Fuel cell cars gather momentum

by Silke Thole

If the EU commission has its way, automobile manufacturers will have to reduce the CO2 emissions of new vehicles by 30 per cent by the year 2030. By the same date, 30 per cent of all new cars brought onto the market should ideally be powered by alternative drive concepts. In the light of these targets it is therefore no surprise that the focus of attention has started to shift back to fuel cell vehicles in recent weeks.

Hydrogen Council: The future belongs to fuel cell vehicles

Additional impetus has now come from the Hydrogen Council, an association of major companies in the energy, technology and transport sectors. Founded at the beginning of the year on the occasion of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the "Hydrogen Council" took the opportunity to present a study at the World Climate Change Conference in Bonn explaining how the large-scale introduction of hydrogen can make a contribution towards energy transition.

The vision of the committee, representing vehicle manufacturers such as Toyota, Audi, BMW, Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and Kawasaki, as well as energy and technology companies including Air Liquide, Alstom, AngloAmerican, Engie, Shell, Statoil, Linde and Total, envisages more than 400 million cars, 15 to 20 million trucks and around five million buses running on hydrogen by the year 2050.

1 in 12 cars with fuel cell by 2030

The study produced by the Hydrogen Council together with the consulting firm McKinsey also shows what needs to be done to put the idea into practice. There are already fuel cell buses, medium-sized cars and fork-lift trucks with fuel cell drive on the market today. Over the next five years the range of models is to be extended with the addition of large cars, buses, trucks and trains. For the vision to become reality by 2050, one in twelve cars sold in Germany, California, Japan and South Korea would have to be a fuel cell vehicle and these would have to start coming onto the market in the rest of the world as well, according to the study. Further intermediate targets for 2030: 350,000 fuel cell trucks, 50,000 buses and thousands of trains and passenger ships.

Production capacities will have to be increased

The study also states that, to be able to meet these goals, production capacities would of course have to be greatly expanded to keep costs to a competitive level and to obtain acceptance of the technology on the mass market. It is however unlikely that the necessary cost reduction can be achieved solely by increasing the production volume. New materials are also called for. One of the ways in which Daimler has just managed to significantly cut the costs of this innovative technology was by reducing the amount of platinum in the stack by 90 per cent, for example. The new fuel cell generation was fitted for the first time in the recently presented SUV Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL.

CVM systems are an important element in fuel cell testing

Like nearly all other major automobile manufacturers, Daimler makes use of SMART testing, monitoring and cell contacting systems for its fuel cell drive development work. The characteristic quantities for fuel cell stack monitoring are the cell voltages. These provide detailed information on the condition of the stack at all times and so enable users to react promptly to critical operating states. Our MCM-IntelliProbe product family measures and monitors the individual cell voltages.

We are now working together with the manufacturers to incorporate the technology into series vehicles to be able to quickly detect critical operating states and initiate an appropriate response here as well. Our Cell Voltage Monitoring (CVM) systems already satisfy one of the requirements: they are compact and take up little space.

Neu: Hilfsmittel für das Thermomanagement im Brennstoffzellen-Stack

MCM IntelliProbe Interlink Module with fan.

Thermal management is yet another challenge to be dealt with. Heat must not accumulate when using measurement components close to the stack. We have developed various items of equipment to help our customers with thermal management. For example a fan specially designed to dissipate the heat between two module stacks.

Recent additions include heat sinks to optimise the dissipation of heat from the measurement modules. These can be retrofitted, are made of metal and are designed with a particularly large surface for emitting the heat. And they have a height of just four millimetres.

More ideas are in the pipeline. We are currently working on a new version of the IntelliProbe measurement modules with an operating range of up to 105 degrees, as opposed to 85 degrees at present. Further details will be available in the coming year.

The heat sinks for the MCM-IntelliProbe measurement module have a height of just 4 mm.

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