Hydrogen and fuel cell landscapes in Germany and China, hydrogen as an energy vector and commercialisation of heavy-duty fuel cell trucks were just some of the areas discussed at the f-cell event here in Germany.

More than 500 members of the hydrogen and fuel cell community have gathered at the grand 19th Century Haus der Wirtschaft in Stuttgart, Germany to discuss what the future of hydrogen and fuel cell technology will look like.

Turn the clock back a decade, and a very different mindset existed where the idea of a hydrogen economy was concerned.

It was certainly a shiny new concept; it promised a bold and brave new world away from the shackles of a fossil fuel-based society. It was a blue-chip dream for a world waking up to its need for green tech systems.

Today, however, there is conviction and realisation. The time is now for a hydrogen economy which has moved far beyond its original aim or definition, with mobility now allied with power and the whole hydrogen supply chain in driving this forward.

There exists a credence and a gravitas now in the hydrogen economy, it’s palpable, and that’s why it has accelerated so far beyond words and wishful thinking.

Opening plenary

Sibylle Hepting-Hug, from the Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector Baden-Württemberg, officially opened the event and welcomed participants to Germany.

“Over the years fuel cell technology has been written off time and again as nice but commercial unviable. However, last year it became apparent that things are moving. More and more activities have taken place, projects have become bigger and news items are now appearing in the press with increasing regularity,” she said.

“The next step for fuel cell technology must be to think big and put it to use. We must support the ongoing development of fuel cell technology, but at the same time we mustn’t forget the generation of hydrogen and, above all, the production of green hydrogen.”

“The more uses made of fuel cells, the more hydrogen will be needed.”

“What we have heard so far from the US and Asia in particular, shows that we have passed the research and development phase. The fuel cell is now on the market, the competition for markets has begun.”

“Make the most of the opportunities which this technology offers and turn the hydrogen economy into reality.”

“I’m sure I don’t need to convince all those here today, we all know what this technology can do.”

The conference’s next speaker, Thorsten Herbert, Divisional Head of Transport and Infrastructure at National Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW), discussed Germany’s hydrogen and fuel cell landscape.

Herbert has been advancing the market preparation of hydrogen and fuel cell technology at NOW since November 2008.

He coordinates the National Innovation Programme Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP). NIP’s main focus is on hydrogen-powered vehicles for road and rail transport and the corresponding hydrogen infrastructure.

Herbet said NOW is investing €300m in five programmes on the way to zero emission mobility:

  • National Innovation Progamme Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP)
  • Export Initiative Environmental Technology
  • Mobility and Fuels Strategy
  • Charging Infrastructure
  • Battery Electric Mobility

“The German Government and the Energy Ministry is waking up to the potential of hydrogen in all sectors,” he said. “The last years we were focused on mobility but that has changed not just within Germany but internationally. All over the world countries have acknowledged the broad range of activities hydrogen is offering.”

He highlighted five Tier 1 suppliers across Europe strengthening their activities:

  • Bosch – entering the market for mobile fuel cells and pushing ahead with its commercialisation
  • Michelin/Faurecia – aiming to create a global leader in hydrogen mobility
  • Continental
  • Schaeffler – co-founder of the ‘Hydrogen Alliance Bavaria’

Herbet then focused on Germany which he said will get a hydrogen strategy by the end of the year.

“My vision for hydrogen mobility in Germany by 2025 is 400 hydrogen refuelling stations, we will reach the milestone of 100 stations before the end of the year; 500 buses; 500 LCVs; 500 trucks and 100 trains,” he said.

As well as the National Hydrogen Strategy, Herbet said various programmes addressing hydrogen on different levels beyond research and development from concepts to implementation are underway in Germany.

Next to the stage was Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), who began by highlighting the FCH JU’s Hydrogen Roadmap for Europe: “Hydrogen can contribute towards 24% of final energy demand, reduce 650 million tonnes of CO2, generate annual revenue of €820bn and create 5.4 million jobs in Europe.”

The FCH JU is a public-private partnership aimed at facilitating the deployment of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies in Europe.

Biebuyck talked about how the FCH JU works together with cities and regions to make hydrogen an integral part of their decarbonisation plans. In order to build up local and regional hydrogen value chains and integrated use of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies across different sectors and applications, the FCH JU launched its ‘Hydrogen Valley’ project.

A Hydrogen Valley is a defined geographical area, city, region or industrial area where several hydrogen applications are combined together and integrated within a fuel cell and hydrogen ecosystem. By linking individual projects and developing local hydrogen infrastructure, establishing Hydrogen Valleys represents the next development stage towards a local hydrogen economy in the long term.

Biebuyck said out of six proposals for the project there was a clear winner: HEAVENN. Located in the northern Netherlands, HEAVENN has 31 partners (public and private) and is supported by 65 parties (nationally and internationally). It included hydrogen mobility for buses, passenger cars and trucks, as well as refuelling stations and E-Kerosene for aviation.

“It was a complete package with many, many applications. It’s a very strong project and we hope to sign the grant by the end of the year,” he said.

Biebuyck also mentioned the Horizon Europe project which is aiming to create a strong, innovative and competitive European clean hydrogen sector, fully capable of underpinning Europe’s energy transition by accelerating the market entry of technologies based on ‘near-zero carbon’ hydrogen and delivering a wide range of socio-economic benefits.

E4tech Managing Consultant Franz Lehner rounded off the session with an outside view of the hydrogen and fuel cell landscape in China.

The international strategic consultancy specialises in sustainable energy, with fuel cells and hydrogen being one of its core areas, and E4tech has done extensive work on what China’s current activity means for the global hydrogen and fuel cell story, as well as visited many Chinese fuel cell and hydrogen companies.

“China is moving fast in fuel cells at the moment, and the sheer scale of China’s vehicle market means that whatever happens in China will have implications on the global automotive industry,” Lehner said.

He put China’s activities in the global context of hydrogen and fuel cell developments and also looked at some of the policy and industry developments in China.

A key message of Lehner’s presentation was: “The window of opportunity to work together with China to make fuel cells a joint success is still open. But here in Europe we need to be aware and understand the dynamics in China.”

Lehner said the Chinese Government is largely supportive of hydrogen and fuel cell technology, highlighting five strong policy drivers from China’s 13th five-year plan:

  • A need to build internationally competitive high value-added industries
  • National energy security, moving from imported resources to domestic coal
  • Major air quality problems in China, especially in urban areas
  • A desire to develop a secure and efficient modern energy system
  • The challenge of climate change, need for CO2 emissions reduction

He also said central government, regional authorities and industry actors in China are working to industrialise fuel cells and hydrogen.

“Fuel cell and hydrogen developments in China will have an impact, for better or worse. The Chinese policy is strong, but it’s also disjointe and could damage goodwill. Technology and manufacturing are being forced to grow up fast, which could mean companies will fail and manufacturing may not meet standards,” Lehner said.

“The hydrogen and fuel cell industry globally needs market opportunities and funding for scale-up but the industry can only deliver on a small amount right now. Tangible commercial scale fleets will enthuse investors but inadequate performance would weaken the industry case.”

Plenary I

The platform for discussion and debate continued with a presentation from Aline Hendrich, Energy and Mobility Consultant for thinkstep, who shared her insights in critical raw materials for electric vehicles.

Hendrich is one of the co-authors of the recently published study ‘Raw Materials for Innovative Vehicle Technologies’ by e-mobil BW.

“Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are both considered as highly promising technologies to reduce the environmental impact of the mobility sector. However, they require certain raw materials, for which concerns are often expressed,” Hendrich said.

“To assess the raw material demand of BEVs and FCEVs and its implications in more detail, a comprehensive study was conducted. Part of the study is a criticality assessment using data bases and interviews to identify critical raw materials. “

“As a result, the study includes a detailed map of the global challenges related to the identified critical raw materials for BEVs and FCEVs as well as possible solutions.”

“Finally, the study concludes with seven recommendations for action addressing different stakeholder groups.”

This was followed by Guy de Reals, Director of Strategy and Special Projects at Air Liquide, who gave an overview of the CertifHy project, which aims to take Europe-wide green and low carbon hydrogen Guarantees of Origin (GO) to the next level, from concept to implementation.

A GO labels the origin of a product and provides information to customers on the source of their products. It operates as a tracking system ensuring the quality of a product, such as hydrogen.

It was made for the sole purpose of informing the user about he production attributes of a product, for example renewable origin, greenhouse gas footprint, production technology and geographic origin.

Between 2014 and 2016, the CertifHy project developed an EU-wide Green and Low Carbon Guarantee of Origin (GO) Scheme, including a definition for green and low carbon hydrogen and a roadmap with concrete steps for the implementation of an EU-wide GO scheme (Phase 1).

The follow-up (CertifHy project Phase 2) that ran between October 2017 and March 2019 built on the momentum and served as a catalyst for implementing an EU-wide GO scheme for green and low carbon hydrogen.

In order to identify and address the practical issues raised by the implementation of the newly designed GO Scheme for hydrogen, CertifHy initiated a pilot scheme in Phase 2. Four hydrogen producers, including Air Liquide, Nouryon together with Air Products, Colruyt Group and Uniper, participated in the pilot and issued GOs.

“We now have definitions for green hydrogen and low carbon hydrogen, we have rules and regulations, methodologies and a registry, and we have issued GOs and experimented in the real-life building experience,” he told f-cell participants.

“The next step is scaling that to an EU full scale system, which will be Phase 3 (CertifHy 3). Hydrogen may become transcontinental and GOs will be needed to assess the attributes of imported/exported hydrogen out of the Eu perimeter.”

Finally for Plenary I, Daimler’s Dr. Jörg Wind explored hydrogen as an energy vector. Wind started working in the field of fuel cells and hydrogen in 1992.

Responsible for strategic energy projects and EC funded projects at Daimler since 2002, comprising projects in the field of fuel cell vehicles and battery electric vehicles, Wind has been involved in the setup of the FCH JU from the beginning and is currently co-chair of the Hydrogen Europe committee fuel cells for vehicles.

Wind said fuel cell and hydrogen technology has shown maturity and is at the start of market introduction.

Commercial Vehicles

Kicking off the Commercial Vehicles session was Rolf Huber, founder and Chairman of Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility.

Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility is a joint venture between Swiss hydrogen company H2 Energy, of which Huber is the founder and Chairman of, and Hyundai Motor Company, aiming to roll out 1,000 fuel cell trucks to Switzerland by 2023.

In sharing the joint venture’s approach to commercialisation, Huber said the clients will have access to the trucks through a pay-per-use model where the costs for the trucks will be calculated from individual specifications, the number of kilometres driven and the amount of hydrogen consumed.

“We have we decided to commercialise HD fuel cell trucks? We didn’t want to do something that takes, makes, uses, disposes and pollutes. Like nature, we want to function in circles – make, use, reuse, remake, recycle, make, use, reuse, remake, recycle etc,” he said.

“It’s not just another truck with a different drive train, it’s a totally new vehicle with an environmental business model, autonomous features, security features and a unique design concept.”

“It’s a better workplace for the drivers and a better image for the industry. It’s a ‘hassle-free’ technology transition, allowing people to be part of the change, offering an entire eco-system supporting the energy transition.”

“We are paving the infrastructure for the passenger cars.”

Aaron Sun, Executive Director of Research and Development Centre at Shanghai Re-Fire Technology, then gave a brief introduction of the current technical status and the development trend of fuel cells in the automotive industry in China.

“Globally, more and more countries and cities have promoted the commercial FCEV demonstration. The fuel cell vehicle industry industrialisation is coming,” he said.

“In China, the government has set up a series of policies to support the FCEV industry development, nationally to regionally. More than 20 cities have published their specific plans on FCEV promotion.”

Sun highlighted a few regional plans and that Beijing is aiming to have 5,000 FCEVs by 2020; Shanghai 3,000 FCEVs by 2020, amounting to 30,000 by 2025; Guangzhou is focusing on the taxi and city-bus promotion; and Suzhou is planning 800 FCEVs by 2020, 10,000 by 2025.

He also talked about two demonstrations of FCEVs in China: 313 city buses in Guangdong and 500 logistic trucks in Shanghai.

Completing the session, Dr. Thomas Tingelöf, PowerCell’s Chief Technology Officer, highlighted the company’s roll-out of tailored fuel cell power solutions throughout the transport sector.

Tingelöf has been working with fuel cell component, stack and system research and development since 2004. He is currently leading the fuel cell development at PowerCell Sweden.

He is also responsible for the design of the European automotive fuel cell stack platform, currently being jointly developed within the German “AutoStack Industrie” consortium by a large number of leading automotive OEMs and component suppliers.

Tingelöf highlighted PowerCell’s partnership with Bosch. The two companies signed an agreement in April 2019 to jointly mass produce hydrogen fuel cells for the automotive segment.

The partnership will make polymer-electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells for mass production. The stack is expected to be launched in 2022 at the latest.