Hong Kong eyed as test market for ‘cleaner’ LNG fuel-cell vehicles

German start-up Kraftwerk says new hybrid technology could solve retired lithium ion battery issues

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 10:44am

Liquified natural gas-powered fuel cells, not batteries, could be the future of electric vehicles in Hong Kong, according to a German-based Silicon Valley start-up, which is eyeing the city as one of its first test markets.

The company claims the liquified natural gas (LNG) fuel-cell technology it has developed will offer a cleaner and more efficient alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

“Lithium ion batteries in the electric mobility concept ... is just not the right long-term solution.The three main problems are pricing, weight and energy density,” Kraftwerk co-founder Martin Pentenrieder said.

Fuel cell technology in cars is not new. Several car manufacturers such as Toyota and Hyundai have made recent efforts to mainstream hydrogen fuel cell road mobility. But costs remain high and the number of hydrogen filling stations low.

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Pentenrieder, an ex-BMW employee, said LNG would work better than hydrogen in Hong Kong because the city already had a large infrastructure of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) filling stations, which could be capitalised on.

According to Kraftwerk’s design, LNG is injected through a fuel cell stack. A chemical reaction converts the liquid gas into electricity, which drives the vehicles power train. Like an electric vehicle, it emits no tailpipe emissions.

The design requires an electric vehicle to have both a tank for liquified natural gas (LNG) and a separate fuel cell rack. However, Pentenrieder claims the entire system will be just one-third the weight and cost of a lithium-ion battery, with a well-to-wheel efficiency ratio of at least 45 per cent. This means an LNG fuel cell car will require a refill after 3,200km.

“Electric cars powered by [grid power] can be very polluting. Also, where does the lithium ion battery come from? How much energy do you need to get lithium ions into your battery? And also, what do you do about recycling? There are no [viable] recycling solutions yet,” Pentenrieder said.

He said several large carmakers had expressed interest in the technology. The start-up has been admitted to an accelerator programme under Infiniti Motors with support from venture capital firm Nest.

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Recognising the problem of deteriorated batteries, the Environmental Protection Department recently launched a competition to find innovative and practical ideas for retired lithium-ion batteries as the number of electric vehicles on the city’s roads continues to grow.

Pentenrieder said the technology could help solve the problem of battery-powered electric cars being fueled by polluting grids and the lack of feasible recycling solutions for lithium ion batteries.