Hydrogen – a source of energy and a source of hope

Sören Scheffler vom Fraunhofer IWU in seiner Silberhummel®: Das Auto basiert auf  Konzeptzeichnungen zu einem nie realisierten Rennauto. Es ist mit Brennstoffzellentechnik ausgerüstet.
© Roger Hagmann
Sören Scheffler, from Fraunhofer IWU, in his Silberhummel, which is based on de-sign drawings for a racing car that was never built. It is fitted with a fuel cell drive.

Web special of the cover story of Fraunhofer magazine 3.2020

Gasoline and diesel engines – powered, as they are, by fossil fuels – are about to reach the end of road. Instead, new propulsion systems are urgently required for road, rail, sea and air. Is this the dawn of the hydrogen age?

As the HYRAZE League shows, the latest mobility trends have now reached the world of motorsport. Sched­uled to launch in 2023, this new series will be contested by cars powered by hydrogen. Although equipped with 800-horsepower engines boasting an acceleration that can propel them from zero to 100 km/h in less than three seconds, these racing machines will produce practically no emissions.

Fraunhofer, meanwhile, is working to preserve a piece of history for the future. In a project known as Silberhum­mel – “Silver Bumblebee” – the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU is seeking to bring together two branches of engineering: the low-cost development of prototype vehicles and fuel cell technology. The Silberhummel project is based on a racing car designed – but never produced – by the automaker Auto Union AG, back in 1940. Fraunhofer IWU has reconstructed the vehicle, including body parts, and fitted it with a fuel cell drive. “Our Silberhummel will remain at the cutting edge of fuel cell technology,” explains Sören Scheffler from Fraunhofer IWU, “because we are going to successively replace components as newer and improved ones become available.”

Yet hydrogen can do more. And more is expected of hydrogen. Indeed, hydrogen can provide the key to achieving the world’s climate targets. This is the key message of the German federal government’s National Hydrogen Strategy, a plan of action that covers 38 measures designed to promote the production, transport and use of hydrogen – and which thereby maps out the necessary steps required to achieve key climate goals. These include, for example, the creation of between 1.5 and 2 gigawatts of installed capacity for the electrolysis of green hydrogen by 2023 and a 20 percent increase in the share of renewable energy in the transport sector by 2030. In short, the promotion of technologies based on green hydrogen is vital for Germany’s future viabil­ity as an industrial location. Federal government is supported in this task by the National Hydrogen Council, members of which include Dr. Karsten Pinkwart from the Fraunhofer Insti­tute for Chemical Technology ICT and Dr. Sylvia Schattauer from the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS.

Fraunhofer Hydrogen Technologies

Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE

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A portrait of the business field Hydrogen Technologies and Electrical Energy Storage of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE.

“Change is no longer a vision. It is a reality. If we wish to
remain spatially mobile in the future, then we need to show
mental mobility today.”

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

What can hydrogen bring to future transport?

“In 2015, we had 21 megawatts of installed capacity for electrolysis. By 2050, we will need 3000 times that, though not all of it for transport.”

Prof. Ralf B. Wehrspohn, Executive Vice President, Technology Marketing and Business Models

How can sufficient (green) hydrogen be produced?

“We use a biogas unit to produce hydrogen from biowaste.”

Dr. Torsten Birth, group manager at Fraunhofer IFF

Has the fuel cell drive achieved technological maturity?

“Germany already has one of the best networks of H2 filling stations.”

Prof. Christopher Hebling, division director of Hydrogen Technologies at Fraunhofer ISE and spokesperson of the Fraunhofer Hydrogen Network



What are the alternative H2-powered drives for vehicles?

“Our method can reduce emissions from shipping by as much as 97 percent.”

Dr. Benjamin Jäger, research associate at Fraunhofer IKTS




Is hydrogen also suitable for powering trucks, ships, trains and aircrafts?

“We are creating a research infrastructure that will
enable us to run through the entire production process on
an industrial level.”

Dr. Christoph Baum, managing chief engineer of Fraunhofer IPT


And what about small vehicles such as motorcycles?

“Samples of materials used to make the tank are placed in a pressure chamber filled with gaseous hydrogen, which is pressurized to the same level that will obtain in the actual tank.”

Ken Wackermann, research associate at Fraunhofer IWM

How can hydrogen be safely transported and supplied at filling stations?

“We’re not really aiming to refuel hundreds of cars; our solar-powered filling station provides us with a research and
technology platform.”

Dr. Tom Smolinka, head of the department for Chemical Energy Storage at Fraunhofer ISE

A solar-powered filling station for hydrogen

“Everyone knows we need to move to a sustainable energy economy, and hydrogen is an indispensable part of that process.”

Prof. Christopher Hebling, spokesperson of the Fraunhofer Hydrogen Network

Safe and recyclable vehicle tanks

Mobility of the future

© Daimler Truck AG

1000 kilometers on hydrogen

One of the key arguments in favor of the GenH2 concept truck (pictured) is its oper­ating range of up to 1000 kilometers. Daimler hopes to make it the centerpiece of its coming commercial vehicles portfolio. The start of customer trials is planned for 2023, with mass production to follow in 2025. Alternative drive systems are set to remain significantly more expensive than diesel engines. According to management consultants McKinsey, it will be 2027 before the total operating costs of hydro­gen-powered semi-trailer trucks are lower than those of diesel equivalents.

© Airbus

The dream of clean flying

Airbus hopes to realize its vision of zero-emissions aviation by 2030. This September, the company unveiled three design studies: a propeller aircraft, a jet aircraft and a so-called blended wing body aircraft, where the wings merge with the fuselage. Planned operating ranges are as high as 3700 kilometers, with capacity for around 100 or 200 passengers, depending on the aircraft type. Although lighter than kerosene, hydrogen in liquid form occupies around four times as much volume in order to deliver the same amount of energy. Trials of an initial prototype aircraft are planned over the next few years, with mass production to follow in 2035.

Hydrogen Technologies

If Germany is to meet its climate targets, it must embrace hydrogen technology. This applies primarily to industry, although not exclusively. Companies are now making big efforts to switch established production processes over to hydrogen and to work toward the creation of a hydrogen economy in the long term. One promising area for the use of hydrogen is in production processes that generate large volumes of carbon dioxide. Here, hydrogen offers various ways of defossilizing the production chain. The key task is to make this switch both economical and sustainable.



Fraunhofer magazine 3.2020

Perspectives H2  – how to stay mobile