Flying the flag for FCEVS

Hayley Everett

Solving challenges in power delivery, energy performance and safety for fuel cell electric vehicles with ultra-high power battery cells

Over the coming years, hybrid, battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are all set to play an important role in the decarbonisation of the transport sector as it pursues net zero. In light of the UK’s 2030 deadline to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars, the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is predicted to soar, prompting the industry to ensure a secure and reliable supply of lithium-ion battery cells.

One company at the forefront of the UK’s battery manufacturing scene, AMTE Power, is developing technology to deliver the next generation of EV battery cells specifically for high-performance and heavy-duty EVs like HGVs and buses. Heavy-duty EVs require batteries that can keep up with their internal combustion engine counterparts, while maintaining the balance of power, weight and safety.

“Larger commercial vehicles, especially hybrid and FCEVs, currently do not to have optimised powertrains that provide the desired power output, performance, and payload weight,” explains Fergal Harrington-Beatty, Head of Sales at AMTE Power. “Optimised and more power-dense battery packs are therefore vital to delivering more efficient power for these types of vehicles, and subsequently enabling significant payloads savings of up to several hundred kilograms for the largest HGVs.”

Ultra-high power cells

From a battery point of view, FCEVs are often seen as separate to hybrid and BEVs, however FCEVs need batteries too. In an FCEV, the battery acts as a buffer between the fuel cell system and the electric motor to ensure the fuel cell can run at a constant rate to maximise efficiency and range. The Ultra-High Power (UHP) cell AMTE is currently developing will play a vital role in unlocking the clean fuel cell transition for FCEVs, particularly commercial and heavy-duty vehicles deployed in the transportation sector.

Hydrogen fuel cells can provide the range that long-haul journeys require, particularly when combined with a powerful cell like AMTE’s UHP. This is because UHP is particularly well-suited to repeatedly discharging the power needed by HGVs. The cell’s performance means a much smaller battery pack is required compared to one made up of conventional energy cells. In turn, this creates space for a larger hydrogen fuel tank which ultimately increases the distance a FCEV can travel. UHP also provides the added boost needed for HGVs to pull heavy loads or navigate inclines without draining fuel, and enhances a vehicle’s ability to use regenerative braking to recharge the cell.

“Our UHP cell is designed specifically with optimal power delivery in mind,” says Harrington-Beatty. “The format and shape of the cell enables efficient cooling of the layers within the cell to get maximum power out of the cell without overheating. The chemistry and internal materials used within the cell are all designed specifically for high power delivery, and we have been working with potential customers on the design process from day one, to make sure the cells are suited to their requirements.”

Scaling up to full volume

The company achieved this through its niche vehicle battery research and development programme which helped to establish its battery cell range in 2017. Since then, AMTE has started working with the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) in Coventry to scale up its pilot line of battery cells to be capable of producing thousands of products. Last year, the partners entered into an agreement to produce 60,000 cells per year, a figure that looks set to increase significantly over the coming years with the establishment of AMTE’s new gigafactory in Dundee.

“Having a high-volume cell manufacturing facility will be essential for us to provide our customers with the scale and economy to produce effective FCEVs and hybrid electric vehicles,” Harrington-Beatty adds. “It will also establish a wider supply chain here in the UK, to which having domestic UK-based battery cell manufacturing capabilities is essential. In terms of achieving full volume manufacturing for our cells, we’re looking at 2026. Observing the roadmap for increasing charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, hybridisation plans and recent Government policy around FCEVs, this timeline matches our aims in terms of where the market is moving as we scale up to full volume.”

Flying the flag for FCEVS

“With the right use cases, hydrogen is really effective,” says Harrington-Beatty. “So in heavy vehicle applications there is certainly a strong use case for it due to scale; as the vehicle gets heavier the energy needs from the battery cell in terms of energy density also increase, but you have to balance this with the potential payload of the vehicle. This is where FCEV platforms come into their own, as you can have smaller power-dense battery packs to enable more hydrogen fuel to be stored on board. The speed of hydrogen refuelling is also significantly reduced when compared to charging a battery EV for vehicles of this size.”

Going forwards, AMTE is keen to educate potential customers, fleet purchasers and businesses on the benefits of hydrogen FCEVs, while reassuring them on the safety of such vehicles. For instance, the hydrogen fuel storage tanks are designed and crash tested to military standards. And, in addition to the transportation sector, there are wider use cases for AMTE’s UHP cells, as the company has identified opportunities within the aviation, marine and highway markets.

“There’s a real opportunity for the UK to become to go-to place for specialised cell manufacturing, and that is an area we are aiming to scale up and be globally competitive in,” Harrington-Beatty adds. “There is also the opportunity to reskill engineers and technicians currently in declining industries, and provide them with an innovative and growing industry to apply their skills within.”