At the upcoming IAA Transportation show in Hanover, Schaeffler will present a hydrogen fuel cell demonstration vehicle built from the ground up on the basis of an electric van. The vehicle is driven by a Schaeffler 3in1 e-axle powered by a fuel cell system made using Schaeffler components.
Schaeffler collaborated with REFIRE, a leading global supplier of commercial hydrogen fuel cell technologies. The electric axle, fuel cell stack, control system, and energy management system were all designed and built by the e-mobility experts at Schaeffler.
Schaeffler 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.—Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive Technologies at Schaeffler AG
The various components and systems that make up fuel cells include bipolar plates. These plates are integral components of the fuel cell stack, accounting for up to 80% of stack weight and as much as 65% of stack volume, despite each plate being only 50 to 100 microns thick.
Schaeffler has been developing metallic bipolar plates since 2017 and is currently making them at a pilot plant at its Herzogenaurach location. The process of manufacturing bipolar plates draws on the company’s extensive expertise in multiple manufacturing processes, including cold forming, stamping, joining, and surface treatment.
For Schaeffler, developing processes such as forming and coating for extremely thin steel parts like bipolar plates has largely been a case of adapting processes that it has already been using for many years in the manufacture of motor and transmission components.
Schaeffler is also 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 decentralized coolant regulation. In addition, the company is continually growing its expertise and capabilities in fuel cell system control, including software modules for fuel cell-specific functions.
The vehicle at the IAA Transportation show 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 3in1 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 optimizing the interaction between the various system components.
By partnering with Symbio, a hydrogen technology joint venture between Faurecia and Michelin, to establish Innoplate, Schaeffler aims to transition its bipolar plates into industrial production at the start of 2024. The partners in the Innoplate joint venture intend to produce plates for both mobile and stationary applications. The joint production facility will be located in Haguenau, France, and will initially have an annual output of four million plates, increasing to approximately 50 million by 2030.
To verify the feasibility of manufacturing its bipolar plates on an industrial scale, Schaeffler set up a pilot production plant at the start of 2022. The plant is designed in such a way that it can be used to manufacture bipolar plates in sizes ranging up to the larger 1,800 by 600 mm formats used in electrolyzers.
The individual process steps performed by the pilot plant, which was designed in partnership with Schaeffler’s in-house Special Machinery unit, are already fully automated. The pilot plant is part of a new hydrogen center of excellence at the company’s Herzogenaurach location, which includes a large testbed for testing electrolyzer and fuel cell technologies at the component, stack, and complete system levels.