Hydrogen should become the energy source of the future – and the fuel cell the electricity supplier for the engines of cars and ships. However, fuel cells are still quite expensive at the moment. A project at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU) in Chemnitz wants to develop cheaper fuel cells.
One component that the Fraunhofer researchers are concerned with is bipolar plates made of graphite. They want to replace them with thin metal foils. That should make it possible to mass-produce the fuel cell stacks quickly and cheaply, says project manager Sören Scheffler, "This significantly increases productivity."
However, the scientists are not only concerned with the structure of the cells. "We think holistically and consider all components of a fuel cell drive. It starts with the supply of hydrogen, concerns the selection of the materials that are directly involved in the generation of electricity in fuel cells, and extends to heat regulation in the cell itself and throughout the vehicle"says Scheffler.
AI controls the fuel cell
This is how the team develops control software for the drive. It works with artificial intelligence (AI) and is designed to adapt the fuel cells to the external conditions and the driving situation. "Our assumption is: To save hydrogen, a dynamic adjustment to the environment variables – also with AI support – can help", describes Scheffler. "It makes a difference whether a drive is used at a high or low outside temperature or whether it is used in the flat country or in the mountains. So far, stacks work in a predefined, rigid operating range that does not allow this environment-dependent optimization."
The Fraunhofer researchers have created their own technology carrier for their fuel cells: the silver bumblebee. This is a never realized racing car that the manufacturer Auto Union designed in the 1940s. This is where the researchers want to test their systems.