the alternative, most have resulted in hydrogen being deserted fully.

Odyssey of the Hydrogen Fleet infographic by Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Strategy Inc, icons by ChatGPT & DALL-E
Odyssey of the Hydrogen Fleet infographic by Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Technique Inc, icons by ChatGPT & DALL-E

It was a sufficiently sturdy sample that I had enjoyable writing a notional, six-part play across the theme, the phases being so clear and the hydrogen refrain so pervasive early but utterly silent later. I’ve written a few articles on examples of the play being staged in Iceland, Canada, France, Germany, India, Austria and the USA, generally a number of instances in a single nation.

In the present day a publicist tried to curiosity me in a ‘win’ by one of many three corporations, and that led me to ask “Along with the Whistler, BC failure, the place else have Ballard gasoline cells been concerned in failed trials since 2000”? The record is lengthy. That is in all probability not an exhaustive record of their failures, but it surely does reply one query and beg one other.

Whereas 2000 is 24 years in the past now, Ballard was fashioned lengthy earlier than that in 1979. Satirically, initially it was fashioned to analysis and discover functions for lithium batteries, however deserted that for gasoline cells in 1989. Sure, Ballard is definitely a 44 yr outdated firm that pivoted away from a know-how that has come to dominate transportation and points of vitality. It went public in 1993, making it a 30 yr outdated publicly listed company.

Comparison of Plug Power, Ballard and Fuel Cell Energy stocks since the first one came on the scene from Google
Comparability of Plug Energy, Ballard and Gasoline Cell Vitality shares for the reason that first one got here on the scene from Google

It was a sizzling inventory within the late 1990s, however peaked early 2000, and by no means remotely recovered. But it retains limping on, by no means truly succeeding or being put out of its distress. So let’s take a look at the litany of an absurd variety of tiny trials that by no means led to profitable development.

In 2000, Ballard and the town of Chicago concluded a two yr trial of three buses. Equally, the Metropolis of Vancouver trial of three Ballard powered buses concluded that yr. The Metropolis of Ottawa checked out these two trials and concluded that they have been way more costly, lined a lot much less floor, had very excessive gasoline prices, required fixed upkeep and determined to disregard them. After trialing hydrogen buses, Chicago deserted the concept, by no means trialed them once more and is at present shopping for battery electrical buses. Equally, the Metropolis of Vancouver ignored hydrogen buses as properly.

In 2001, Ballard concluded a hydrogen bus trial with the SunLine Transit Company of Thousand Palms, CA, which serves Coachella, which is perhaps telling. They naturally claimed it was a surprising success. The company did too, however largely due to the visibility it introduced them. The ultimate report has pages of components changed and highway requires a single bus for a single yr. SunLine, having constructed a single hydrogen refueling station and current in a state with an odd obsession with hydrogen, has continued to reap governmental largesse to the tune of, most not too long ago, $7,819,257, for hydrogen trials and upgrading the station. The fleet nonetheless has a number of gasoline cell buses with Ballard gasoline cells in them, making it probably the most lasting fleet. Nevertheless, that final governmental grant was matched with equal funding to purchase battery electrical buses and set up charging infrastructure, so it appears as if the Odyssey is coming into its last phases.

The identical yr, Ballard additionally managed to persuade a Japanese sewage plant to attempt it out, delivery a 250 kW gasoline cell to be run off biomethane. By 2004 it was historical past.

In 2002, Coleman Powermate Inc launched a gasoline cell generator incorporating Ballard’s know-how, per SEC filings by Ballard. The $8,000 USD machine had adequate juice to energy a pc, telephone, fax, and light-weight for Eight to 10 hours earlier than refueling, which is to say a ludicrously small quantity of vitality for a really costly value. It sank with no hint, with no file of anybody shopping for a unit. Ballard purchased a few tiny corporations and Alstom’s gasoline cell enterprise in 2002 as properly.

2003 noticed a trial of a Ballard gasoline cell as an uninterruptible energy provide (UPS). There’s no indication that the united statesfirm, MGE, bothered to maneuver ahead, and present MGE UPS units don’t have gasoline cells.

That yr additionally noticed the launch of the London trial of three gasoline cell buses, underneath the EU and UK authorities funded CUTE and HyFleet. Ballard claims this as a giant win as London has expanded its complete fleet of hydrogen buses to 20. In the meantime, London has 8,600 buses and a few thousand of them are battery electrical, with a whole bunch extra battery electrical buses on order from a number of distributors together with BYD. The London trial is a type of limping alongside hydrogen ‘success’ tales that doesn’t stand as much as scrutiny as properly, with the hydrogen fleet a rounding error in comparison with battery electrical autos.

Because the London transit organizations’ personal reviews level out, there’s 99% to 100% success fee protecting routes with a mixture of depot and alternative charging alongside journeys for battery electrical autos, with solely a 92% success fee for routes with hydrogen buses which might solely be fueled at depots. The report additionally factors out that hydrogen buses are way more costly to gasoline and preserve than battery electrical buses that are already at price parity with diesel buses because of decrease upkeep and gasoline prices. They have been additionally worse than diesel for CO2e emissions with hydrogen from steam reformation of pure fuel, and naturally worse than battery electrical if electrolysis was utilized in any occasion. It’s unclear why London persists with hydrogen when it has so clearly did not ship.

2005 noticed supply of 5 Ford automobiles with Ballard gasoline cells in them to the BC authorities as a part of a multi-year, $8.7 million trial of the autos. No last report on that trial appears to be accessible, and the federal government actually doesn’t have a fleet of gasoline cell automobiles at present. Sank with no hint, taking the thousands and thousands with it.

Additionally in 2005, Ballard delivered the primary gasoline cells for forklifts which finally ended up in Walmart distribution facilities, the place there’s a tiny quantity of benefit of their use in indoor areas to displace pure fuel, diesel and lead acid battery forklifts. Early deployments of forklifts in Walmart and different distribution facilities have been funded by the US DOE to the tune of about $1.Three million per forklift. There are about 40,000 hydrogen gasoline cell forklifts in operation in comparison with 1.Three million battery electrical and 800,000 inner combustion forklifts offered in 2021 alone globally.

Hydrogen gasoline cell forklifts stay a rounding error area of interest that’s closely promoted by the US DOE as a giant win of their hydrogen for vitality displays, though they’re spending much less direct cash on them now. It’s value noting that the hydrogen for the few forklifts in operation is black or grey hydrogen, not inexperienced hydrogen. Different international locations have a number of hundred right here and there. Toyota, US agency Hyster and Hyundai have choices, however the Toyota and Hyundai ones are largely demonstration models, with South Korea deploying one take a look at unit this yr.

Whereas touted as a giant hydrogen win, the fact is that the forklift market has chosen lithium ion batteries because the vitality provider of the long run and hydrogen forklifts exist solely in legacy corporations which have been initially funded by the US DOE or governmental companies in Europe, Japan or South Korea.

In 2006, Ballard managed to promote extra gasoline cells for forklifts. It’s value noting that it offered them to Common Hydrogen of BC, which was additionally based by Ballard co-founders, so undoubtedly each corporations claimed a giant win as a substitute of a bit household commerce of cash.

In 2007, Ballard offered its automotive gasoline cell division and property to Daimler and Ford. Daimler took that and has managed to lease 60 complete automobiles to folks on three continents since. Ford constructed 30 complete automobiles with gasoline cells. Neither commercialized gasoline cell automobiles.

In 2008, Ballard signed a cope with North America’s largest bus producer, New Flyer, to be the unique provider of gasoline cells for a proposed line of hydrogen powered shuttle buses. There’s no proof New Flyer launched that product.

Additionally that yr, Ballard signed a cope with Plug Energy — be aware inventory value chart above — for extra gasoline cells for forklift energy trains Plug Energy was promoting.

In 2009, Ballard launched gasoline cell again up techniques for telecommunications. They nonetheless record the product on their web site, however haven’t any buyer testimonials or references. Presumably they’ve offered a number of right here and there, with one announcement a few sale in India, adequate to maintain the product limping alongside. The united statesmarket is dominated by lithium ion batteries in fact, with gasoline cell UPS’ being a rounding error.

In 2010, Ballard gasoline cells have been put, with nice fanfare, in 20 buses in Whistler for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The hydrogen was at the least ‘inexperienced’, in that it was made with hydroelectricity, however sadly that was Quebec hydro and the hydrogen was trucked throughout the nation in 9,000 km spherical journey journeys, with every truck load seemingly enabling about 10,000 km of bus journey. The bus fleet, along with very costly hydrogen, had innumerable issues together with freezing within the comparatively gentle Whistler winters, and hydrogen was deserted fully for buses within the province.

In 2011, Ballard offered 5 gasoline cell modules for a hydrogen bus trial in Norway. These buses managed to make it into service in 2013, operated for a few years and have been deserted. Oslo is buying a whole bunch of electrical buses with the goal of being absolutely battery electrical by the top of 2023, one thing that they virtually achieved.

In 2012, Ballard offered a gasoline cell energy system to Toyota’s California gross sales and advertising and marketing headquarters. California, in fact, paid for it. There is no such thing as a public file of every other gross sales, though they have been delivering a number of gasoline cells to Norway and London primarily based on earlier gross sales, and presumably making an attempt to maintain the Whistler buses working.

It additionally purchased a small backup system firm, Idatec, which turned methanol into hydrogen to be used in gasoline cells. Methanol, in fact, is a wooden alcohol made fully from fossil fuels with every kilogram of methanol having a carbon debt of two kilograms of CO2, on common. By stripping the carbon out of the methanol, extra CO2 is emitted in addition to throwing away 45% of the vitality within the liquid after which placing it via a gasoline cell which is 50% environment friendly. Methanol to hydrogen to gasoline cells is a totally non-virtuous pathway that’s larger emissions than simply burning diesel in mills, in addition to being way more costly.

In 2013, Ballard claimed the 500th sale of its methanol to hydrogen to gasoline cell product, primarily based on Idatec’s earlier gross sales.

Additionally that yr, Ballard introduced a deal to produce Volkswagen with gasoline cells for its hydrogen HyMotion demonstrators, one thing VW had been displaying off at commerce exhibits globally for years. VW by no means launched a hydrogen gasoline cell automotive on the market or lease, and clearly said this yr that they’d by no means accomplish that.

In 2014, Ballard renewed its Plug Energy forklift deal.

Additionally they introduced that they’d be powering 27 hydrogen buses manufactured by European bus agency Van Hool. The 5 deserted Oslo buses have been amongst them. Cologne in Germany had two, and Cologne stays an odd holdout for hydrogen buses, with 52 of them from totally different producers. After all, Cologne is in Germany’s industrial heartland with many automotive and petrochemical corporations, so has a robust predisposition domestically to molecules for vitality. It’s going to be one of many depart behind areas except it will get its head out of hydrogen for all the things. All of Cologne’s buses have Ballard gasoline cells in them, so 52 gasoline cells in a decade makes them one of many agency’s largest prospects.

San Remo, Italy picked up 5 buses, funded by the federal government via FCH-JU underneath grand settlement 278192. After all, San Remo realized the folly of its methods and is revamping its electrical trolley buses with new battery electrical buses. There’s no proof that the hydrogen buses are nonetheless in operation.

Flanders, Belgium picked up 5 of the buses. After all, it’s simply down the highway from the Van Hool headquarters in Koningshooikt. Regardless of that, the Flanders transit company De Lijn may be very clear on its web site that each one buses and trams shall be battery electrical or operating on overhead wires, with nary a point out of hydrogen.

Lastly, Aberdeen, Scotland was to have obtained 10 hydrogen buses with Ballard gasoline cells. As a reminder, Aberdeen is a significant North Sea fossil gasoline industrial hub, though it’s struggling via the low-carbon transition with intensive offshore wind work and lots of people hoping desperately for each undersea carbon seize and extra fuel exploration. Huge on molecules for vitality, in different phrases, though with a bunch of individuals, together with many I’ve spoken with prior to now couple of years, engaged on the transition.

What meaning is a lot of governmental funding for hydrogen bus lifeless ends. Though it appears as if the Van Hool hydrogen buses are lengthy gone, the Aberdeen transit group nonetheless has 25 double decker hydrogen buses manufactured by Irish agency Wright Buses. After all, it additionally has 24 electrical buses, and the hydrogen buses are operating on grey hydrogen. As soon as costlier low-carbon hydrogen is required  and governmental cash runs out, the hydrogen fleet shall be mothballed. That’s only a matter of time. For now, the gasoline cells in Aberdeen’s buses nonetheless appear to be coming from Ballard, making it Ballard’s second largest buyer up till this level.

From 27 hydrogen buses with Ballard gasoline cells to 77 buses in solely 11 years. In the meantime, there 1000’s of electrical buses being delivered in Europe every year. Ballard’s European gasoline cell buses stay a rounding error.

In 2015, Ballard inked a deal for one more single MW energy system to be put in at a sodium chlorate chemical plant in Bordeaux, France which generates hydrogen as a by product of its chemical processes. Naturally the tab was picked up by the federal government and a French hydrogen manufacturing concern. The agency which took the gasoline cell, AkzoNobel had completed this earlier than in 2005, and has its personal gasoline cell agency, Nedstack, so it’s not wanting like a stable win for Ballard.

The massive information for 2015 was the 300 bus deal in China, with Ballard’s lower being value $17 million. Lots of the buses have been for the town of Foshan, inhabitants Eight million and a spot which selected a really direct strategic pathway for hydrogen. They’ve 1,000 hydrogen gasoline cell buses on their roads now apparently, however had introduced plans for two,441 electrical buses. Having gasoline cell buses and now a lightweight tram as properly makes Foshan a deep outlier in China, as 89% of bus purchases are battery electrical and about 600,000 battery electrical buses drive silently its streets. After all, the hydrogen wasn’t inexperienced, however at the least a few of it was blue.

Are these 1,000 buses the beginning of a significant ramp up for Ballard? No, China is in fact creating and deploying its personal proprietary gasoline cell applied sciences in buses now. As there are underneath 10,000 registered gasoline cell autos in your complete nation, and 1,000 of them are the buses in Foshan, this appears much more like an industrial export coverage to naive consumers than a transit coverage to me.

In 2016, China was in Ballard’s information stream once more, with a three way partnership for a Chinese language agency to fabricate and promote Ballard’s backup techniques in that nation, in different phrases a licensing settlement, not a development settlement. And there was a distribution settlement with a Toyota subsidiary for Japan. Not an thrilling yr.

In 2017, Ballard closed one other licensing cope with a Chinese language producer, Broad-Ocean Motor Firm, to fabricate and promote their gasoline cell motors. After all, that was the yr that Broad-Ocean turned Ballard’s giant inventory holder as properly, virtually 10%. Additionally they delivered one other handful of bus gasoline cells to SunLine in California.

In 2018, Ballard’s Chinese language licensee introduced a deal for 500 3-ton vehicles to be deployed in China. After all, there are at present over 500,000 battery electrical vehicles in China, and as famous underneath 10,000 registered gasoline cell autos within the nation proper now, so that is nonetheless rounding error territory.

Additionally they offered a number of extra gasoline cells for forklifts, this time via a agency which integrates their gasoline cells into drive trains for fork lifts and at Daimler Alabama plant. After all, US DOE funding was concerned.

In 2019, making an attempt desperately to create a gasoline cell automotive market the place none exists, Ballard organized for a number of workers to lease Toyota Mirai automobiles in BC.

Working with the identical French hydrogen provider, Ballard introduced they have been creating an influence station for French Guiana, changing wind and photo voltaic vitality into hydrogen after which again into a lot much less electrical energy in an electricity-destroying loop at nice expense. 4 years later, it’s nonetheless not operational and apparently the locals need it to not be constructed.

In Alberta, Ballard obtained a part of the US$11.2 million of governmental largesse for 2 hydrogen powered semi vehicles. They’re anticipated to enter some semblance of service in 2024, 5 years after the deal was introduced, nonetheless funded by governmental cash.

Additionally that yr, Ballard signed a deal to supply some gasoline cells for a agency which makes mining gear, First Mode, which might set up them in autos of their proving grounds. This yr First Mode accomplished its yr of testing of a single truck, simply in time for mining large BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue to announce that hydrogen had no place in mining and that decarbonized mines could be battery electrical.

Ballard turned a part of H2Ports in Europe, a corporation vainly making an attempt to get ports to decarbonize with gasoline cell autos. After all, this yr trade large A.P. Moller Maersk subdivision APM Terminals, which runs 8% of the world’s ports, printed their white paper with complete price of possession for battery electrical vs hydrogen that makes it clear that that complete section shall be ignoring hydrogen too.

Lastly, Ballard introduced a cope with ABB’s marine division to develop a hydrogen gasoline cell tug boat in France. As of 2022, there was a design idea and there’s no indication {that a} hull has hit water. ABB does appear to be concerned in numerous makes an attempt to place hydrogen in ships, however all inland delivery and port service boats are simply electrifying. For instance, China has two 700 unit container ships plying 1,000 km routes on the Yangtze, powered by batteries in containers which might be winched on and off to cost, and Europe has a smaller container ship with an analogous mannequin. Plenty of electrification occurring in actuality, and little or no hydrogen.

In 2020, Ballard firmed up a memorandum of understanding with Audi, and delivered no gasoline cells underneath that settlement so far as I might inform.

Additionally, in one other match of governmental largesse, Norway funded retrofitting of an excavator with a Ballard gasoline cell for trials. In the meantime, just about each producer is bringing battery electrical building gear to market.

In 2021, Ballard re-announced the French Guiana challenge which goes nowhere. Additionally they obtained an order for one (1) 200 kW gasoline cell from a hydrogen challenge at an ammonia plant in Portugal. If you find yourself pushing press releases for a single tiny gasoline cell order, there’s an issue.

With extra governmental largesse, Ballard goes to work with Microsoft and Caterpillar on an information heart backup system demonstrator, funded by the US DOE underneath the H2Scale Initiative with NREL Lab help.

Ballard additionally signed a cope with Canadian Pacific Railroad to supply a few gasoline cells for a hydrogen powered locomotive trial, one thing that’s lifeless within the water as all rail will electrify with grid ties and batteries, as is going on all over the place on the earth already with the lagging exception of North America.

Late within the yr, the ever optimistic hydrogen booster H2-Worldwide weblog boldly introduced “Ballard Energy – 2022 would be the yr of the breakthrough”.

In 2022, Ballard misplaced a file $173.5 million on revenues of $83.Eight million.

The agency additionally agreed to supply a single energy unit for a single demonstration freight truck for Chinese language agency Knowledge, which might provide the truck to Pepsi in Australia. It hasn’t entered service but. The presence of Queensland State Minister for Vitality, Renewables and Hydrogen, Mick de Brenni, at a testing press convention means that governmental cash is on the desk there as properly.

The agency made the startling declare that “The corporate’s know-how is now utilized in greater than 1,400 transit buses and a couple of,300 vehicles, along with trains and ships” in its ESG report. Given the small numbers of trials, the small numbers of autos within the trials and the failure of so many trials, these numbers seem inflated. However taking them at face worth, after 44 years, the agency has managed to get their know-how into solely 3,700 vehicles and buses.

As soon as once more, rounding error numbers in comparison with the three million buses on the roads of the world’s cities and the roughly 335 million business autos on roads. And it’s a rounding error in comparison with the variety of battery electrical autos of all sorts.

With that declare comes the much more exceptional declare that Ballard powered autos resulted in “53 million fewer US gallons (200 million liters) of diesel in 2022, avoiding about 540,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide”. The primary half, certain, however the carbon dioxide? As this timeline exhibits, nearly the entire hydrogen that’s put via Ballard’s gasoline cells globally is grey hydrogen, and the one occasion of inexperienced hydrogen in Whistler trucked the hydrogen throughout the nation with diesel.

Let’s simply begin with 200 million liters of diesel. Every liter emits about 2.7 kilograms of CO2, so 200 million of them certainly would emit about 540,000 tons of CO2. However when the hydrogen is produced from pure fuel, ever kilogram comes with a carbon debt of about 11 kilograms of CO2e between upstream leakage and steam reformation.

A kilogram of hydrogen has about as a lot vitality as a gallon of diesel, however gasoline cells are extra environment friendly, so let’s name it 30 million kilograms of hydrogen. Multiply that by 11 kilograms and precise emissions are about 330 thousand tons as a substitute of 540 thousand tons, or about 60% of diesel emissions. Certain, gasoline cell autos don’t emit particulates and noxious chemical compounds, in order that’s higher for buses, however hydrogen gasoline cells run on both grey hydrogen or electrolysed hydrogen will all the time have larger or a lot CO2 emissions than simply utilizing batteries. This, by the best way, is a tough estimate, and the London report on their hydrogen fleet truly pegged full lifecycle emissions larger for hydrogen with steam reformation of pure fuel than for diesel.

Additionally, Canadian Pacific continued down the lifeless finish hydrogen gasoline cell locomotive route with a number of extra orders and a few dozen extra bus orders got here in for Europe, this time for Poland which apparently hasn’t regarded round at what everyone else is doing. Oh, wait, there are already approaching a thousand electrical buses working in that nation. As soon as once more, Ballard’s gasoline cell is a rounding error.

Yet another factor on these Polish gasoline cell buses. They’re by Solaris, which is a Polish bus producer that’s been losing a few of its money and time on gasoline cells whereas promoting vastly extra electrical buses. It’s utterly unclear why as late as 2022 the tiny metropolis of Wałbrzych is taken with losing what little cash it has on hydrogen buses as a substitute of cheaper, simpler electrical ones, however irrational conduct does persist regardless of overwhelming empirical proof that everybody else goes battery electrical.

And so, 2023 rolls round. 170 extra gasoline cells for Solaris in Poland. One other 60 gasoline cells for First Mode for mining gear that gained’t promote properly.

And Ford is again on the hydrogen desk, this time with the thought that they’ll develop hydrogen heavy responsibility vehicles, not having paid consideration to the worldwide battery truck dominance, the stellar electrical truck outcomes from NACFE’s Run on Much less 2023 evaluation, however positively seeking to spend a number of the US$77 million the US DOE gave to them, GM and Chrysler to develop hydrogen vehicles, in contravention of all of the fundamentals of frequent sense.


And in order that’s the 44 yr historical past of this perpetual chaser of governmental cash. Just about fully failed initiatives that don’t actually scale back carbon emissions. Rounding error numbers of energy trains for autos, numerous that are mothballed completely.

Only for enjoyable, I went via Ballard’s annual outcomes from 2000 to 2022 inclusive. Over these 23 years, they’ve recorded $1.Three billion in internet losses, a mean of $55 million per yr.

Peak valuation in March 2000. 2.6% of that market valuation at present. A a long time lengthy historical past of common $55 million annual losses. A historical past of scraping by on governmental grant packages. A historical past that included pivoting away from lithium batteries to gasoline cells. A historical past of persisting with gasoline cells whilst globally in each area of interest gasoline cells fail miserably in comparison with batteries and grid ties. What precisely is the Board of Administrators doing?


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