At the soon-to-be-held IAA Transportation in Hannover, Germany, the Schaeffler Group would be premiering a fuel cell-powered demonstration vehicle in cooperation with REFIRE. This clearly highlights what has long been predicted by the global mobility community – that fuel cells will be an important part of the overall mix of drive technologies for commercial vehicles.
For the leading global supplier to the automotive and industrial sectors, hydrogen has remained a key focus area as far as drive systems for commercial vehicles are concerned – especially for long-haul applications.
Schaeffler has collaborated with REFIRE, a leading global supplier of commercial hydrogen fuel cell technologies for the fuel-cell demonstration vehicle, which is based on an electric van. The vehicle is driven by a three-in-one e-axle powered by a fuel cell system.
In addition to REFIRE’s capabilities around the fuel cell technologies, e-mobility experts at Schaeffler designed and built the demonstration vehicle’s electric axle, fuel cell stack, control system, and energy management system, stated a release issued by the company. Schaeffler said it is developing innovative components for fuel cell systems and laying the groundwork for them to be produced on an industrial scale.
Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive Technologies, Schaeffler AG said the company is presenting the vehicle as an example of optimal interoperability between electric drive, fuel cell, and lithium-ion battery technology. “Initially, fuel cell drives will be used mainly in long-haul commercial vehicles. Vans will benefit from this technology too because they regularly also cover longer distances,” Zink explained.
Focus On Component Development
One of the most integral parts of a fuel cell stack is the bipolar plates, which account for up to 80% of stack weight and 65% of stack volume, despite each plate being only 50 to 100 microns thick.
“We are using our high-precision forming and stamping technology and innovative surface coating processes to make ultra-efficient, high-performance bipolar plates,” said Dr Jochen Schröder, Head of Schaeffler’s E-Mobility business division. The company has been developing metallic bipolar plates since 2017, currently making them at a pilot plant at its Herzogenaurach location.
Moreover, Schaeffler is leveraging its bearings know-how to develop various axial and radial air foil bearings for fuel cell air supply, nozzles for hydrogen recirculation, and key components for the coolant management system, including a thermal management module and smart valves for decentralised coolant regulation.
The company is also growing its expertise and capabilities in fuel cell system control, including software modules for fuel cell-specific functions, Schaeffler said in a release.
Schaeffler has also partnered with Symbio – a hydrogen technology joint venture between Faurecia and Michelin – to establish Innoplate. The JV aims to start producing plates for both mobile and stationary applications at the start of 2024 at its production facility in Haguenau, France. The initial annual output has been planned for four million plates, increasing to approximately 50 million by 2030.
Schröder said the objective of the joint production operation between Schaeffler and Symbio is to achieve major economies of scale, which are essential in order to produce stacks cost-effectively.
Fuel Cell Demonstration Vehicle
Meanwhile, the demonstration vehicle at IAA features a complete fuel cell system developed by Schaeffler’s hydrogen experts specifically for mobile applications.
The vehicle also features a 13 kWh battery with a maximum power output of 85 kW, and a fuel cell system rated for a continuous output of 50 kW. Propulsion is provided by a Schaeffler three-in-one e-axle, complete with power electronics, with a maximum output of 140 kW.
Schaeffler is using the vehicle as a development platform for testing and optimising the interaction between the various system components.
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