EVs and batteries in vehicles are central to the energy transition ahead, but hydrogen can also play a role in the long-term.
Bramble Energy, a UK hydrogen tech specialist, says it has developed a sustainable hydrogen solution and has created a patented Printed Circuit Board Fuel Cell technology. It says the solution not only offers environmental benefits but also time effective and cost-effective benefits.
With current fuel cell technologies exceeding $1000/kw, the technology developed by Bramble achieves $100/kw, the company says.
On a recent site visit, Frankie Youd spoke to Tom Mason, CEO and co-founder, Bramble Energy, to discuss the use of hydrogen within automotive as well as why not all applications are beneficial.
Could you tell me a about ‘Dazzle’ which is parked outside?
Tom Mason (TM): That is a Toyota Mirai, generation one. That is a pure fuel cell prime mover fuel cell vehicle. It’s just a demonstrator. When we could fill it up in Gatwick, we used it to collect people from stations so they can drive it, because a lot of people think that fuel cells don’t exist in vehicles. We just don’t have a lot of in the UK because we have no infrastructure. Around the world there are loads of them; there are 15,000 of those and there are there are over 30,000 of the gen two ones.
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So getting people to see it, sit in it, drive it, is a powerful thing to show that this thing isn’t theoretical anymore. It does work in the real world.
Particularly in the UK, we have this quite poor view of what’s happening around the world because we’ve focused on us. Around the world there are plenty of people who are seriously doing hydrogen fuel cells. We need to recognise that and show that actually it is a viable alternative; the gen two car has about 400-mile range. You fill it up in three minutes, which I did once every two weeks. I had the perfect electrification experience.
When I’m in a car, say I’m driving to or from work, I’m not driving fast, I’m in variable traffic but I just cruise along. The fuel cell car experience is comparable to an ICE car, but it’s zero emission. It’s fast fill-up, except there’s no tailpipe emission. They’re not as fast as battery electric cars because they haven’t got this enormous power from a battery instantaneously, but they can work in many real world situations and use cases.
It’s just that no-one in the UK experiences it because we don’t have the hydrogen fuelling infrastructure.
What’s the nature of Bramble’s hydrogen solution?
We believe Bramble Energy’s solution can create a $100 per kilowatt fuel cell stack achievable today – ten times cheaper than current traditional fuel cell costs. We have developed a new stack structure through the patented printed circuit board (PCB) fuel cell technology which embraces new design, materials selection and manufacturing processes. Unlike traditional fuel cell technologies, Bramble’s PCB-based approach allows for high-volume production within existing facilities. With high cost hindering the hydrogen fuel cell industry for years, we believe our printed circuit board fuel cell technology can deliver fuel cells at an achievable cost and at speed. The key is scalability through achievable lower cost via the best technologies and processes.
What are your predictions for the use of hydrogen within the automotive industry?
I love cars, I am a car person. I see electrification as a way of preserving that kind of personal mobility rather than stopping it.
For a company like Ferrari or McLaren, you don’t buy them for a quiet experience. I can understand why someone like Rimac would make an EV that has 2,000 horsepower, because it’s got to be so distinctive, and people think: “I’ll have it because it’s got 2,000 horsepower.” Not everybody can do that, especially when it’s at the supercar level.
If you’re McLaren or Ferrari, I just don’t see why you’d electrify it without burning a synthetic fuel, or burning hydrogen in the engine because it’s about the theatre, and the experience that you make people feel. It isn’t so much about getting from A to B. It’s not the logistic challenge, where I’ve got to move parcel A to parcel B in the cheapest possible way. It’s just a different set of customer needs.
You see people like Porsche working in Chile on their synthetic fuel room. I think what they’ll end up doing is becoming lower volume manufacturers, though they will be in some way consuming a combustible fuel. If I were them, I wouldn’t bother with batteries. Batteries are fine when you’re using them to supplement a combustion engine like in the P1.
The reality also is no government around the world is going to completely ban the sale of petrol and diesel in the foreseeable future. They’d never get voted in ever again.
So, hydrogen is beneficial with certain automotive use cases?
Think about the really big industries that have existed in the past that disappeared overnight. In the early 1900s, the biggest industry that was commercial whaling industry, now people say: “I don’t want to kill whales.” Drilling for oil and gas replaced it overnight because it is cheaper and there’s less risk. It’s easier and cheaper to drill a hole in the ground and get some oil out rather than hunt and kill a whale. There was a better solution to get much sought after industrial materials.
If you force people to electrify on something that isn’t genuinely better, it’s just not going to happen. There’ll be enough people around the world who say, I don’t want to, I might not be able to afford to – so that’s why our focus has never been to put hydrogen solutions into city cars. Most city cars are probably fine with a small battery and a charger.
Eventually heavy goods vehicles will need to have fuel cells. Once you have an infrastructure that means HGVs can have it, it also means light commercial vehicles can have it; the stations for fuel are not going to be isolated, they’re going to be open to the public. So eventually it will happen. The problem is that eventually is probably something that’s ten years away, but it can’t be twenty years away.
We have net zero goals now. In 2000 there was no imperative to do it; there was no global consensus that actually we need to change radically. Now we have that consensus, we have that momentum.
Do you see hydrogen existing alongside EVs?
The thing that everybody needs to have with net zero is a degree of pragmatism. It needs to be cost-effective and takes time to bring together. For many industries, the challenge is enormous.
We need to stop thinking about whether my car’s got a battery in it or a fuel cell. It is more a case of how we solve the problems.
We need to utilise all options as they become available.
However, I think that Toyota is very resistant to moving fuel cells into the UK because they brought all their technology to the UK with the promise that there was going to be an infrastructure for them to use. What’s actually happened is the infrastructure hasn’t happened. Toyota have been incredibly good about this – they have bought those cars back. So they’ve leased cars to people and they’ve not been able to re-fuel them – so they’ve bought them back.
That’s the sort of visionary people that the net zero transition needs. It needs a long-term look at what’s ready, practical and what’s needed to develop the tech and whole eco-system.