Hyundai Mobis will begin tests in supplying power to buildings by using hydrogen fuel cells developed for cars.

In February, the Hyundai Motor Group auto parts unit set up a power generation system using fuel cells from the Nexo hydrogen car to supply power to its fuel cell plant in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province.

The company connected five fuel cells made for the Nexo in parallel, and produce 450 kilowatts of electricity, saying it plans to commercialize the system in the future.

“If we establish the system for apartment complexes, five fuel cells can cover the demand from a single apartment building,” Ahn, who is in charge of the firm’s electric powertrain division, said. “We believe in the marketability of the system because it can overcome grid limits and electricity loss during transmission.”

According to the Korea Power Exchange, the country’s electricity loss from transforming and transmission to net output from generators stood at 1.59 percent in 2017. Though it is not that high, it is equal to 8,352 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Given the Korea Electric Power Corp. paid 81.77 won per kilowatt-hour to power generating companies on average that year, approximately 683 billion won vanished from the grid.

Ahn said that the company is considering developing a business model of selling electricity produced from fuel cells to the state-run Korea Electric Corp.

This is part of Hyundai Motor Group’s recently announced FCEV Vision 2030 initiative, in which the group will make 500,000 hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) annually by 2030, and Mobis will expand its fuel cell output from current 3,000 FCEVs a year to 40,000 by 2022.

After expanding its fuel cell output, the firm will then develop technologies for cells to power train, ships, drones, aircraft, buildings, and plant and industrial facilities.

“The potential lying in hydrogen is limitless,” he said. “Though several problems remain in using hydrogen for power generation, there’s no doubt that it is the No. 1 contender to replace oil as the basis of a modern economy.”

Ahn admitted to using hydrogen as a source for electricity has limits, especially in the method of securing the gas, which directly affects the price.

Currently, there are three major ways of producing hydrogen ― reforming it from industrial waste-gases, reforming from natural gas and other fossil fuels, and electrolysis.

Since reforming byproduct gases and fossil fuels have their limits, Ahn said the ultimate way should be electrolysis, which uses electricity to decompose water into oxygen and hydrogen.

“That is why we say hydrogen is an attractive energy carrier, which stores and delivers energy,” Ahn said. “When you store electricity in the form of hydrogen and store it in high pressure tanks, it does not lose energy as existing energy storage systems or batteries do.”

He said the best scenario can be generating electricity with solar power and store it by decomposing water into hydrogen, which can be electrified for later use. “This will allow many countries to save costs in setting up a power grid and help countries with low electricity access rates.”

To enable the scenario, Ahn said Hyundai Mobis is trying to cut the cost of fuel cells, especially by lowering the amount of platinum, a scarce and expensive metal used as the core catalyst for fuel cells.

“One of the biggest projects we have is reducing the use of platinum,” Ahn said. “Developing alternatives for platinum or reducing the use of platinum will help fuel cell prices to decline faster.”

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