Schaeffler to premiere fuel-cell-powered van at IAA Transportation

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 15 Sep 2022


Schaeffler is to premiere a fuel-cell-powered demonstration vehicle at the IAA Transportation trade fair in Hanover (September 20-25). The German major, whose focus on drive systems for commercial vehicles includes hydrogen technology, especially for long-haul applications, is developing innovative components for fuel cell systems and laying the groundwork for them to be produced on an industrial scale.

“Schaeffler sees fuel cells as an important part of the overall mix of drive technologies for commercial vehicles,” said Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive Technologies at Schaeffler AG.

The demonstration vehicle has been built from the ground up on the basis of an electric van. To this end, Schaeffler has collaborated with REFIRE, a leading global supplier of commercial hydrogen fuel cell technologies. The vehicle is driven by a 3in1 e-axle powered by a fuel cell system. Its 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,” Zink explained.

Efficient industrialisation of components for fuel cell systems

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 percent of stack weight and as much as 65 percent 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.

“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 Schroder, head of Schaeffler’s E-Mobility business division. 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 demonstration vehicle 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.

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