Volkswagen reveals high temperature fuel cell technology
Volkswagen Research has developed a new and innovative type of high temperature fuel cell (HTFC) that means an affordable fuel cell-powered vehicle is suitable for everyday use could be available as early as 2020. The HTFC system eliminates the numerous disadvantages of existing low temperature fuel cells (LTFC), and thanks to a new, high temperature membrane and electrodes, will enable significantly more compact, cheaper and more efficient fuel cell systems.
In simplified terms, LTFC systems are operated at a membrane temperature of approximately 80 degrees Celsius. If the temperature greatly exceeds this value, fuel cell performance breaks down and irreparable damage is done to the cell. This is why LT fuel cell vehicle prototypes – should they be able to pass driving test cycles similar to a combustion engine – place very high requirements on the cooling system, and become very expensive. In addition, in an LT system the supply of hydrogen gas and air must be continuously humidified, because otherwise the production of energy will break down. This humidification also takes space, weight and money.
The high temperature membrane developed by Volkswagen can, in combination with newly-designed electrodes, be ‘driven’ at temperatures of up to 160 degrees at the same output of power. A medium operating temperature of 120 degrees is intended for vehicle operation, and this is without additional humidification. A distinctly simpler cooling system and water management is sufficient here, significantly reducing the need for space, weight and money.
The Volkswagen timetable for fuel cell research is as follows:
1999: Volkswagen Research begins the programme for the development of a high temperature membrane.
2001: Volkswagen decided to carry out independent development of the high temperature fuel cell – starting with basic research on the topic of membrane technology.
2003: Volkswagen researchers achieved significant success in membrane development. But suitable electrodes were missing as the key to implementation.
2006: The electrode problem has for the most part been solved. The high temperature fuel cells are currently being developed and tested in the Volkswagen Technology Centre in Isenbüttel, specially constructed for the research of alternative drive systems and located at the gates of Volkswagen’s HQ in Wolfsburg.
Approx 2010: More higher performance HTFC systems evolve that are perfected step by step and will power the first research vehicles in 2010.
Approx 2020: The first Volkswagens with a fuel cell drive that is affordable and suitable for everyday use – the decisive factors – could appear. Volkswagen sees no chance for the mass series production of LTFC vehicles, primarily being used by other carmakers today due to the disadvantages related to their conceptual design.