But amid the sense of change, as fuel cells and hydrogen continue their inexorable rise, there was equally a reiteration of established messaging at the start of the two-day show – be it the importance of partnerships, expanding supply chains or enhancing industry knowledge.

In his opening address, Messe Stuttgart CEO Stefan Lohnert said hy-fcell commands a distinctive profile, drawing on more than 21 years of heritage and yet, in today’s decarbonisation era, it continues to have one eye firmly fixed on the future; hence the new prefix, as hydrogen and fuel cells continue to be seen as two sides to the same coin. 

The year-on-year doubling in exhibitor numbers, to 126, indicates the rapid growth curve in hydrogen as public and private sectors court clean energy and strive to meet ever-encroaching net zero targets.

Mobility certainly took centre stage on the first day, with dedicated seminars covering trucks, light vehicles, aviation and shipping.

Prof. Dr Christian Mohrdieck, cellcentric CCO, delivered a presentation on ‘Cascading heavy duty fuel cellls from electro-chemistry to products’. Cellcentric, a joint venture between Daimler Truck and Volvo Group, is aiming to accelerate the development and use of hydrogen-based fuel cells for heavy-duty commercial vehicles and non-automotive applications.

He said the two key words in the title – electro-chemistry and products – illustrate the challenges we have to master in order to commercialise fuel cells in the long-haul heavy duty segment.

“Electro-chemistry is complex technology and something the automotive industry is very unfamiliar with – it started with batteries, but there is still there is a lot of technology that needs to be incorporated into the product and understood before going to high volumes. Products and production can be mastered but there are very specific properties you need to keep in mind to make it happen.”

After highlighting the importance of efficiency, he turned to degradation, and issues surrounding catalyst, thermal stress, mechanical and chemical.

“So the challenge in order to get a low degradation, for a heavy duty application, is something that’s very different to an internal combustion engine,” he said, before posting a slide which shows stand still (soak) is a challenge for electro-chemical fuel cells. “We learn that the exhaust system of the vehicle has an impact on the lifetime of the fuel cell – and that’s a very important conclusion you have to take in mind when you design a fuel cell vehicle.”

The GenH2 truck and Volvo Protium, powered by Cellcentric, have been under extensive on-road testing since November last year, and Mohrdieck also said its Klima Werk Wilheim factory will be built in modules and can be easily expanded, with high production targeted for the second half of the decade.

In a following presentation, Dr. Lars Peter Thiesen from Stellantis provided insights on ‘Hydrogen Fuel Cell Light Commercial Vehicles’, drawing on more than 20 years of experience.

“If you design a fuel cell powertrain you can do it between two bookends – and we’ve positioned ourselves in the middle (45kW, 4.4kg H2 and 10.5kWh). We’re convinced this is the right sizing for a light commercial vehicle, as it offers advantages of packaging, performance, durability and costs. The mid-power concept is designed to maximise customer benefits.”

He displayed a slide showing how it neatly accommodates different components, positioning the fuel cell under the hood, above the electric motor, with the plug-in battery behind, and it can hold three compressed hydrogen vessels (700 bars operating pressure) with a refuelling time of three minutes.

“All the major technological hurdles have been taken, the three remaining ones are cost, refuelling stations and green hydrogen production,” he said.

“A lot of people think the industry is still in demonstration mode – no, we’re now talking about a real product on the market.”

Germany and France remain core markets to date, the former benefitting from more than 100 hydrogen refuelling stations, almost all publically available round-the-clock. “We need all the applications – passenger cars, buses, heavy duty trucks and light commercial vehicles – to bring hydrogen forward.”

APUS also relayed its credentials, with APUS i-2 and the APUS i-5 featuring hybrid-electric aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells. The commuter class aircraft aims to carry between nine and 19 passengers, and up to 1.7 tonnes of cargo, with a range of between 500-800km.

At the other end of the conference hall, H2BW had an expansive stand, showcasing its nine-year progress in the ramp up of hydrogen-related products and solutions.

In order to achieve the climate policy goals of the state of Baden-Württemberg, climate-friendly drive systems represent  an elementary building block in the field of mobility. 

Fuel cells and hydrogen-based fuels play a central role in the medium to long term and represent an important supplement to battery-electric vehicles. But also in other fields of application and sectors, hydrogen can make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. Projects in the spotlight at the show include H2Rivers, H2-Rhein-Neckar, HY-Five and H2-GeNeSiS.

A short walk away, the Forze VIII – the first hydrogen race car in history to compete in a FIA certified race – was gaining plenty of attention. In future, it is Forze’s goal to participate in higher classes of the Supercar Challenge such as the Prototype and GT class.

After the constraints of the pandemic, the return of face-to-face networking – and opportunity to listen in on insights from 60 leading speakers – should not be underestimated; the vigour accompanying the table football, towards the end of the on-site networking evening, was also a refreshing reminder to times past.