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Interview with Volker Blandow: China focuses heavily on hydrogen

Will electromobility be the future of driving or will vehicles with fuel cell or E-fuels prevail? Volker Blandow is Head of E-Mobility at TUV SÜD in Hong Kong and is involved with both electric mobility and hydrogen-powered fuel cells. In this interview he explains the advantages and disadvantages of the different technologies.

An interview with Volker BlandowMr Blandow, will electric or fuel cell cars prevail?

V. Blandow: First of all, a vehicle with a fuel cell is also an electric car, because the drive is electric. But to answer the question: For me, fuel cell vehicles are an integral part of electromobility. We need both battery-electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles to decarbonise traffic in the future. With both technologies, we could completely cover the mobility needs that we see on the roads today.

Critics complain about the fuel cell's lower efficiency compared to battery-powered electric cars. Why should we focus on this form of drive?

V. Blandow: From a purely efficiency point of view, nothing can beat the battery-electric vehicle. It is two to three times more efficient than a vehicle with a fuel cell. We lose 30 percent of energy due to the loss of conversion in the production of hydrogen. In the vehicle itself, we lose another 50 percent of the energy. I still believe that both technologies are needed, because there are areas in which the fuel cell will be an essential addition to a fully electric drive.

What is the reason for vehicles with fuel cells?

V. Blandow: There are several arguments in favour of the fuel cell: Much fewer materials, chemicals and even less mass. A fuel cell vehicle with the same driving capacity is 500 to 600 kilograms lighter than a battery-operated electric vehicle. In addition, in the future, ranges of more than 800 kilometres will be possible, but the filling process takes only three minutes, unlike the battery-powered electric vehicle.

Nevertheless, in Germany, hydrogen is mainly considered outside the transport sector.

V. Blandow: In my opinion, a technology such as hydrogen cannot be limited from the outset to specific sectors. We need hydrogen in industry as a clean raw material and as a seasonal energy store.

If it makes sense, hydrogen will also prevail in the transport sector and then naturally also in the passenger car. At the moment, I am seeing more new hydrogen ideas in the passenger car and truck sector in China – and that by the bucketload. This gets you thinking, especially when the Chinese government is introducing a quota for hydrogen vehicles.

Why are Chinese manufacturers focusing on hydrogen?

V. Blandow: In China, this is part of the five-year plan that the government has drawn up. But the regional plans that have recently been announced are surprising: Beijing has announced a strong hydrogen program. Other cities have followed suit and similarly ambitious programs have been put in place. This has turned the tide much more towards hydrogen.

Do you think it is a mistake that the car industry in Germany is only focusing on battery-electric mobility?

V. Blandow: German industry would be well advised to push ahead with hydrogen technology in order to remain on par with China. We are very good in Germany with regard to the development of components for the fuel cell. We are gambling away this lead somewhat because the Chinese are tackling this so intensively. They will catch up with us at some point. I hope that the industry will recognise the potential. Perhaps it is simply not the right time at the moment, because the German industry wants to sell electric cars.

Tesla is promising a range of almost 850 kilometres for the new Model S Plaid. Do we still need the fuel cell?

V. Blandow: If you want to achieve this in all conditions and with all driving profiles, you have to try very hard or have to keep huge charging power available. However, there are also situations that are difficult to address with a battery-electric vehicle. Imagine a typical day on the motorway, when tens of thousands want to set off on holiday by car. How many rapid charging stations would we have to provide at the motorway service stations and what peaks would the network have to cope with? Here the hydrogen has advantages. Especially if we want to move large and heavy vehicles, I see the fuel cell as a good alternative.

And where will we get the energy for the production of green hydrogen?

V. Blandow: Of course, you have to think global. In Germany, we are already doing quite well with around 50 percent of renewable energy. Other countries still need to catch up. Hydrogen will come because we will need it as a storage medium in our electricity grid, which is based on renewable energies - both as long-term storage and as large-volume storage. I can also store and buffer short-term load peaks in stationary batteries. In the case of a seasonal store, the battery doesn't make sense, because I need a chemical store. And it looks like it will be hydrogen. Hydrogen will also become an elementary raw material of our industry. Therefore, the aim is to ensure that hydrogen is as cheap as possible. This is being worked on.

Will the infrastructure for hydrogen filling stations not be very expensive?

V. Blandow: With regard to the infrastructure for electric vehicles, we still do not know how many charging columns we actually need. Do people prefer to charge at home or use the streetlight or do we need lots of rapid chargers? And in which ratio? In contrast, we are well aware of the figures for hydrogen filling stations. We need at least 1,000 filling stations to supply hydrogen to the whole of Germany. At 2,000 filling stations, we would then be in a comfortable situation. That would cost around 2,2 billion Euros to build.

Is the service requirement for hydrogen cars higher than for battery-powered electric cars?

V. Blandow: Not significantly, which won’t be good news for car workshops. Both battery-electric vehicles and vehicles with fuel cells will require significantly less maintenance. An electric motor is likely to last one million kilometres without needing to be serviced. Even accident damage will decrease, as high-quality assistance systems are integrated. The hydrogen system, on the other hand, is somewhat more maintenance-intensive. There is the gas part that has to be monitored and is subject to wear. I expect that the inspection of the gas system will become an integral part of maintenance.

Source: AUTO SERVICE PRAXIS
Interview: Alexander Junk

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