Message from the Sounding Board!
By 2019, PEM fuel cells represent a stage of development where key parameters as performance and longevity have reached the status of being ready for everyday use, in a line with conventional energy converters. However, Cost is a topic where fuel cells lack to keep up with the established technologies. Reason for this – and at the same time consequence – is the small footprint on the market, associated with low volumes.
The question is – why did fuel cells not emerge from the niche at the time their technological parameters became competitive? The crux herein lies not only in the time needed for market penetration, but also in the capacities and the cost of manufacturing. Indeed, the problem of ramping up volumes closes the circle of the high cost problem. This is a vicious circle eventually to be solved by automated manufacturing.
Nowadays, whenever the role of fuel cells is discussed, consensus is reached that the most important issue is not to wring the last percent of efficiency with disproportionate development effort. Rather, fuel cell components and systems must be suitable for reliable and cost-effective production according to the quality standards given. This sounds simple, however, manufacturing technology and process development, as well as industrial engineering, have simply not reached the standard as in the fields of classically mass-produced parts.
Thus, what is needed today is a push towards developing processes and machinery capable of mass production of PEM fuel cell stacks, focusing on reproducible quality and high output numbers to minimize manufacturing cost. Fit-4-AMandA is representing this impulse, putting a relevant consortium of process developers (Fraunhofer IWU, TU Chemnitz), machinery manufacturers (Aumann), fuel cell component suppliers (IRD) and PEMFC stack suppliers (Proton Motor) in the position to learn all that is necessary for producing these stacks in high volumes at reliable quality and low costs. This makes the project a most valuable puzzle piece in the fuel cell industry, with highest potential of eventually pushing market penetration of fuel cells.
At the end of the day, reaching the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement is of utmost importance to the society. However, this is not being achieved if efficient and sustainable technology will not represent a business case in industry. Hence, being a member of the Sounding Board, I strongly support and facilitate the Fit-4-AMandA approach to go beyond R&D and anchor sustainable energy conversion by fuel cells to industry and business in a winning scenario for commercial enterprises – because there is simply no other way how the necessary energy transition is to be achieved!
By Mathias Reum (Schaeffler)