It was during Thomas Korn’s time as a physics student that he first understood the immense potential of hydrogen in different scenarios, whether as a means for storing energy or as a fuel. “In fact, I have worked with or on hydrogen technologies all my adult life,” the CEO of Munich-based KEYOU enthused to H2 View. “Hence, it is, and always has been, a ‘no brainer’ for me that hydrogen is the fuel of the future.”
This is what drives Korn and makes him so passionate about KEYOU and hydrogen. Founded in 2015, the high-tech company develops innovative hydrogen technologies, special components and combustion processes that can be deployed to transform conventional engines into zero emission ones. The technology is not specific to a particular engine or manufacturer and can be used in both new and existing vehicles.
“For many years, my co-founders and I were investigating and developing alternative drive technologies and fuels at the R&D departments of BMW,” Korn explained. “At this time, we learned about the advantages and disadvantages of different technologies, hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen combustion engines and electric mobility. What connected us was our strong belief that hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and in combination with the combustion engine can solve our CO2 problem in the mobility sector.”
“In 2007, in the middle of the financial crisis and due to political pressure, BMW and other companies started focusing on electric propulsion and stopped their activities on the hydrogen combustion engine. Knowing about the potential of the hydrogen combustion engine, we immediately recognised the historical opportunity to pick up an abandoned technology that in our understanding will play a key role in the decarbonisation of mobility.”
“Climate change is a real threat to human civilisation, and we need all technologies that enable a fast decarbonisation of the mobility sector.”
Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the spotlight on climate change has never shone brighter as the pandemic has impacted nearly everyone on the planet and forced us to reflect on what we want our future societies to look like. If we are to limit global warming to 1.5ºC and prevent the most serious potential impacts of climate change, it will take long-term thinking and massive investments in gamechanging, systemic solutions such as hydrogen.
For Korn and KEYOU, hydrogen combustion engines are the way to decarbonise the mobility sector. “Hydrogen combustion engines can be mass produced on an existing and mature production infrastructure independent of rare or toxic materials,” Korn said. “We at KEYOU see that the hydrogen combustion engine can propel cost efficient hydrogen vehicles with a high customer value and therefore can be the ice breaker and innovation motor for all hydrogen technologies.”
The company’s goal is to develop an affordable, highly efficient and emission-free hydrogen combustion engine for its customers that allows it to effectively decarbonise or “revolutionise” the automotive industry, especially the transportation and bus sector.
In September, KEYOU received a Solar Impulse Efficient Solution label for its hydrogen technology, a well-deserved recognition of the company’s efforts.
“With our KEYOU-inside technology, we not only want to play our part in the mobility revolution but also generate an attractive business case,” explained Korn. “The combination of scalability and the flexible adaptation of the KEYOU technology platform to different engines and vehicle systems allows rapid market penetration with high volumes at diesel-equivalent prices.”
“There is huge interest in our technology, not only from our direct customers, for example, engine and vehicle manufacturers but also from end customers as well as transport companies, logistics, and freight forwarding companies with their truck fleets.”
KEYOU’s focus is currently on the commercial vehicle sector and it is starting two internal engine development projects. “We will drive software development and our direct injection technology,” Korn highlighted. “The ‘first firing’ of a heavy duty on-road engine in a customer development program will take place in December.”
“But the most exciting news, for sure, is an investment through the European Union’s ‘Horizon 2020’ program,” Korn added. “In total, the EU is investing up to €7m in KEYOU. This is a clear sign, that the hydrogen combustion engine and KEYOU are recognised on the highest political level in Europe.”
Since KEYOU first started in 2015, Korn has seen a lot of changes within the hydrogen ecosystem and community. “In the beginning there was little to no interest in the topic, especially in the automotive industry but also in politics,” he told H2 View. “Everyone was focused on electric mobility as ‘the solution’ for greener and carbon-free mobility.”
“Now, five years later, this has shifted entirely. We receive invitations as speakers or for cooperation almost on a weekly basis and have great contacts with OEMs, politicians, universities, organisations, and associations. Additionally, we see that more and more people – whether in politics, business, or in private – prefer hydrogen-powered vehicles to battery-electric vehicles. And of course, the German and European hydrogen strategies are generating noticeable updraft.”
Concluding, he said, “Most strikingly, and for me one of the best signs in recent years, was the EU directive classifying the hydrogen combustion engine as ‘zero-emission’ propulsion system in 2019. And, of course, our video live stream with Federal Minister for Education and Research, Anja Karliczek in September 2020. Both perfectly show the momentum that hydrogen and hydrogen-related technologies currently have.”