Throngs of visitors at f-cell, the international fuel cell forum in Stuttgart in late September: 1,011 experts attended the conference, exhibition and accompanying events. This strong interest is attributable to the wide range of ecological energy-supply solutions demonstrated by the industry.
Stuttgart (eos) – Lecture halls filled to capacity and an optimistic mood of new beginnings characterized the two-day f-cell fuel cell forum which took place in Stuttgart on 26 and 27 September 2011. Participants from 26 nations came to the major industry event with its conference and exhibition. "If we count everyone involved, we realize that we succeeded in mobilizing more than 1,000 people with our presentation of themes relating to hydrogen and fuel cell technology and electromobility," notes Peter Sauber of Peter Sauber Agentur Messen und Kongresse GmbH, which organized the forum in collaboration with Wirtschaftsförderung Region Stuttgart GmbH (WRS). WRS- Managing Director Dr. Walter Rogg went on to say that "The strong positive response to the symposium during the past eleven years clearly shows that our concept works. We bridge the gap between research and development and practical application. And this practical aspect is of particular interest to forum participants, two-thirds of whom come from the business community." The organizers have received a great deal of positive feedback this year as well. As Prof. Masahiro Watanabe, the renowned Japanese fuel cell expert from the Fuel Cell Nanomaterials Center at Yamanashi University confirms, "The speakers were excellent. They described the current state of the art in the fields of fuel cell technology, e-mobility and the hydrogen economy. More and more people today recognize what an important role hydrogen and fuel cells can play in a future climate-friendly energy supply system. And f-cell contributes significantly to that trend."
Hydrogen as a multi-talented energy source
The decision to abandon the use of nuclear energy in Germany has given additional impetus to the industry. Even now, the fluctuating volumes of energy obtained from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power plants, cannot be fed completely into the power grid, as corresponding quantities of electricity are not in demand everywhere. "Thus 74 million kilowatt hours of wind power went unused in 2009," explained Franz Untersteller, Minister of Environmental Affairs and a delegate to the state legislature of Baden-Württemberg, in his f-cell presentation, with reference to data compiled by the Federal Netzwork Agency. "But operators are entitled to feed-in compensation for that electricity as well. That cost some six million EUR in 2009." A number of graphs and models shown at the f-cell exhibition pointed to the solution for this problem. "Electricity from renewable sources could be used to drive large-scale electrolysers which in turn produce ‘green' hydrogen from water," explains Dauaride Empere, Project Manager representing the Research and Innovation Department of EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG. Hydrogen can be used in many different ways. Of particular interest is the use of hydrogen as a fuel in fuel cell vehicles. "But we can also channel it into the existing natural gas network," says Dr. Manfred Waidhas, who is currently working at Siemens on an electrolyser for use in the large-scale industrial production of hydrogen. Hydrogen – and this is especially important wherever bottlenecks arise – can also be stored as reserve energy. "Underground caverns are suitable as storage areas," notes Waidhas. "They would offer us storage volumes in the terawatt range. No other storage method offers comparable capacities." Enertrag AG in Dauerthal near Berlin plans to commission a complete system – comprising wind turbines, an electrolyser and the infrastructure required to deliver "green" hydrogen to an H2 refuelling station, - in October 2011, as Executive Board member Werner Diwald revealed in his presentation.
Serial production of fuel cell vehicles beginning in 2014
Guests at f-cell learned that mobile users of hydrogen are already in the starting blocks. "With the Mercedes-Benz F-CELL World Drive, in which three B-Class F-CELL fuel cell cars drove 30,000 km across four continents, we once again demonstrated the practical suitability of this technology for everyday use," notes Prof. Herbert Kohler, Director, E-Drive & Future Mobility at Daimler at the f-cell forum. The B-Class F-CELL is already being produced under serial conditions and tested by selected customers today. In honour of that achievement, the company received the f-cell award in gold presented by the state Ministry of Environmental Affairs and the WRS at the f-cell evening event.
Koichi Kojima of Toyota also reported that "Toyota is planning to launch fuel cell vehicles in 2015. By then, we will have to focus above all on reducing costs even further and extending the service life of the system." Toyota's hybrid model, the Prius, is also selling very well, as industry consultant Takehiko Kato, President of the Interlink Corporation in Tokyo added. "By early 2011, over three million customers world-wide had purchased a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle made by Toyota."
Visitors had an opportunity to test various fuel cell cars themselves outside the f-cell venue at the Haus der Wirtschaft in Stuttgart. An 18-metre-long fuel cell bus that has been running in scheduled line operations in the Cologne area for 14 days also attracted considerable attention. Heiko Herr, a trainer for the Training and Continuing Education Department of Regionalverkehr Köln GmbH, drove the zero-emissions vehicle from Cologne to Stuttgart – with one refuelling stop in Frankfurt. "A fantastic driving experience," he notes with obvious pleasure, adding that the bus had passed yet another suitability test with this long trip and its use as a shuttle bus for the f-cell evening event and excursion.
China: major strides forward for battery-electric vehicles
China is pursuing a different approach. "We now face the question of which infrastructure to develop," explains Professor Su Zhou, of Tongji University in Shanghai, in perfect German. "And we need to get away from existing mobility concepts and think in entirely new directions." He notes that there a number of good reasons for opting for battery-electric mobility. China is well ahead of the West in this particular area. Some 50 million electric bicycles have been on the roads in the cities of China for decades. A network of battery exchange and charging stations is now functioning effectively. "The goal now is to meet the mobility needs of people in rural areas," Zhou explains. "Chinese automobile manufacturers are building small electric cars equipped with conventional lead batteries in order to reduce costs. The equivalent of 3,000 to 4,000 EUR is the most such a vehicle should cost." The short ranges achievable with one battery charge are ordinarily not a problem in everyday use. "There is a huge market in China," explains Dr. Allan Lloyd, President of the International Council on Clean Transportation with registered offices in Washington, San Francisco, Brussels and Beijing. "At the moment, there are only 18 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, as compared to 565 in Germany and 461 in the U.S."
Fuel cell heating systems: home heating and power
Baxi Innotech and Hexis plan to begin marketing their fuel cell heating systems as early as 2013. These systems are designed to cover the needs of a single-family or duplex house. "The big advantage offered by these systems is that they produce both heat for room heating and water as well as electricity," says Dörte Borchers of Baxi Innotech. "Up to three-fourths of the electricity required by a four-person household can be supplied directly and economically by a fuel cell heating system." Alexander Dauensteiner of producer Vaillant, which exhibited at the f-cell along with Hexis and Baxi Innotech at the EnBW stand for the first time this year, envisages a large market for these systems. "There's going to be room enough for all producers." The manufacturers are cooperating closely with energy suppliers within the framework of CALLUX, a programme funded by the "National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP)": "The objective of CALLUX is to test equipment systems in larger numbers under everyday conditions, while making effective preparations for market entry at the same time," explains Markus Edel of EnBW. The results of a consumer survey conducted within the context of the programme show that consumers are receptive to the technology and expect it above all to save them money while offering advantages in terms of environmental friendliness. Test users also provided positive feedback. "80 to 90 percent of customers indicated satisfaction in the various categories," notes Edel. "And we'll get the other 10 to 20 percent as well."
Mobile power supply
As f-cell participants learned, there are other potential uses for fuels cells besides vehicle propulsion and household energy supply. The Truma Gerätetechnik Company of Putzbrunn near Munich, for example, is on the verge of introducing a fuel cell system capable of generating electricity for lighting, space-heaters, electronic entertainment equipment and other technical devices in mobile homes, on boats, in mountain lodges and at other locations without access to main power grids. "More than 100 systems have already achieved good test results," explains Andreas Schiegl, Fuel Cell Team Chief at Truma. Enymotion of Heilbronn plans to launch a similar fuel cell system in the near future. The systems produced by both firms work with liquid gas, which is already on board most mobile homes and can be purchased anywhere in the world. "Caravan owners can also retrofit their vehicles with our fuel cell system, which can be hooked up to the on-board gas supply. Installation is performed by specialized dealers who are certified to work on gas systems," explains Dominik Öller of enymotion.
Fire-prevention with fuel cells
Lars Frahm of N2telligence of Hamburg reported on "QuattroGeneration", the first fuel cell based fire-prevention system. The system is designed for use in such settings as computer centres or archives and reduces oxygen concentration in the air, thereby ensuring that fire cannot break out in the protected area. The fuel cell which produces the nitrogen-rich air also generates heat, cool air and electricity. When integrated into the power grid, this energy helps reduce operating costs. Lars Frahm accepted the f-cell award in bronze for this innovation, which is already available in the market, at the f-cell evening event.
Machine manufacturers contribute to optimization
Component, machine and systems manufacturers demonstrated at exhibition stands and in presentations how they are contributing to making fuel cells available at competitive prices in future. By converting a fuel cell stack from graphite to metal, for example, Graebener Maschinentechnik has succeeded in optimizing the system to the point that output density rose to 63 percent, while reducing the height, volume and weight of the stack by nearly 40 percent. The first fuel cell stack assembly station "IN-PROCESS" with a built-in testing system was exhibited at the Fix Maschinenbau stand. "This production process not only enhances product quality but also reduces production time from 3 hours to about 20 minutes," explains Edgar Lederer, R&D Director at Fix Maschinenbau. At the stand of Baltic FuelCells of Schwerin, Stephan Möller demonstrated testing systems for fuel cells. Thanks to a patented process, these systems apply controlled pressure to the cells and measure the resulting effects.
Festive highlight: the f-cell evening event
The festive highlight of the f-cell forum was the evening event and f-cell award ceremony, which was held at the Stuttgart Wagenhallen this year. The location offers a rustic, alternative flair and is also home to a number of artist's studios. Aside from Daimler and N2telligence, award recipients included project teams from Robert Bosch GmbH (f-cell award in silver) and SFC Energy AG (f-cell award in bronze). The organizers also expect to welcome many of this year's speakers and participants at the next f-cell in 2012.