Within a few days, many Internet media broadcasted information that Volkswagen was secretly working on hydrogen. And this, with a state of progress that will give hope for a range of 2,000 kilometers with a full tank in a passenger car or light commercial vehicle. If this path taken by the German manufacturer is not known, it was already revealed last February by Business Insider.
The rebound of what may appear as a scoop still refers to this article published on the Web at the beginning of the current year 2022. Its argument is mainly based on the statements of Sascha Kühn, founding director of Kraftwerk. This is not the electronic music group known at the end of the 1970s for the disturbing title “Radioactivity”, but the supplier of fuel cell solutions for mobility.
attitude of Volkswagen
At the beginning of 2020, Volkswagen began to withdraw from hydrogen. Herbert Diess then justified: Fuel cells “will not be as competitive as battery-powered electric drives for at least a decade”.
A year later, the CEO of the Wolfsburg group made the point several times: “It has been proven that the hydrogen car is not the climate solution”; “Not even in 10 years, because the physics behind it doesn’t make sense”; “False debates are a waste of time. Please listen to science!”.
This plea by Herbert Diess for battery-powered electricity was also picked up by Business Insider. The media explains in an interesting and coherent way the position that VW has officially taken since last year. It is, on the one hand, to appear in the eyes of the public “as a pioneer of battery-powered electricity among car manufacturers”. And this, to “improve its tarnished image after the dieselgate scandal”.
Hydrogen Space UP prototype (2007)
Do not give the impression of a dispersion
Second reason: the favorable reception, by the stock market and industry analysts, of manufacturers focusing on battery-powered electricity. Those scattered across multiple lanes are referred for inconsistency and a blurred line of sight. Elias Holdenried, the journalist from Business Insider Germany, author of the source article, thus ranked BMW and Toyota in February based on their communication with hydrogen and/or future generations of heat engines.
This prudence of the German group can give the benefit of breathing fresh air by following in the footsteps of Elon Musk, the competitor who is both model and embarrassing. Californian makes fun of fuel cells in 2020 by calling them “Fools Cell”, which can be translated as “fools cell”.
However, Volkswagen has not stopped signing patents with its name in 2022 related to major advances in hydrogen fuel cell mobility. A double game that should allow the automotive group and the eponymous brand not to stay on the side of the road if European and national authorities continue to push hydrogen mobility, especially for light vehicles.
Patent on the basis of 2,000 km of autonomy
In February 2022, a Business Insider article relied on a patent published the previous month. So the reference WO / 2022/013359, where Volkswagen and Kraftwerk are depositaries, and Sascha Kühn at the top of the list of 10 inventors.
The discovery relates to a module consisting of a stack of fuel cells. This refers to the use of ceramics, “for example, ceramic zirconium dioxide enriched with yttrium”. In these 2 points is the idea of a range of 2,000 km launched by the specialist in fuel cell systems H2.
According to him, its power plant is very close to a lithium battery with a solid electrolyte: ” Both have almost the same electrolytes and similar material structure. Solid state batteries only have solid material to store energy, while gas is that part in our fuel cell “.
In the new device, the usual flexible membranes found in Toyota and Hyundai are replaced by ceramic models.
The inventor compiled a promising list of advantages associated with the new technology. First of all faster stack startup. Then, the lack of need to humidify the flexible membrane generally weighs quite heavily on the price of fuel cells.
The Kraftwerk/Volkswagen solution does not contain platinum, but also the usual precautions that must be taken at negative and very high temperatures or to avoid the formation of bacteria. On the contrary, it emits considerable heat, in the order of 400° C., which can be exploited, without additional electricity consumption, by replacing the vehicle’s heating/air conditioning unit. So an added benefit to autonomy.
For Sascha Kühn, the power station developed by 2 partners is ideal for motorists who do not have the means to recharge battery-powered electric vehicles from home.
Marketing in 2026
In German media, the inventor specified in February that the new fuel cell system, if it is developed to work on hydrogen, can also accept LPG, CNG/bioCNG and synthetic fuels. This can be useful in the absence of a hydrogen dispenser when the tank is close to empty, or to choose the cheapest fuel. Provided that compatibility is complete or obtained with an onboard device that is easy to service and inexpensive.
The plant should be sold from 2026. And if Volkswagen camped on this horizon with its all-electric battery policy? Kraftwerk expected it. In fact, his system is the subject of his own patent. This is the Volkswagen adaptation with a joint signature. The fuel cell specialist has already established links with other manufacturers. In the way that his invention must go until its diffusion, which prevents independent obstacles. The goal is to equip 10,000 vehicles a year, for one or more manufacturers of H2 light vehicles.
Many publications in 2022
Since January 20, and the publication of Sascha Kühn’s remarks, new patents about fuel cells have been published with Volkswagen as depositary. Often in collaboration with Audi. Without being exhaustive, here are some:
- Use of a catalyst consisting of an ionomer for polymer membranes (January 2022);
- Plate flow to deliver a reagent to an electrode (February);
- humidification module of a polymer membrane (mars);
- Method of ordering a set of heat pumps connected in series (April);
- Gas humidification method (July);
- Start-up scenario of solid oxide fuel cell system (September);
- Device for fixing electrode membranes (October); etc
Note that most of these patents refer to work dated 2020. Should we be concerned about not finding Kraftwerk as a partner? Not needed. If we can interpret this absence as a deliberate departure from Volkswagen with the specialist in fuel cell systems, we can also make another reading, which is more in line with the words of Sascha Kühn.
Now that the manufacturer’s adaptation of the ceramic membrane solution is protected, there is no need to file new patent applications now or even later.