French automotive suppliers move into gear on hydrogen
French automotive suppliers Plastic Omnium, Faurecia, and Michelin, are paving the way for making fuel cell technology and hydrogen a mass product and bringing down the high prices of today by the economics of scale. For Faurecia, for instance, it’s a matter of survival, as ICE cars and the exhaust filtering technology it’s a world leader in, threatens to disappear.
Their ambition is no less than making France a leader in the field by providing everything from fuel cells to hydrogen storage tanks and depressurizing valves, representing 80% of the value of a hydrogen vehicle’s drivetrain.
Hydrogen to be the future
Like Japanese carmaker, Toyota, which is together with South-Korean Hyundai, one of the rare car manufacturers that already are commercializing hydrogen vehicles, the French automotive suppliers believe that hydrogen will be the future.
The battery-electric car (BEV) most carmakers are massively focussing on today, is only one stage in the 100% electric car and is seen as best suited for city cars and short distances in the future.
Hydrogen cars (FCEVs) are electric cars too, drawing their electricity from hydrogen using a fuel cell. They provide longer ranges and short ‘charging’ times – typically five to ten minutes – comparable with filling up vehicles on fossil fuels today. The technology is especially suited to replace diesel in the market of commercial vehicles, from vans to trucks, trains, and ships.
Plastic Omnium and Faurecia are already competitors in the field with the first being a specialist in classic hydrogen tanks and depressurizing valves to bring the hydrogen from 700 to 10 bars. The latter is a specialist in carbon fiber reservoirs for hydrogen and has joined forces with tire manufacturer Michelin.
Michelin and Faurecia joined forces
Michelin and Faurecia created a joint venture combining all their activities dedicated to hydrogen fuel cells. Michelin was a pioneer in this technology, notably through an investment in the Symbio start-up in 2014.
This Grenoble-based company manufactures a fuel cell that adapts to standard electric vehicles to increase their range by about 180 kilometers. The technology was already used in 2014 to equip a fleet of 300 Renault Kangoos. Symbio, which became a Michelin subsidiary on February 1st, will be integrated into the new joint venture.
Crucial for survival
For Faurecia, the fuel cell and hydrogen technology will be essential for survival as the exhaust technology for cars with an internal combustion engine (ICE) will lose importance gradually, as the electric vehicle emerges.
Too late for Faurecia? No, the group wants to hit back with competitive products in the field of hydrogen. “Our ambition is to bring different products to penetrate the market better,” Yann Brillat-Savarin, vice-president of Faurecia, and responsible for strategy, says.
25% of the world market
“This can be at the level of reservoirs, making them lighter with our carbon fiber expertise, to a more compact fuel cell,” he explains. “We envision 20 to 25% of the world market, taking into account that Toyota and Hyundai already cover part of the market by developing an offer already.”
But the first focus will be on commercial vehicles, for which hydrogen technology is better suited than private cars. They depend less on existing infrastructure, as fleet owners often can provide their hydrogen refueling station, Yann Brillat-Savarin says. In the car market, he sees fuel cells better suited for SUVs, while BEV is perfect for small city cars.
The market for hydrogen technology seems promising, though, as the world’s largest automotive supplier, Bosch, envisioned that 20% of electric cars sold in Europe by 2030 would be hydrogen cars. In April, Bosch has signed an agreement with Swedish PowerCell to gear up production and joint-development of fuel cells for cars and trucks.