Many automakers are developing alternative technologies, such as electric cars, that will reduce the reliance on petroleum. Electricity can be generated by batteries or hydrogen which, according to some, is a more efficient store of energy than a battery, in addition to faster re-fuelling and greater range. Even before this year, there have been agreements among carmakers and legislators in North America, Europe and Japan to build up the mass production of fuel cell cars by 2015.
Nissan Motor, with the goal towards a zero emission society, released on 13 October its 2011 Next Generation Fuel Cell Stack Model for electric vehicles. According to Nissan, improvements to the Membrane Electrode Assembly and the separator flow path, which make up the structure of Fuel Cell, results in a significant improvement in the power density of Fuel Cell Stack to 2.5 times greater than Nissan’s 2005 model and realized a world's best 2.5 kW per liter, ahead of all its competitors. In addition, the fuel cell structure is significantly reduced by more than half compared to conventional models due to a new single row lamination inside the fuel cell. According to Nissan’s Masanari Yanagisawa, “We can now pack 85 kilowatts of power in a 34-liter package. We have brought the production cost down by 85 percent, close to meeting the U.S. Department of Energy cost target for 2010 - a widely referenced benchmark.” Nissan has achieved such cost reduction to one-sixth of the 2005 model by slashing the usage of platinum and parts variation to one quarter of the 2005 model.
While this may pose threat to platinum producers, in reality fuel car cells could help to relieve the long-term problem of short supply of platinum. Also, mass production of fuel cell electric vehicle requires ample supply of hydrogen and the entire network to support hydrogen fuelling which is probably still some time away. Nevertheless, this is an important space to watch.
Ross Norman is the owner and chief executive officer of the London-based gold broker Sharps Pixley Ltd.