Science and industry are pushing hard to ramp up vehicle fuel cells for mass manufacturing. A Research-factory for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (HyFaB) is under construction at the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) in Ulm to support this ramp-up process. In this facility, experts are to develop the prerequisites and processes for large-scale manufacturing.
HyFaB is a public project in which players from the commercial vehicle/automotive and fuel cell supply industries, as well as for companies from the mechanical and plant engineering sector, can continuously join. The federal government plans to provide project funding of up to 30 million euros for production and process research with industry participation over the next few years. In addition to the ZSW, Fraunhofer ISE from Freiburg and the Fuel Cell Working Group of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) are also involved in the HyFaB project.
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Fuel cells are still made largely by hand rather on industrial assembly lines. The HyFaB research factory is going to steer and accelerate the transition from small-scale to mass manufacturing. The work in this facility will focus on scalable component production processes that are suitable for assembly lines and on fuel-cell stack manufacturing processes.
With the HyFaB factory, the ZSW is establishing an open industry platform to research automated manufacturing and quality assurance processes, factory acceptance tests and commissioning of fuel cell stacks. In addition, skilled workers are to be qualified and industry knowledge generated. HyFaB provides orientation for entering fuel cell technology and supports companies in the development of materials, components and manufacturing machines.
The State of Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of Economic Affairs is providing HyFaB with 10.4 million euros to build a new 3,300 square-meter facility at the ZSW’s Ulm site on Lise-Meitner-Straße 24. Construction work officially commenced on February 9, 2021, topping-out ceremony celebrated on 5 october 2021. Currently, the installations of the test benches and of the hydrogen quality laboratory HyLaB are in progress.
Another building with a floor area of 3,000 square metres will be constructed for research into fuel cell stack production (HyFaB-2). Construction work on the second section of the building started with an official groundbreaking ceremony with Baden-Württemberg's Minister of the Environment Thekla Walker and Minister of Economic Affairs Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, who presented the ZSW with a funding notification in the amount of 7.75 million euros for the construction of the HyFaB-2 building on February 23, 2022.
The HyFaB-2 construction phase is almost complete and is scheduled to go into operation in June 2023 (see figure at bottom left of image). In HyFaB-2, the ZSW offers companies a unique fuel cell development platform that provides offerings for joint projects, from production to testing and training.
The project receives "Special hydrogen funding for the HyFaB fuel cell research factory at the ZSW in Ulm" from European Union funds to support crisis management in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic and its social consequences and to prepare for a green, digital and stable recovery of the economy (REACT-EU) via the EFRE program Baden-Württemberg 2014-2020 in the amount of EUR 2,898,000. The grant is in the area of "Infrastructure of Industry-related Research Institutions" and has the reference number EVI_2397400.
Funding will be used to procure equipment and apparatus for production research in order to close gaps in the ZSW's existing equipment to be able to develop all processes for industrial stack production: from imaging analytics to stacking of fuel cell stacks.