This has seen several new innovations among companies as new ‘start-ups’ look to capitalise on the growing green energy sector, with hydrogen and fuel cells seen as a diverse option for decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors.
One company looking to enhance hydrogen fuel cell’s role in the mobility sector is Fuel Cells Powertrain, a ‘start-up’ situated in Chemnitz, Germany.
H2 View spoke with Carsten Pohlmann, Business Developer for Fuel Cell Powertrain, at f-cell Stuttgart 2021 to learn more about the company and to gather its thoughts on the hydrogen and fuel cell market.
Thank you for giving H2 View your time. To start, could you please tell us a little bit about Fuel Cells Powertrain?
We are a start-up located in the east of Germany in the city of Chemnitz. What we have been trying to achieve since for more or less two or three years is to introduce our own hydrogen fuel cell system for the heavy-duty market. This means we are focussing on long lifetime durability systems on the basis of a 60kW fuel cell system currently, which is under development.
We don’t have a product yet, but we are currently developing the stack. We’re currently developing a fuel cell system and also the production lines for the production processes which will help us to hopefully, in the future, create something with a good cost benefit and also achieve good durability and lifetime which is a very important part of the product.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced whilst developing these technologies for the hydrogen market?
One challenge, which is not so much related to the hydrogen itself, is obviously the Covid crisis, getting personal or getting time at research institutes, and being able to meet the people. That really slowed us down that’s for sure.
On the other hand, another challenge was to identify the best components and that’s not just a balance of plant components, but purchase or bipolar plate materials. How can we actually, being a very small company, manage our resources, our human resources, as well as our financial resources so efficiently that we don’t waste too much in our development processes having fast development iteration cycles?
That’s the greatest challenge, I think. So far, we have managed well, but obviously there’s always room for improvement.
We know where we can cut costs, which is basically on the bipolar plates, on the membranes, on those parts, which we need to produce in high quantity.
What makes you stand out from your competitors with your hydrogen fuel cell products?
From our point of view, one very critical thing is that, in the future heavy duty industry market, everything will be dominated by total cost of ownership. In order to achieve that, looking at the heavy-duty sector, it consists of a lot of different smaller markets, be it a long-range bus, a truck and so on, which in itself is not that big as a market.
Our approach is that we know where we can cut costs, which is basically on the bipolar plates, on the membranes, on those parts, which we need to produce in high quantity. In order to do so, we focussed a lot of our efforts in having a base architecture that is suitable to address a large portion of the heavy-duty market, which means addressing large power grids. For us, we have our bipolar plate, which is a single unit that will be produced in a larger scale and at the end, or also include a certain scalability on our stack levels.
We have stacks starting from 15 to 50 kilowatts, all based on the same architecture. Then you put it into a system, we can see the system here, which in this case, is a 60 kilowatt system. Those systems can then be coupled to multiple units.
In a way, we produce a lot of those single units, of the architecture ground basic types, and followed by that, we still address a large portion of the market by having a power range in the order of starting from 30 to 600 kilowatt all based on the same architecture. That’s where we see a benefit.
Where we differentiate from competitors on the technology side and on the integration side for us was very clear. Talking to customers, especially in China, you cannot just simply offer a fuel cell system. You have to give them guidance in terms of integration, guidance in terms of which storage units you could use, and that’s why we also called Fuel Cell Powertrain. We also have the hybridisation strategy in our portfolio as well as electric motors.
What potential do you see for hydrogen and fuel cells in European markets?
I would say Europe is just part of the world in that sense. Everything I say is a little bit true for all the world with some minor differentiations. But the largest potential for a short-term fuel is definitely energy and will definitely power things like train locomotives, shipping, trucks, and in a little bit along the line, passenger cars.
That you see today with the potential of SUVs and things like that. Also, you expect certain ranges and certain availability in terms of refuelling. That’s also a market I do see and nonetheless, in those heavy-duty market batteries, electric will be possible at the end. It really depends on your needs and your requirements on the drive cycle and also in a lot of cases, on topography.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time? What do you hope to achieve by then?
What we hope to achieve within that timeframe is finishing our first prototype, starting our production lines, and we want to produce in China for a larger market for the Chinese market. We want to produce in Germany for the European market meaning, in five years, I want to have a 60 kilowatt system as a product available for this market.
This is what I mentioned in the beginning; create the possibility to scale the stack as well to scale the system level.
US DOE, General Motors, Microsoft and Plug Power
What does the US Department of Energy (DOE), General Motors, Microsoft and Plug Power have in common? They’re all speaking at H2 View’s North American Virtual Hydrogen Event in October. Will you be joining us on October 19?
North America is in a prime position to lead efforts in decarbonisation, but it still has great distances to travel. The region has been giving chase in a race to green hydrogen dominated by Europe and Asia-Pacific. If policymakers and industry can work together and take the right steps to realise a hydrogen vision, the region is perfectly placed to expand its global energy leadership at scale and speed.
What lessons can be learned from Europe’s policymakers? What are the challenges to be overcome? What are the strengths and opportunities? How can North America go from giving chase to taking a lead in hydrogen? These are all questions our virtual event will address across H2 View’s four pillars of Mobility, Power, Policy and Technology.
Further information on the event, agenda and confirmed speakers can be found here.
To book your virtual delegate pass, click here.