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Giantleap Report Summary

Project ID: 700101
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Giantleap (Giantleap Improves Automation of Non-polluting Transportation with Lifetime Extension of Automotive PEM fuel cells)

Reporting period: 2016-05-01 to 2017-10-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Zero-emission buses are today very interesting for many municipalities and authorities in light of the increasing sceptiscism towards diesel's emissions of local pollution and greenhouse gases.
While battery buses are being deployed in several cities across Europe, the cost of batteries and their limited range pose serious economical and technical limits.
Fuel-cell buses running on hydrogen have in fact been tested in Europe for more than a decade, and would be able to store 10 to 20 times more energy in hydrogen tanks than in the same weight of batteries. However, fuel cells are still more expensive than batteries, and the more complicated balance-of-plant system required in such buses (valves, compressors, humidifiers, etc.) has proven to be unreliable in previous demonstrations.
The Giantleap project aims to improve the availability and reliability of fuel-cell system for buses by developing diagnostic and prognostic systems for automotive fuel cells and their ancillary components, integrating this knowledge in an advanced control system, and testing and evaluating the improvement in performance.
Since it is expected that the largest reduction in fuel-cell cost will occur in the car-sized segment, due to the larger size of the market compared to buses, Giantleap assumes that buses will use car-derived fuel cells, which are significantly cheaper but have a shorter life: therefore, it will be necessary to change fuel cells at least once during the life of the bus.
This is easily done if the fuel cell system is not integrated within the bus, but rather in its own range extender, which is mounted on the back of the bus. This approach fits well with a fleet of battery buses, which can be equipped with range extenders when required and thereby have their range increased. The ability to rapidly swap a malfunctioning fuel-cell system is another advantage, and the battery of the bus provides a redundant power source that can at least bring the bus back to the depot so a new range extender can be attached.
The Giantleap project shall build such a range extender and test it in a relevant environment, and assess its effect on the reliability of hydrogen-battery buses.
The higher reliability of the complete system, its flexibility and (as fuel cells become mass produced) its competitive price will allow the bus and coach sector to transition to zero-emission operation, improving air quality in our cities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In the first half of the project, we initially collected all available data on fuel cells and ancillary components, and devised ways to test them for long-term performance (Accelerated Stress Tests, or ASTs). We identified the critical ancillary components that would be investigated in addition to the fuel cell (the core of the system): these are the air compressor, the hydrogen pump, and the air humidifier; experience indicates that the compressor is especially critical, and the main cause of system failures in hydrogen buses.
We also worked on a framework to insert prognostic models (to predict a system's remaining life) into a control system, so that this knowledge can be used automatically to increase the system's life and to warn operators of problems before they occur.
We produced fuel cells in a variety of sizes for testing: single cells, short stacks, and full-size 40-kW stacks. Stack durability has been tested up to 8000 h, and will continue to the final target of 12000 h. An innovative, passive hydrogen pump (ejector) has been developed and integrated into the stack-module, reducing the number of moving parts and inherently improving reliability.
The fuel-cell system and the range extender will be built and tested in the second half of the project, but considerable effort has been devoted to their design. A test-bench system was realised and tested in the laboratory, and the experience gained will soon be exploited as the range extender is assembled and demonstrated.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The focus of Giantleap in advancing the state of the art is availability and reliability: previous projects such as CHIC reported 70%, whereas contemporary projects such as HyTransit report numbers closer to 85%. Giantleap aims to bring the availability of the range-extender setup to 98%, i.e. the same availability that operators expect of diesel buses.
The choice of car-derived fuel cells means that lifetime will not be very high for a bus application: the target is 12,000 operating hours, but with a system cost of just 500 €/kW, and a cost for the whole bus of 650,000 €.

The second half of the project will also investigate fuel-cell rejuvenation methods, to recover the performance of degraded fuel cells and increase their lives. Prognostic methods will be implemented in a full-fledged control system, which will be installed in the range extender to be constructed within the project.
The final year of the project will be dedicated to demonstration of the range extender and to validation of the performance of the diagnostic, prognostic and control systems, in addition to improved fuel-cell stack design.

The main impact of the Giantleap project will be the ability to deploy zero-emission buses also on longer routes or in situations where charging would not be an option, improving air and life quality in cities. As hydrogen stations are deployed thanks to a reliable customer base of buses, they can start absorbing peaks of renewable energy (especially wind) that would otherwise be wasted, and improve the penetration of renewables in the energy market.
The diagnostic, prognostic and control methods developed in Giantleap are tailored for a car-derived stacks, and can therefore very easily be adapted for use on fuel-cell passenger cars.

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