Stacking up: Inside PowerCell Sweden’s new lab

Stacking up: Inside PowerCell Sweden’s new lab

It’s an exciting time for PowerCell Sweden following the inauguration of its fuel cell laboratory and recent collaboration with German auto supplier Bosch to jointly mass produce hydrogen fuel cells for the automotive segment.

The developer and producer of fuel cell stacks and systems is currently experiencing a strong growth in interest and demand for its technology as it begins to explore new market segments.

The company’s fuel cells are based on a unique technology, giving its fuel cell stacks a market leading power density. Setting its stacks aside from its competitors’, PowerCell stacks use steel plates instead of graphite, something which makes its stack much more durable and resilient – an ideal feature for use in automotive applications.

“We are currently the only cell manufacturer that can combine steel plates with a very compact format and high-power output,” said CEO Per Wassén (pictured left, cutting the ribbon).

Wassén has been at the helm of the Swedish company since 2015, holding the position of chairman of the board of PowerCell prior to that. He has a solid background in the automotive industry after spending more than 20 years in various senior positions, including vice-president and head of corporate strategy and business development, at the Volvo Group.

“In recognition of our leading position,” continued Wassén, “PowerCell was appointed partner in the German industrial fuel cell project Autostack Industrie (ASI) in 2017.”

“We are currently the only cell manufacturer that can combine steel plates with a very compact format and high-power output…”

ASI is partly funded by the German Government and aims to launch a fully industrialised and commercialised fuel cell stack for the German and European Automotive Industry after 2020. Within ASI, PowerCell is responsible for the design of the stack and for the development of an industrialised production line for the stack. BMW, Daimler, Ford and Volkswagen are other partners to the project.

Over the last few years, PowerCell has delivered fuel cell stacks and fuel cell systems to several of the world’s leading automotive OEMs and suppliers. In 2017, Nikola Motors appointed PowerCell preferred supplier for their coming Nikola One, fuel cell HD truck.

In November 2018, PowerCell celebrated the opening of its new laboratory at its premises in Gothenburg. “It’s a truly exciting facility! It will provide us with unparalleled possibilities to run longer and more realistic tests of our most powerful fuel cell stacks and stack configurations,” Wassén explained.

“Our PowerCell S3 stack has been developed specifically for the automotive industry and combines a compact design with very high-power output.”

“With our new laboratory we can run genuine automotive test cycles of the S3 confirming its capability to cope with the power requirements needed for real-world truck or bus driving. It validates our technology and reassures our customers in our technology as well as the durability of our products.”

“This is no doubt one of the world’s most powerful fuel cell laboratories.”

Potential

The capacity to test the powerful fuel cell stacks needed for heavy duty commercial vehicle applications, like HD trucks and buses, is what makes the facility one of the world’s most powerful fuel cell laboratories.

“In this new lab we can test two stacks simultaneously with a total power of 300 kw – something we have not been able to do before and something very few, if any, other fuel cell manufacturer can,” Wassén said.

The decision to build the new facility was made against the back of the steadily growing interest within an increasing number of market segments, for electrification using fuel cells and hydrogen.

The automotive industry was the first to test fuel cells running on hydrogen, but the interest for using the technology for a transition to a more sustainable use of energy is spreading to several new segments, such as marine applications. Last year, PowerCell signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Siemens to jointly develop a fuel cell-based system that can be integrated into ships, such as ferries, yachts and cruise ships. The aim of the MoU is to integrate PowerCell’s fuel cell systems in Siemens’ existing systems for driver and power generation for the marine segment.

“We are very excited about this collaboration as it combines the best of two worlds and provides both of us with truly great opportunities,” enthused Wassén.

“We have the technology to help the marine segment transition into a much more sustainable use of energy, but we wouldn’t be able to develop, sell and produce enough fuel cell-based drive and power generating system to make a difference on our own.”
“But Siemens has a long experience in developing marine drive and power systems and thus know the market and the customer needs from their own products and hands-on experience.”

“We are very excited about this collaboration as it combines the best of two worlds and provides both of us with truly great opportunities”

“By combining their products, system and market knowledge and market presence, with our unique technology we can make a real difference and help the customers meet the environmental targets of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – to reduce the emissions from commercial shipping by 50% to 2050.”

Hydrogen

There is a common goal to drive hydrogen forward as a future fuel. But in order for this to be successful, Wassén said the biggest challenge hydrogen faces is distribution.

“Fuel cells running on hydrogen is a fantastic combination that can provide electricity with no other emissions than pure water. You inject hydrogen in one end and you get electricity in the other. The cooling water reaches 80ºC in the process – so you get both electricity and heat in the same process.”

“Hydrogen can be made totally sustainable from wind or solar power – but you still must get it out to the customers. That is what is still lacking – a large enough distribution system capable of supplying cars, trucks and buses – as well as houses and stationary power systems. The best way to solve that would be to provide governmental subsidies to overcome the initial thresholds.”

“It’s something of a catch 22 situation: without distribution nobody will dare to invest in the products that already exists; without demand for the products, nobody will dare to invest in a distribution system.”

“Given the latest report from the intragovernmental report on climate change (IPCC) we all know how urgent the transformation to much more sustainable use of energy is.”

“There are many initiatives and many technologies, but few – if any – offers the same potential for a truly sustainable transformation as hydrogen.”

“Electrification using batteries has several drawbacks and can only be applied for a limited number of transport applications – and none of them basically on the heavy-duty commercial vehicle side where the need to change is the greatest.”

“Alternative fuels don’t address the real problem – that we cannot afford to send more carbon atoms into the atmosphere. It doesn’t matter that they are based on carbon atoms which are part of the carbon cycle. If they add carbon atoms to the atmosphere they continue to contribute to the climate crisis.”

“Hydrogen can be made in a wholly sustainable way using wind or solar power without having to rely on the weather; produce when the conditions are the best and store it for later use.”


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