VW buying out Ballard’s automotive fuel cell business, Ballard to focus on bigger vehicles

Volkswagen has promised that by 2017 the company will be a (?the?) leader in electrified vehicles.  Apparently they mean the word “electrified” to include Fuel Cell Vehicles, because of a deal just announced between VW and Ballard.   The agreement has VW paying Ballard $50 million so VW will have exclusive use of Ballard fuel cell technology in automobiles, while Ballard will be limited to selling fuel cell systems for buses and trucks.

The word “electrified” is so vague as to be almost meaningless.  It does not mean the vehicle can be plugged in, it just means the vehicle has some electric something-or-other component in the drive train.  Fuel cell vehicles are, of course, electric vehicles, with an electric motor driving the wheels, but where a fuel cell stack and hydrogen storage tank replaces the battery pack for energy storage.  Hence, FCV’s are electrified vehicles.

With the nomenclature out of the way, let’s ponder the Ballard/VW press release.

In the deal, Ballard will “transfer” automotive-related Intellectual Property (IP – meaning patents, technical designs, etc) that were previously acquired from United Technologies Group.  Ballard will keep rights to use the IP, in the form of a royalty-free license.

The existing engineering services agreement between Ballard & VW is being extended through to March 2019.

The engineering services are described as involving “the design and manufacture of next-generation fuel cell stacks for use in the demonstration car program,” and that “Ballard engineers are leading critical areas of fuel cell product design – including the membrane electrode assembly (MEA), plate and stack components – along with certain testing and integration work.”

Reading between the lines it sounds like VW won’t have a production Fuel Cell Vehicle for several years yet, since the target is described as their “demonstration car” program.

Whether or not that supposition is true, it indicates VW is reiterating a commitment to Fuel Cell Vehicles, and that VW will have an exclusive on automotive use of the Ballard/UTG fuel cell technology.   Ballard will no longer be able to make automotive use, but will be free to continue selling fuel cell systems for bigger vehicles.

In my opinion, the only rational use of fuel cells in vehicles is for larger ones that have the room to hold hydrogen tanks.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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