Combustion, hydrogen & electrification: Competing or complementary propulsion technologies?

Pierpaolo Antonioli, CEO of Punch Torino SpA, explores the evolution of propulsion technologies as global mobility accelerates towards sustainability.

Pierpaolo Antonioli (born 1963) has a technical background in Electric/Electronic, Mechatronic and Control Engineering. From September 2009 until February 2020, he has been Managing Director of the General Motors Engineering Center in Torino (Torino Polytechnic Campus) which had global responsibilities for the development of diesel engines, electronic controls and hybrid technologies for passenger car applications for the whole GM Corporation. In February 2020 the Engineering Center was acquired by the Punch Corporation. Since then Antonioli is CEO of the Punch Torino SpA. Moreover, he is a member of the Advisory Board for the Attraction of Foreign Investment of Confindustria (Italian Industrial Federation) and he is past Vice President of Unione Industriale (Industrial Federation) of Torino. For five years (2016-2020), he has held the Chairman position inside CEIP (Centro Estero per l’Internazionalizzazione Piemonte).

Callum Sarsfield: At the end of February, PUNCH Group acquired the General Motors Engineering Centre in Turin, becoming PUNCH Torino SpA. What is the new mission?

Pierpaolo Antonioli:  Torino is recognized as an expertise centre for diesel engine and controller development. Now, our mission is to retain and further enhance this position whilst driving Punch Group’s product development excellence. Further technology development to support the latest emission requirements and customer needs continue to be a focus, however, our activities will not be limited to conventional engine development as we accelerate forward with alternative propulsion strategies.

We believe that the future is not limited only to battery electric vehicle as customer requirements become varied and diverse. The market must be prepared to respond with products meeting demand and future energy transition across all areas of automotive and mobility. As far as our view, Hydrogen must be part of this automotive revolution, from H2 ICE to the Fuel cell. We can leverage our knowhow and exploit existing infrastructure and capabilities to develop sustainable products meeting environmental goals. A product that the customer recognizes as reliable and without compromise. We believe Hydrogen offers a viable alternative and will be a key factor in defining the future of mobility.

‘Hydrogen must be part of this automotive revolution, from H2 ICE to Fuel cell.’

Callum Sarsfield: Considering these implications, how do you see the automotive sector developing in the coming years?

Pierpaolo Antonioli:  We see sustainability being the key for successful development, however, there is a long journey ahead for the sector. Let’s consider some data points: by 2030, 90M vehicles will have ICEs (including hybrids) and only 20M will be BEV. This means that in the coming years there will be alternative new investment outside of battery technology.

Europe, alongside Japan and China, are devoting significant efforts in sustainable hydrogen development technology. A clear H2 strategy will allow Western Countries to retain a dominant position in propulsion system development and production, with the possibility to accelerate H2 development using existing investment and infrastructure. In addition, it will allow existing well-established supply chains and CNG piping for distribution.

Callum Sarsfield: Considering the drive for sustainable technology, what future do you see for diesel and combustion engine development?

Pierpaolo Antonioli:  A well-developed metric to compare different mobility technologies is the Well-to-Wheel. In the past, component suppliers and OEMs worked to develop technologies able to make modern ICEs competitive in CO2 and Emissions. Thanks to their results, the so-called “conventional engine” can still guarantee a sustainable Well-to Wheel. At the same time, research advanced to consider new ideas and optimize existing products. Now, Gasoline and Diesel ICE can be revamped through electrification and hybridization, and this guarantees an additional benefit in comparing their CO2 emissions efficiency.

‘From a customer perspective, H2 ICE has no compromise in range, payload, robustness, and durability’

Callum Sarsfield: What are the advantages of H2 ICE and what are the limits of BEV? What are the risks of investing in BEV development?

Pierpaolo Antonioli:  There are various studies highlighting the benefits of H2 ICE and often comparing them to BEV. Starting from a customer perspective, H2 ICE has no compromise in range, payload, robustness, and durability. In addition, in direct comparison with BEV, H2 ICE has a quicker refuelling time that is comparable with that of a diesel engine.

From an OEMs perspective, we can identify additional benefits such as the opportunity of retrofitting existing engines, utilization of existing manufacturing capabilities and vehicle architectures for new technology, positive LCA (production & recycle), quick time to market and a cost equivalent to commercial and HD Diesel engine.

In addition, H2 ICE is more adaptable to a commercial vehicle, buses, and heavier vehicle applications in comparison to BEV which would require larger batteries thus creating weight issues. H2 ICE is more weight-efficient and is, therefore, able to operate in heavy-duty conditions for a prolonged period.

In recent years, China has embraced EV’s to reduce its dependency on crude oil, cut air pollution and gain a technological advantage over Western combustion engine producers. However, we now see China in a Paradigm Shift: the introduction of an additional certification category for Low Fuel Consumption Vehicles (LFCVs) thus limiting battery electric vehicle market expansion. Regional legislation is also heavily impacting EV ownership, consumer behaviour and demand. And the COVID crisis has changed completely the scenario, with a direct reduction on investment because of future uncertainty.

‘We believe that modern ICE and H2 ICE are the right solutions to help drive the transition to a zero-emission society.’

Callum Sarsfield: How do you see the future of FCEV adoption and the ability for industry to commercialize it?

Pierpaolo Antonioli:  We believe that modern ICE and H2 ICE are the right solutions to help drive the transition to a zero-emission society, however, we must quickly expand fuel cell development as a long-term solution. This will catalyze fuel cell application in light and heavy-duty markets to support clean mobility.

Callum Sarsfield: How do you see the future of FCEV adoption and the ability for industry to commercialize it?

Pierpaolo Antonioli:  The recent European initiatives on hydrogen have been developed as part of a fifteen-year strategy. Several billions have been invested in the past fuel-cell and hydrogen framework programs to develop a hydrogen value chain and its use in several sectors, including freight and people’s mobility. Just a couple of examples:

  • H2 HAUL project funding deployment of 16 heavy-duty trucks in 4 European countries (Germany, France, Belgium, and Switzerland). Around 40 million Euro of funding.
  • 3EMOTION, deploying 27 fuel-cell buses in 5 leading EU cities: London, Rome, Flanders, Rotterdam, Cherbourg and building recharging infrastructure. Around 40 million Euro of funding.
  • ARTEMIS, developing and implementing an FC range extender for battery electric vehicles. 3 million euro of funding.

In addition, the European Union has prepared the legislative framework necessary for the development of hydrogen-based mobility, ensuring the maximum safety on-board of vehicles and efficient and safe distribution infrastructure. Based on EU action and strategy, European countries like Germany and France are launching multi-billion-euro incentive programs to launch the hydrogen economy and are developing IPCEI (Important Projects of Common European Interest) in coordination with the commission to build essential industrial capacity. The European automotive sector is well placed to play a leading role in the H2-based mobility of goods and persons.

CNG: Compressed natural gas
ICE: Internal combustion engine
BEV: Battery electrical vehicle
OEM: Original equipment manufacturer
LCA: Life cycle assessment
HD: Heavy duty
EV: Electric vehicle
FCEV: Fuel cell electrical vehicle

PUNCH Torino provide partners with innovative engineering solutions and affordable products for sustainable mobility, building their excellence around people.

Interview series for Pullmann Global led by Callum Sarsfield, Partner at Pullmann Global | January 28, 2021

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