Making Europe greener with hydrogen fuel cells from Hobro

Located in Hobro, Denmark, Ballard Power Systems Europe (BPSE) supplies fuel cells and fuel cell systems to both European and global markets. In recent years, BPSE has grown in line with the increasing demand for zero-emission solutions – for the heavy-duty transport sector in particular. Get to know BPSE better in this member portrait.

“Ballard Power Systems is a global company that designs, develops and produces hydrogen fuel cell solutions for buses, trucks, trains, ships and stationary applications. Our European head office, BPSE, includes administration, R&D, sales and production, as well as service and support of our fuel cell systems,” says Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard, Market Development Manager at BPSE. Juelsgaard also holds a master’s degree in International Energy Planning.

Juelsgaard joined BPSE in 2015, and has been part of the significant journey that the company has been on in recent years. The fuel cell company has gone from being Dantherm Power with approximately 35 employees, to being acquired by Canadian Ballard Power Systems in 2017 and continuing under the name Ballard Power Systems Europe. In 2020, the company had 60 employees, but by the end of 2022 BPSE employed almost 200 people.

Member portrait

This article is part of Hydrogen Denmark’s series of member portraits. This series focusses on our member’s work with hydrogen and Power-to-X technologies for the benefit of our climate, job creation and Danish export.

“Despite some challenging years with covid-19, the crisis situation in Ukraine and the ongoing inflation affecting most of the world, we are seeing a continued need for zero-emission solutions and a strong demand for our fuel cell products. This is, among other things, due to the global political agenda as well as the national and international aid packages such as the European “Green Deal”, which support green growth both in Denmark, in Europe and on a global level. The initiatives make it possible for companies like Ballard to continue to deliver zero-emission solutions and hire more employees,” says Juelsgaard.

Fuel cells in road vehicles

Ballard’s fuel cell solutions help decarbonize the sectors that are difficult to electrify directly. The fuel cells’ core technology is produced by Ballard Power Systems in Canada, which has been developing its expertise for more than 40 years. At BPSE in Hobro, fuel cell systems are assembled and produced for the heavy-duty transport sector as well as for stationary applications. In addition, Ballard also has an office in China that serves the Chinese market.

Hydrogen bus with Ballard Power Systems technology

One of the sectors in which BPSE is very active and has a large European customer base is heavy-duty road transport, which includes buses and trucks.

Juelsgaard says: “It is a large and important market for BPSE and we collaborate with several bus manufacturers in Europe, including Solaris, Van Hool and Wrightbus.”

Approximately 300 buses powered by Ballard’s fuel cells are currently in operation in Europe. On a global scale, Ballard’s products have powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) in heavy- and medium-duty motive applications for more than 175 million kilometers on roads around the globe.

A fuel cell electric bus (FCEB) is a great addition to the electric bus fleet, as it has extended range and can travel up to 450 kilometers per refueling of hydrogen. In addition, FCEBs can quickly be refueled with hydrogen, and bus operators will not have to worry about charging the buses, which can be a challenge especially during the day.

Safe innovation at sea

Juelsgaard says that Ballard is continually developing its fuel cell products by testing them in various environments in order to improve and adapt the solutions to the needs of the market. This was also the case when Ballard tested a FCEB module on board the push boat Elektra, which sails between Berlin and Hamburg in Germany. It provided a great deal of learning, experience, and insight, which eventually resulted in the development of the fuel cell module FCwave™ – a solution specially designed with and manufactured for the maritime industry.

But why test fuel cells for buses in a maritime environment? The choice is not as strange as it may sound. Juelsgaard says: “The core technology of Ballard’s fuel cell systems is the same, but the design and buildup of the modules is very different depending on whether the modules are used on the road or at sea. There are also much stricter safety regulations when using fuel cells at sea. Elektra gave us very valuable knowledge on how to build the module to meet all the safety requirements in a marine environment.

“It is incredibly important that a fuel cell system is reliable at sea. In theory, you can just pull a bus over to the side when something doesn’t work, but when you’re out on the open sea, you don’t have that option. We have spent a lot of time developing FCwave™, and we have been lucky enough to receive funding from the Danish Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Programme (EUDP) for a large part of this development.”

In April 2022, Ballard announced that FCwave™ had received the world’s first DNV Type Approval certification.

“The learning we have achieved together with DNV and project partners has led to a clear improvement of our product and has removed a significant roadblock that makes the market able to deploy maritime fuel cell solutions. I am very proud of that,” Juelsgaard added.

Real-world applications

In 2023, FCwave™ will be found onboard vessels sailing in both Norwegian and French waters. The FCwave™ module consists of 200kW fuel cells per module, and the modules can be deployed in parallel to meet variable power requirements. In France, two 200kW modules will be installed onboard the cargo transport vessel Zulu, which will operate on the river Seine in Paris. The vessel is part of the Flagships project, which has received funding from the Clean Hydrogen Partnership.

Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard, Market Development Manager Ballard Power Systems Europe

“The air quality in Paris is often really bad, and when Zulu is launched in summer 2023, it will sail completely emission-free. Thus, the ship will not only transport a large amount of goods from A to B, it will also contribute to improving the air quality in the French capital,” says Juelsgaard.

In Norway, there are two FCwave™ modules installed on board Norled’s passenger and car ferry MF Hydra, which will be the first ship in the world to sail on liquid hydrogen.

The ship will sail in the Hjelmeland area, and since it must be able to cover long distances in different weather conditions and without charging,  hydrogen and fuel cell power was preferred to batteries.

Juelsgaard said: “We see a great demand for hybrid solutions, where fuel cells work together with batteries. This means that ferries can sail emission-free even on long distances of their routes that can be particularly challenging – as we see with the Norwegian fjords, where nature is particularly vulnerable. Thus, our fuel cells can also support battery technology.”

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Barriers and opportunities

Even though Ballard is experiencing increasing demand, a lot of regulations and standards still need to be enforced before the fuel cell solutions can be applied in commercial operation in the various sectors.

Juelsgaard says: “With the DNV type approval of FCwave™ we have removed some roadblocks, making it possible for ship owners to install fuel cells – although there are still some barriers. There are no well-defined rules and standards for the use of hydrogen and fuel cells in the maritime sector. Among other things, there are no agreements on hydrogen refueling at ports, which is quite important if ships, both large and small, are to be able to sail on hydrogen. In addition, each shipowner must go through a specific approval process when they want to sail on hydrogen.”

Juelsgaard also identifies other barriers related to economy and politics. Compared to diesel, it is still significantly more expensive to use hydrogen in transport. Juelsgaard feels that the political will is present, however the pace in the development of the regulations is simply not fast enough.

Despite the challenges, Juelsgaard has a positive view of the future: “BPSE is taking part both at Danish and European level. We participate in many forums, for example Hydrogen Denmark (Brintbranchen), Hydrogen Europe and Sea Europe. We are also part of several working groups such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), where we contribute with knowledge on hydrogen fuel cell technology. We try to fulfill our commercial task, but at the same time we contribute to create the necessary regulations and standards for hydrogen and fuel cells to be deployed in the maritime industry. With the many plans for the construction of large Power-to-X plants in both Denmark and Europe, I believe that the price of hydrogen will be significantly lower in the future, so we will benefit from cheap hydrogen that can decarbonize the transport sector.”

Headquarters Ballard Power Systems Europe, Hobro 

About Ballard Power Systems Europe

Ballard Power Systems Europe is located in Hobro, Denmark and is part of Ballard Power Systems, which is headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. Ballard Power Systems designs, develops and manufactures hydrogen-powered fuel cell solutions for use in buses, trucks, trains and ships, as well as stationary power systems.