Will fuel cell technology ever go mainstream?

Great opportunity for mechanical engineering

VDMA study analyzes market development of fuel cell vehicles

From 2030, the fuel cell will make a significant contribution to drives in cars, commercial vehicles and mobile machines. The market share will increase continuously to twelve percent by 2040. Heavy commercial vehicles play a key role, also with regard to the infrastructure. As a result, around 68,000 jobs will be created in Europe. These are the core messages of the study "Drive in Transition - Effects of Fuel Cell Technology on Mechanical and Plant Engineering and the Supply Industry", which FEV Consulting has prepared on behalf of the VDMA. The traditional automotive industry as well as mechanical engineering benefit from the fact that the manufacturing processes and the distribution of the added value of the fuel cell are much more similar to those of the internal combustion engine than those of the drive unit of a battery-electric vehicle.

The development is quite different in the market regions and segments examined. The pioneering role played by Japan and South Korea in the use of fuel cells in passenger cars will continue in the future. According to a study by the Association of German Mechanical and Plant Engineering, FC vehicles will have a market share of six percent in Japan in 2030. This will rise to over twenty percent by 2040. A strong mental and social government impulse in the direction of a hydrogen society is flanked by a strict well-to-wheel CO2-Emissions regulation.

According to the analysis, the development in South Korea is not quite as pronounced. A market share of three percent by 2030 and 14 percent by 2040 is forecast here. The development in China is similar with two percent and 14 percent. The figures for the USA and Europe are less optimistic. The market shares in 2030 will be less than one percent and, according to the study, should grow to ten percent by 2040.

The zero-emission vehicle index for fuel cell cars compiled by FEV indicates that China, Europe and the USA will probably follow the first mover markets from the late 2020s onwards. This guide value is a multidimensional framework for determining the competitiveness of alternative compared to conventional drives. According to this, battery electric vehicles are currently winning (BEV) in attractiveness and should be very competitive in Europe and China within the next two years. For the 2030s, FEV determined an index value of 100 for fuel cell vehicles, which corresponds to a level of attractiveness that is comparable to that of conventional drive trains.

This is also confirmed by Dr. Michael Wittler. "Our study shows that the market for fuel cells is about ten years apart from BEV," says the principal at FEV Consulting. Overall, the FEV experts expect that sales of cars with FC drives will increase from one to over ten million in the period from 2030 to 2040. This corresponds to a market share of twelve percent and an annual growth of almost 25 percent.

Strict CO2Regulations

The heavy commercial vehicle segment will play a key role in the introduction of fuel cell technology. The strict CO is a key factor here2-Emissions regulations that will apply in the future in Europe, but also in Japan and South Korea. These make it necessary to bring a certain number of zero-emission vehicles onto the market. “In long-distance transport and heavy goods traffic, it makes absolutely no sense to drive a battery that weighs tons around the area. Another solution is needed here, ”says Wittler, who sees the FC drive as a solution alongside the hydrogen engine.

This decision - fuel cell or H2-Motor - has not yet been finalized. No matter how it turns out, it is important that the hydrogen infrastructure has reliable customers. "Commercial vehicles are very suitable for this," says Wittler. Even if the number of pieces is perhaps not that high, they still have a high energy requirement.

Among the non-road applications, forklifts, rail and ship applications in particular have high potential for larger fuel cell sales. Forklift trucks with fuel cell drives are already being used today, especially in view of the extended service life. By 2030, the FEV experts expect a further spread also in higher performance segments over 19 kW in this intralogistics area.

The production of fuel cell drives is also interesting from an industrial policy perspective. The manufacturing process is much more similar to that of the internal combustion engine than that of the drive unit in a BEV. “The distribution of the added value and the added value shares roughly correspond to those of an internal combustion engine, they are even somewhat higher in some cases,” says engine expert Wittler. In the case of a BEV, these parameters are significantly lower.

For the market regions considered, the study authors expect the total business potential to rise to almost EUR 86 billion per year for cars by 2040. According to the FEV experts, fuel cell stacks, additional components (balance-of-plant) and the hydrogen tank system account for 68 percent of the sales potential of drive trains in the fuel cell system. The remaining 32 percent is generated by the electric drive train, including the battery and electric drive unit.

In the manufacture of the FC engine, 28 percent or 16 billion euros per year is accounted for by the added value in production. According to the study, the main drivers here are processes for shaping, coating and changing material properties. The production of components for the fuel cell stack, which is expected to cost a total of 2.6 billion euros per year in 2040, is particularly important here. The processing, especially for the compressor and expander modules used in the air system as well as for the H2-Guide components and valves are reflected in a total of 5 billion euros per year. Also noteworthy are methods of composite processing in the production of hydrogen tank systems, which will be located at a total value of 1 billion euros per year in 2040.

Similarity to combustion technology

The existing automobile manufacturers have advantages in that some components are quite similar to those of internal combustion engines. This applies, among other things, to components such as turbochargers, cooling systems or pipes, fittings or valves. For example, there is also a compressor / expander unit for the air supply to the fuel cell drive. “These could be supplied to companies that manufacture turbochargers today. Both components have a similar function and development, ”says FEV expert Wittler. This means that the necessary changes in the respective machine park may not be that drastic, he concludes.

… .. You can read more in the current issue of HZwei magazine

Author: Michael Nallinger

Categories GeneralTags BEV, fuel cell, Dr. Michael Wittler, FEV Consulting, VDMA, VDMA study