Salim Rahemtulla, PowerTap Hydrogen: Fuel Cell Technology Wins the Day
Date: February 18th 2021
“There is no single renewable solution, therefore there will be multiple fuel solutions, including fossil fuels. It is going to be a long transition and we still don’t know what the final energy mix is going to be,” Salim Rahemtulla, President of PowerTap Hydrogen Fueling Corp, told Energetika.NET in a recent video interview. By the time a rollout of hydrogen fuelling stations is launched in the second half of 2021, PowerTap plans to build North America's largest hydrogen fuelling network, beginning with its ‘home-state’ of California. Despite the fact that the company is currently focused on the U.S., it is keeping all ‘windows of opportunity’ open.
Going from ‘good old’ oil…
“It is still fairly hard to find a big threat to oil,” said Michael Wirth, the Chief Executive Officer of Chevron, in an interview during the Reuters Next virtual summit. Wirth is of the opinion that growing energy demand will leave the share of oil intact (MORE). Based on this, Energetika.NET asked Salim Rahemtulla what his view is on this matter, also in line with the new U.S. administration taking office in January and its step to rejoin the Paris Agreement – the United Nation’s climate change agreement.
The actions of the U.S. government and other governments, as well as those of companies such as GM and others, are of benefit to PowerTap, replied Rahemtulla, mentioning renewables and alternative fuel solutions in order to prioritise the climate change issue. This issue is definitely going to shift the demand to some degree, and the future global energy demand will far outweigh the world’s ability to produce clean energy sources, therefore fossil fuels will continue to play a role in meeting those requirements, believes Rahemtulla.
Chevron’s CEO also said that electric vehicles hold the prospect to change light duty transportation. However, there are other sectors that are much harder to decarbonise, such as heavy-duty transportation, industrial uses, shipping, aviation, etc. These will remain big markets for oil and gas, noted Wirth (MORE). Can hydrogen compete with EVs in the area of light duty transportation, or will electrification win in that area and what about other areas of transport (heavy-duty, shipping, aviation)?
… to the technology that might ‘win the day’
Rahemtulla responded to this by explaining that there is a similarity between fuel cell vehicles and electric and battery vehicles, but there is room for them all, i.e. both fossil fuel and hydrogen fuelled electric vehicles. However, in terms of electric vehicles charged by batteries versus fuel cell electric vehicles, fuel cells have certain advantages, such as lower costs of manufacturing, a smaller carbon footprint since they are lighter than batteries, and there is also a difference in natural resources between the cobalt needed for electric vehicle batteries and the platinum that is required in fuel cell vehicles. Another significant difference for consumers is the shorter fuelling time versus the charging time, which also applies to heavy duty vehicles, explained Rahemtulla, adding that, taking all these factors into consideration, as well as the difference in the range distances, “it is the fuel cell technology that wins the day.”
However, what are the biggest obstacles in the use of hydrogen for transport, and how can they be overcome? Rahemtulla replied that there is no doubt that it is the lack of infrastructure, therefore companies such as PowerTap Hydrogen will continue to invest in this area. However, when asked about the cost competitiveness, he stressed that batteries last some six years, whereas fuel cells can last for thirty years and the replacement costs for batteries are still quite high, he added.
Green, blue or grey – which will prevail?
The EU adopted its hydrogen strategy last year, in which it put an emphasis on green hydrogen, therefore Energetika.NET also asked PowerTap’s president about his opinion on the debate as to which type of hydrogen – grey, blue or green – should be used. In response to question, Rahemtulla mentioned that his company will use blue hydrogen, whilst leaning towards green, but from a ‘real world perspective’ all types of hydrogen will be used until at least two major factors change – the first is the cost of producing electricity, since renewable energy should be cheaper, while the second is that the technology that can capture carbon in large quantities needs to be available, affordable and practical to deploy.
To conclude, Rahemtulla also shared his opinion on why the boost in hydrogen is here and now, as well as why he believes that there is a bright future on the horizon when it comes to its further development.
The whole video interview is available HERE.
This article is available also in Slovene.
14.01.2021 - Chevron CEO: Still Hard to Find a Big Threat to Oil
12.02.2021 - EU Official: Hydrogen Will Be a “Luxury Product”