Jose Ignacio Galindo

Jose Ignacio Galindo

Since 2005, Alset Global has been developing technologies that will enable the introduction of hydrogen-powered vehicles both for passenger cars and commercial vehicles.  With European engineering headquarters in Graz, Austria Alset is leading a coalition of more than ten partner organisations to introduce this technology in time for new European emission standards in 2020.  At this year's Geneva motor show, Dr Bez, CEO of Aston Martin announced that Alset would be providing its Hybrid Hydrogen system for a prototype Aston Martin Rapide S. This car would become the first hydrogen powered race car to compete in an official race, beating the Garage 56 entry at Le Mans to a track debut. To uncover the full story, Matthew Beecham talked with Alset Global's CEO, Jose Ignacio Galindo.

Could you tell us more about Alset Global?

Alset Global is a technology company using its expertise to deploy hydrogen as the fuel for clean and sustainable mobility. To achieve this we act as a systems integrator, bringing together cutting edge hydrogen burning expertise, gas storage technology as well developing the software and hardware to make the technology accessible and affordable for automotive and commercial vehicle markets.

Who are the key people behind this organisation?

Since our formation in 2005, we have assembled a team of specialists that brings unprecedented knowledge and skills to an organisation this size.  For example, we have renowned engineer Thomas Korn. He was a leader of the hydrogen development programme at BMW.  Dominique Houde, previously corporate financier at Lotus has joined us in the last few weeks. In addition, Dr Indranil Ghosh, a former consultant at McKinsey and until recently, Director of Corporate Strategy one of the largest sovereign wealth investment fund, is also on board.  Every person is, we believe, the best in their field.

And outside the walls of our company, we have partnerships with specialists in hydrogen infrastructure, storage, tanking system design, integration and assembling, transport and renewable energy organisations so we can engage everybody in the transition to the Hydrogen Economy.

From what we heard at Geneva from Dr Bez, Alset Global will be providing a new 'hybrid technology' for Aston Martin's race car. Could you tell us what your technology is?

We are working with Aston Martin to present publicly the Alset Global Hybrid Hydrogen system at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the first time a hydrogen-powered race car has entered international competition. Our technology enables today's internal combustion engines to run with either hydrogen or gasoline or diesel.  This is not a fuel cell but a patented hydrogen system that enables OEMs to retain their IC engine architecture to transition smoothly to the hydrogen economy. This ability to keep the existing IC engine will, at low cost, ensure OEMs achieve stringent emissions standards without the huge expense of fuel cells and fuelling infrastructure whilst also eliminating the range anxiety of pure EVs.

Can you tell us more about how your Hydrogen Hybrid system works?

Our Hybrid Hydrogen system is a fully integrated hydrogen system that runs in parallel to the traditional gasoline injection. The system, comprising hydrogen storage and supply architecture can be installed in any vehicle. Our control software also enables the vehicle to seamlessly shift between gasoline and hydrogen whilst on the move. Crucially, as a parallel system, it eliminates the need for a fully rolled out fuelling distribution system so we can avoid the chicken and egg scenario of fuel cells and fuelling stations. That is to say OEMs and fuel distributors are waiting for each other to come to the market with the product or fuelling network. We can avoid all of that and just tell the consumer: 'Don't worry about range; your car can still run on gasoline.' This is an extremely compelling argument. Equally compelling is the fact that OEMs have to make minimal changes to the engine itself to deal with burning hydrogen. We consider it is a breakthrough technology without disrupting the industry.

Is your technology unique?

Yes, absolutely. The Alset system combines decades of expertise in engine engineering and thermodynamics associated to hydrogen combustion. Our system offers the flexibility to use pure gasoline, pure hydrogen and dependent on the application, drive cycle a blend of both. No one else is offering this. We also hold a number of key patents with a further set held by our partners. Our patents relate to the emissions control and managing the combustion process whereas our partners have IP for the storage tank. Over the past eight years our engineers have refined the burning of hydrogen to the point that we have become real experts in making the most of the phenomenal energy stored in hydrogen.

How did you come to develop this technology?

I am a trained engineer but after realising that investment, or a lack of investment stymied innovation, I moved into investment banking. Through this I met an engineer who showed me the huge potential that is locked in hydrogen. I was constantly approached by people needing funding but for me, from the outset, it was clear. The future economy was going to be hydrogen. We needed a technology that could make the most of hydrogen. I looked at alternatives such as fuel cells but the development cost and lack of infrastructure means they are always ten to 20 years away.  We needed a technology that offered value to OEMs, energy distributors and end customers now.

We started pretty much from scratch from basic engineering to prototyping and now bringing it to the ring to show that the industry is ready to move forward to sustainable and clean mobility based on hydrogen. With lower investment, OEMs do not need to move away from IC engines and [there is] no requirement for a full infrastructure of refuelling stations to be in place for market acceptance of hydrogen vehicles, Alset Global can accelerate the world's transition to a cleaner transportation market. We believe that Hybrid Hydrogen is the only viable way to enable the hydrogen economy.

How does the car drive? Will it appeal to end customers?

We have a demonstrator in Graz and everybody who has driven the car loves it. That's because it provides the same driving experience as a conventional car. It has the same refueling time and there isn't the range anxiety - you can continue to run on gasoline. It sounds the same, in fact with slightly better induction roar than a conventional car too. So, for certain OEMs, they retain that core aspect of the brand experience.  It won't have to have synthesised sound!

There is a cost benefit with the Alset Global Hybrid Hydrogen system. Consumers are rarely willing to pay more for a cleaner car. This system is much more cost effective, we are targeting a ten percent on cost and we believe that there will be a lower cost of ownership when compared to batteries or fuel cells. Servicing cost will be roughly the same as today's conventional powertrain and with an IC engine, it is a known drivetrain that is well understood the world over.

What about the concerns about hydrogen? Not only the safety aspect but also its production?

It surprises some people but we are already in the hydrogen economy. There are around 50 million tonnes of hydrogen being produced safely all around the world. It is set to quadruple in the next ten to 15 years. It is becoming much cleaner to produce too; there are renewable processes under development and eventually even home production will be viable.

But is it dangerous to drive with hydrogen?

Vehicles fitted with a hydrogen tank are no more dangerous than vehicles that drive with gasoline or natural gas. Several OEMs and renowned research institutes have invested in technology development in this field and today safer technologies are available that fulfil industry standards.

In addition, our system in the Aston Martin has been approved by the Germany's governing motorsport body, the DMSB, and the 24 hour race will be excellent way to demonstrate the reliability of the system in one of the sport's toughest races.

Your announcement with Aston Martin took many by surprise. What sectors do you see following?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE research service