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NEW MOBILITY WORLD @IAA 2019Frankfurt/Main, September 10–15, 2019
Clean and Sustainable Mobility

Alternative Powertrains – The Problems of the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure

By Editorial Team on June 17, 2018

Modern propulsion concepts and means of transportation are trending topics as the automobile and logistics markets adapt and change to new demands with electric, hydrogen or natural gas motors. But while these powertrains are steadily improving and technical problems are being solved, the fueling and charging infrastructure is still paying catch-up. Drivers have to search for hours to find a fitting filling station or have to charge their vehicles on one of the few existing charging stations. This discourages many people from buying vehicles that are powered by alternative powertrains. After all, most people and companies rely on their vehicles, so they have to be operational. Therefore, availability is an important factor since people simply cannot afford to have to search around for the next filling or rapid charging station.

The number that describes this best: 2.694. That’s how many inhabitants of the German city Stuttgart would have to share one charging station. Mind you, Stuttgart is Germany’s frontrunner in regards of charging infrastructure. As a comparison: In Norway’s capital Oslo, it’s 488 inhabitants for one charging station. In Germany, 110.000 electric vehicles had to share 12.500 charging points at the end of last year. This is equivalent to a 9-1 ratio. An additional problem: Many different providers operate charging stations in Germany; and each provider has its own tariff system. The amount of hydrogen filling stations in Germany is even smaller – only around 80 currently exist. All in all, it isn’t exactly easy for the customer to gain an overview of the current situation.

Every new technology needs time to convince a conservative client base of its advantages. Alternative means of transportation will only slowly establish themselves on the market if there is no appropriate offer of charging and fueling stations. But there are two new projects which might give the expansion of charging and fueling stations another push.

Charging Electric Cars Within Minutes – IONITY

The automotive industry is working on the future. BMW, Daimler, Ford and Volkswagen founded the joint venture IONITY. The goal? A comprehensive network of charging stations on Europe’s motorways. IONITY charging parks will be available every 120 kilometres until 2020 – a total amount of 400. The quick charging time is what makes these charging stations so special. Their 350 kilowatts charging capacity load cars within a few minutes with the energy necessary for 400 kilometres. To compare: Tesla’s Superchargers are designed for 145 kW. The joint venture already opened its first charging parks: One on the A61 in Germany at the Raststätte Brohtal Ost as well as one on Aabenraa in Denmark.

An All-in-One Dispenser – A Model for the Future?

But future mobility cannot just consist of electricity-driven vehicles. Hydrogen and natural gas will be featured prominently, especially for long hauls, despite super quick loading electric charging stations. But as mentioned, thaz network of fueling stations can’t exactly be considered as dense.

Therefor, a research project at the Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoffforschung (ZSW) might come in handy. At thousands of filling stations across Europe, petrol and diesel can be refilled at the same station, which is not the case for electricity, hydrogen, and natural gas. Fueling stations which offer all three at the same time are a rarity. They are spread all over the map individually instead.

An all-in-one dispenser for the multiple fuelling options could be the solution for this problem. It can produce and offer electricity, hydrogen, and methane from renewable energy sources on its own. The dispenser is basically its own little factory. Its priority is to charge cars with electricity from renewable energies out of the local power supply. Additionally, the station is equipped with a large battery which can be used to save surplus energy if necessary. If the volatile electricity supply exceeds the demand and the capacities of the batteries, the fuel-dispenser would produce hydrogen with the help of the surplus energy in the next step. The hydrogen can then be tanked by appropriate cars. If the hydrogen storage capacities are also exceeded, methane would be produced in a third step. The methane could be used by natural gas-driven cars as natural gas predominantly consists out of methane. And if the storage capacities for methane are also exceeded, there is another solution: The surplus gas will be funnelled to cities’ natural gas grids.

But why is electricity the priority for this dispenser? Electricity is the most efficient alternative. By using electricity, there are no energy conversion losses. Hydrogen and methane on the other hand have to be produced out of the electric energy. Therefore their degree of efficiency is worse. It is around 75% if electricity is converted into hydrogen and around 60% from electricity to methane.

This dispenser isn’t just a future dream: The ZSW’s plan is to finish the technical development until 2020 and to subsequently start demonstrations of the dispenser.

Future Ideas – Closer Than Expected?!

Infrastructure and charging times – these two are considered as the two biggest obstacles for the proper implementation of alternative powertrains. This is just logical since not many people want to buy vehicles which can’t be refuelled quickly and easyily when necessary. People and companies rely on their vehicles. Europe-wide quick charging stations like IONITY’s or all-in-one dispensers with several fuelling options produced out of renewable resources might be the thing to turn the tide.


Hero Image by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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