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Alternative drives: hydrogen against battery armor

The new luxury electric cars from Audi and Mercedes are too heavy and expensive for the mass market, say critics. Now the call for the fuel cell is getting loud again.


    The essentials are in the fine print. In the line "total weight" for example: 2.5 tons brings the new electric SUV from Mercedes on the scales – 650 kilograms more than the same size GLC petrol engine. Just as much, the batteries of the EQC weigh 80 kilowatt hours (kWh) capacity for 400 kilometers of range. The Stuttgart plan "quite high volumes" because they have to reduce their CO₂ fleet value. Audi also wants to sell more than 50,000 units per year from its new electric SUV by 2020. The 4.90 meter long E-tron carries around 700 kilograms of batteries. With climate protection such Elektrobrummer have only limited to do.


    How different, shows the Mercedes GLC F-CELL: At the same range, the hydrogen car weighs 370 kilograms less than the EQC. The weight savings equals four adults, including luggage. Both drive electrically, but the fuel cell variant generates the majority of the electricity in their fuel cells. Two tanks with a storage volume of 4.4 kilograms provide hydrogen replenishment. In addition, the plug-in hybrid can suck energy for 50 emission-free kilometers from the socket and store it in a small 9 kWh battery. However, the hydrogen tank is much faster: It only takes as long as the usual detour to the gas pump. However, there are only 50 H₂ gas stations in Germany.

The fuel cell is a billion-dollar grave for automakers
                Cars with fuel cells have little chance of winning the race against battery-powered cars. Because the development of batteries and charging infrastructure is progressing rapidly.
                By Joachim Becker
            more …

Hydrogen initially plays a secondary role in the large-scale electric offensive. Instead of producing fuel cells themselves, the German manufacturers prefer to buy battery cells. Like all other automakers, they are dependent on a few suppliers from China, Korea and Japan. The long-term supply of rare cell materials such as cobalt is as critical as the efficient recovery of heavy metals from spent batteries. "We should not build the electric mass market after the model of the big batteries," warns production professor Günther Schuh. With the current and foreseeable battery technology, a mass mobilization is not to do so, says the lateral thinker from Aachen.


    Following the successful construction and sale of the electric scooter scooter project, Schuh has founded Ego Mobile GmbH, which is currently preparing the production of a City Stromer. The 3.35 meter short Ego Life weighs just under a ton and is a radical alternative to the luxury electricity of premium manufacturers: With 15 to 24 kilowatt hours, the two-door has only about a quarter of the capacity on board, moreover, it costs less than 20 000 euros – one Quarter of the Audi E-tron and half of the BMW i3. The electric drive from Bosch uses an average of 12.4 kWh per 100 kilometers. The smart-sized car does not want to be a universal car for the short and long haul, but part of an intelligent, urban mobility chain.


    In the main, the city and surrounding areas are to be developed by electric and autonomous minibuses. Günther Schuh just founded the corresponding start-up Ego Mover together with the supplier ZF. Unlike at Mercedes, the hydrogen drive should play more than an extras role. "Just imagine the range – the battery-electric Ego Mover with a range of 180 kilometers does solve the inner-city problem, but not the public transport connection to the surrounding area," says Günther Schuh.


    For some vehicles, it is nonsensical to install huge batteries


    Even with minibuses, it is nonsensical to install huge batteries. That's why the busy professor founds Ego Rex GmbH. In a joint venture with the Proton Motor Fuel Cell GmbH from Puchheim near Munich, a low-cost fuel range extender (range extender) is being developed and produced – and sold to third parties. The guiding principle is always the same: instead of building luxury products, Schuh wants to democratize the electric drive. So that the battery can remain relatively small, the fuel cell ensures a constant output of 30 kilowatts. The wheels are clearly distributed in this hybrid drive: The battery with 35 or 60 kWh is responsible for dynamic load changes, while the operating point-optimized fuel cell provides continuous power even during downtime.


    Thus, a minibus with 3.5 tons or a van with 2.8 tons total weight can be driven. Because the fuel cell consumes relatively little energy in phlegmatized continuous operation, a supply of 2.5 kilograms of hydrogen is enough for more than 300 kilometers. The hybrid solution is much more compact and lighter than a battery for the same range. Even with the costs of the hydrogen drive through the industrial manufacturing up and eventually overtake. Schuh wants to manufacture the range extender 2021 in a volume of 15,000 pieces per year. A year later, it should be already 20 000 units per year. "So far, fuel cells are only being built in small quantities with a lot of manual work." For the first time, we want to use large-scale industrial processes and cost advantages, "says Professor Schuh:" That changes the rules of the game! "


    Note from the editors
    Some of the products featured in "Mobile Life" were made available to the editors by the manufacturers for testing purposes and / or presented on trips to which journalists were invited.


    As often happens, the development team from the RWTH Aachen area could be a step ahead of the auto companies. "Fuel cells are becoming increasingly important in emission-free drives in China and throughout Asia, and there is a well-developed research network on the subject in Europe that we can now draw on," says Stefan Dany, senior manager at Ego Rex GmbH. Just like Korea and Japan, the Chinese government has decided on extensive support measures for fuel cell propulsion. The Chinese company Weichai Power has just become the largest shareholder in the Canadian fuel cell pioneer Ballard Power. A strategic investment in the future.


    Audi also speaks of an "accelerated development of the fuel cell to mass production". A cooperation with Hyundai including patent exchange is to advance the Ingolstadt. For the beginning of the next decade, however, they are only planning a small series of top-of-the-range hydrogen-powered SUVs. BMW has long been working with Toyota on the next generation of alternative drive, and also plans a small fleet for 2020. Realistic 400 to 500 kilometers in the WLTP cycle are the target for a tank volume of six kilograms of hydrogen. Tesla drivers know that in cold weather and at highway speeds, battery power falls far short of such ranges.



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