Carbon-neutral vehicles are no longer a vision of the future. As part of an EU project called MobyPost, a consortium of organizations from four countries is developing 10 vehicle prototypes, completed with the required infrastructure for La Poste, the French postal service in the region of Franche-Comté. The technology is based on hydrogen powered fuel cells. Vehicle testing is already off to a successful start at two distribution centers used by La Poste. Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum, which helped the project coordinator to submit the applications, is responsible for ensuring the consortium’s research findings are put to further use.
Carbon-neutral transport will play a pivotal role in the future success of the switch to alternative energy. As such, it offers major commercial, environmental and social opportunities. Combustion engines are reaching the boundaries of technical feasibility and fossil fuels are coming under increasing criticism because of their negative impact on the environment, air pollution and noise emissions.
The aim of the MobyPost trial is to show the way forward for transport with a zero carbon footprint by developing a new and sustainable mode of transportation. The consortium comprises eight partners from Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland who aim to develop a sophisticated system that will combine carbon-neutral vehicles innovative powered by fuel cells and the hydrogen production infrastructure – a concept called solar-to-wheel. What’s remarkable about solar-to-wheel is that over the course of one year, hydrogen production is carbon-neutral. The project is being co-funded by a European Joint Technology Initiative called the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking.
The teams are building ten e-vehicles for the French postal services provider La Poste. They are driven by fuel cells which are supplied by hydrogen produced from solar energy. The vehicles themselves are notable for their ergonomics, which have been tuned perfectly to match the constraints of the postal delivery. They have no doors to make it easy to get in and out, which naturally also saves time. Despite their diminutive size, the cars can bear a significant weight of up to 80kg. Testing of the ten cars will take place for one year.
In parallel to the vehicles, two hydrogen production and refueling stations have been developed for producing hydrogen from solar energy. These are installed on La Poste premises in Franche-Comté. The charging stations will provide enough hydrogen to power five cars per day. The advantage with this new kind of concept is that the energy required can be sourced locally and independently in an environmentally friendly manner. The way energy is generated, and the production of the hydrogen itself for use as “engine fuel,” reflect the environmental philosophy underlying the work of the MobyPost consortium: Only as much energy is produced as required – as the team says “on-board.”
The MobyPost vehicles only need low compression to store the hydrogen on-board thanks to the use of metal hydride tanks. This also significantly reduces storage risk. The vehicles and the infrastructures are also being developed with strict regard for all required certification and registration procedures. Accordingly, the project involves comprehensive field trials to establish whether actually implementing the technology is feasible and how to promote it in niche markets. One of the primary goals of the consortium is to reduce the significant cost of hydrogen production and keep it under 13 euros per kilo. Another aim of the project is to further raise hydrogen technology acceptance amongst the general public, which can also be achieved with the planned feasibility testing.
Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ) is responsible for project activities related to administration and managing the finances. Its role is to support the project coordinator, the University of Technology of Belfort-Montbeliard, by organizing the collaboration within the consortium, reporting, and sharing and applying project findings. SEZ also is building the bridge to the European Commission. Another SEZ role is to support project partners in the protection of intellectual property rights, and it has run seminars for the consortium on how to protect intellectual property and make use of project findings. SEZ’s central role as a project partner is a result of its wealth of experience and extensive expertise in such areas.