Emission-free mobility: Does the future belong to the fuel cell?
We wanted to find out more and asked Gerd-Dieter Krieger, Managing Director of the Fuel Cells Working Group in the VDMA and a known expert in the field of hydrogen technology, and Michael Büchler, a specialist in the industrialization of hydrogen technology at KUKA, about this exciting topic.
Michael Büchler: The technology itself has been around for 180 years, and in principle it has not changed significantly. Some of you may still remember electrolysis from chemistry class. Electrolysis is a chemical process in which electricity forces a redox reaction (Editor’s note: Chemical reaction in which one reactant transfers electrons to another reactant). In the fuel cell, however, reverse electrolysis takes place. Added fuel, such as hydrogen, reacts with an oxidant (oxygen from air). This produces heat, water and electric current. This current in turn drives the motor.
Gerd-Dieter Krieger: Correct! We are talking here about a form of drive that combines the advantages of battery-electric drives (zero emissions, low noise) with the advantages of internal combustion engine drives (high energy density of the fuel, fast refueling).
Büchler: Climate targets, subsidies and, above all, the increasing popularity among consumers of low-emission vehicles are motivating many manufacturers to push ahead with this technology. Battery-powered vehicles have already established themselves as a means of achieving climate targets and represent an initial milestone in the energy transition. Fuel cell technology will increase in importance in the long term, as it will be another important milestone for OEM´s to meet fleet limits.
Status quo: How far is fuel cell technology already established in automotive production, are there already successes?
Büchler: The first series production vehicles have been available for purchase since 2016. In recent decades, the technology has been developed and pushed forward very strongly. Now the focus is on the industrialization of the fuel cell to reduce production costs and increase quality.
Krieger: As part of the Electromobility Forum last year, the VDMA commissioned FEV Consulting to conduct an extensive study of the prospects for fuel cell technology. The result: from 2030, fuel cells will account for a significant share of passenger cars, commercial vehicles and mobile machinery. Sales of fuel cell components in passenger cars alone could reach 11 billion euros in Europe by 2040.
What factors could help the fuel cell in the race for the drive form of the future?
Krieger: Range – range – range! The decisive factors here: emission-free, greenhouse gas-neutral and quiet. The growing awareness that achieving the Paris climate protection resolutions requires decisive action will lead to a strengthening of the measures that are still inadequate today. The 9 billion euro expansion of the hydrogen theme in Germany alone over the next few years will also drive the acceleration of fuel cell development.
Büchler: The fuel is available in almost unlimited quantities and causes minimal emissions. Another advantage is the reduced use of wear parts compared to conventional drives. Fuel cell technology as a drive alternative and energy storage system is an important and indispensable piece in the mosaic of the transformation of the energy industry. The experiences from the pandemic have once again reinforced the importance of independence – whether in terms of raw materials or energy. […]
Future prospects: How could fuel cell technology realize zero-emission mobility and what is KUKA’s vision for this innovative technology?
Büchler: In order to reduce unit costs and increase quality, manufacturers of fuel cell stacks must move away from manual manufacturing and towards an intelligent automation solution. And this is precisely where KUKA wants to help and support customers with its expertise. For this purpose, we offer a wide range of products and services: from the core component – the robot – through manufacturing cells, engineering, test systems and turnkey production plants to intelligent software solutions.