US electrolyser maker Plug Power has unveiled a system for charging commercial fleets of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) using hydrogen, rather than grid electricity.

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The “high-power stationary fuel-cell system” will enable companies to charge multiple cars, vans or trucks at the same time — ostensibly anywhere in the world — without having to worry about a grid connection.

“Operators deploying commercial electric vehicles face many obstacles, from grid power capacity restrictions to clean power requirements to long waits for grid infrastructure upgrades and installations,” said the New York-state based company in a press release.

“As many operators are delaying or forgoing EV adoption due to these challenges, Plug provides operators with a new solution: a clean hydrogen-powered fuel cell system that cost effectively charges EV fleets, getting zero-emission EV vehicles deployed to meet fleet operator’s sustainability and operational goals.”

Plug adds that it has seen “significant interest in this new solution from EV fleet owners, such as delivery van fleets, rental car companies with battery EVs, and telecom providers with fleets of maintenance vehicles, as well as public charging networks and EV charger manufacturers”.

The system would use an 18,000-gallon (68,000-litre) liquid-hydrogen tank, combined with its megawatt-scale PEM fuel-cell solution that can provide enough “instantaneous energy” (60MWh) to charge more than 600 BEVs.

While such a system “solves grid limitations to get electric vehicles on the road faster”, as Plug states in the press release, it would almost certainly significantly increase the costs of running BEVs — especially if using renewables-derived green hydrogen that would have to be transported to the site via truck.

According to Hydrogen Insight calculations, based on efficiency figures from European non-profit Transport & Environment, and the US Department of Energy, converting electricity to hydrogen via electrolysis — then liquefying, transporting, storing and distributing the H2, and converting the hydrogen back to electricity using a fuel cell — will result in energy losses of 77%.

In other words, for every 100MWh of renewable energy used initially, only about 23MWh would make it to the BEV.

By comparison, only 5% of the initial renewable energy would be lost if it is sent directly to the EV charger via the grid.

Therefore, more than four times as much renewable energy would be needed to charge BEVs via the Plug hydrogen system, compared to a direct grid connection.

It is not the first time that hydrogen has been touted as a solution for charging BEVs.

Korean oil company SK Energy announced plans in January to use on-site hydrogen to charge EVs at its filling stations across South Korea.

SK has been demonstrating the use of a fuel cell at a hydrogen filling station in Seoul since February 2022 as a part of a pilot project conducted in conjunction with the country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

SK is the largest shareholder in Plug Power, with the two companies working on a 1trn-won joint venture that will build a new gigafactory in South Korea that would build Plug electrolysers and fuel cells.