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Get stacked: Germany looks to fuel-cell manufacturing

AutoStack CORE generation 2 fuel cell stack with 95 kW. Source: ZSW

Solar and hydrogen research centre to co-ordinate investigation into mass-produced fuel cells

Ten German automotive and component supply companies have joined forces with the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research in Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) in an effort to develop fuel cells for industrial-scale manufacturing.

Partners in the new alliance are also looking to establish the capacity needed for mass production, and to “hone Germany’s competitive edge” in the fuel cell sector. Accordingly, ZSW scientists will focus on researching components as well as developing uniform testing protocols and inspection methods.

Working together, research groups and automakers will develop a platform-based concept allowing car makers use the same design, components, innovative manufacturing technologies and systems developed as part of a joint effort.

With ZSW expecting more than 300,000 FCEVs on the roads and over 3,000 hydrogen fuelling stations built by 2025, it is keen to capitalise on a market opportunity for German engineering and automotive firms. ZSW Electrochemical Energy Technologies head and board member, Prof. Werner Tillmetz, adds that: “This technology needs to be industrialised and that is just at an early stage. The Autostack Industry project aims to establish a dynamic domestic supplier industry to create the underpinning for achieving cost and quality targets.”

In a statement it points to the value of hydrogen’s power density of more than four kilowatts per litre when stored in an FCEV tank, which it says is key to coping with the tight volumetric and geometric constrictions in the confined space of a vehicle. This is why fuel cell have typically been installed in the undercarriage of vehicles.

Yet the manufacturing of fuel cells is still “largely manual labour” it adds – a facet that the new research project aims to change.

ZSW’s goal is to develop “the technical and technological means to industrialize this work effort” with  a view to manufacturing up to 30,000 FC stacks annually, using highly automated production lines. It says its role in the venture will be to research new technologies that will reduce the time taken to test and put mass-produced fuel cells into operation. It will also look to optimise flows in the fuel cell, taking into account materials and heat transfer issues.

German automakers and government are already on board, with the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure contributing a 21.3 million euro grant. The project also forms part of the National Innovation Program for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP), coordinated by the National Organization for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW).

BMW, Daimler, DANA, Ford, Freudenberg Performance Materials, Greenerity, NuCellSys, Powercell Germany, Umicore, Volkswagen and ZSW are all partners in this project.


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