HANNS. A pioneers magazine_2/2023

Hydrogen – more than just a fleeting acquaintance for HOERBIGER

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The increasing demand for clean and sustainable energy has shifted the focus to hydrogen as a key component for a green future. Hydrogen, for example, is of central importance in efforts to decarbonize industrial applications. In addition to established battery technology, hydrogen engines and hydrogen fuel cells could also play a decisive role in emissions-free mobility.

The public debate on hydrogen as an energy carrier has gone through various phases over recent decades. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, interest in alternative energies began to grow. Hydrogen was seen as a clean fuel that could potentially help reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The following decades saw ups and downs in interest in hydrogen. In the 1990s, hydrogen regained popularity and the idea of using it as a clean fuel for vehicles was intensively researched at the time – but no concrete applications managed to establish themselves on the market.

A CO2-free energy source
Today, scientists, politicians and industry experts see hydrogen as a key component for a green energy future: When it is burned in a hydrogen engine or when it reacts in a fuel cell, it emits only water vapor as the exhaust, with no climate-damaging CO2 emissions. Hydrogen can be obtained from various sources, but particularly relevant in terms of climate protection is “green hydrogen” made by electrolysis using renewable energy sources such as wind, water or solar. In contrast to other manufacturing processes, the production of green hydrogen is environmentally friendly and emissions-free.

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  • Energy storage
    Renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, is often intermittent and dependent on weather conditions. The ability to use hydrogen as an energy storage system makes it possible to store surplus energy during periods of high generation and release it when demand is high. This helps to stabilize the energy supply.
  • Transportation over long distances
    Hydrogen can be transported over long distances, enabling global trade in renewable energy. This is particularly relevant when it is produced in regions with excess production and can be transported to regions with high demand.
  • Versatile applications
    The ability to transport hydrogen opens the door to a wide range of applications, from use in industry and transportation to providing energy to remote areas that are not directly connected to renewable energy sources. The high energy density of hydrogen makes it particularly interesting for heavy-duty and commercial vehicle applications (ships, trains, trucks, buses, construction machinery, tractors and airplanes), where electric batteries as we know them in the passenger car sector are reaching their limits.
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HOERBIGER’s hydrogen activities

The HOERBIGER Divisions and Business Units traditionally are active in very different industries – overlaps are rare. The future topic of hydrogen is quite different: All areas of our business are working together on projects for the energy carrier of the future, contributing the expertise they have accumulated over decades. Their technologies and production expertise is as diverse as the solutions they provide:

As an expert in reciprocating compressors and challenging applications, the Compression Division has a long familiarity with hydrogen. The lightest element in the periodic table must be compressed to extremely high pressure for common applications, but is also a very “searching” gas that is difficult to seal. In addition, many new applications in green hydrogen require compressors to be operated unlubricated. All in all, this means hard work for the rings and packings that ensure sealing in the reciprocating compressor, as well as for the HOERBIGER engineers who are researching new, particularly durable materials in the hydrogen laboratory at the Vienna site. 

Dr. Markus Digruber, Head of Innovation and Business Development, Compression Division, says: “In addition to valve and control technology, rings and packings are at the heart of the performance and durability of a reciprocating compressor. In 128 years of our company’s history, we have built up unique expertise that we can now draw on for new developments in the field of hydrogen.” And additionally: With its market access, technological ideas and long standing relationship with the largest reciprocating compressor manufacturer in the world, the HOERBIGER Group joined forces with ARIEL to jointly develop a compressor for hydrogen fueling stations and bring it to market. A first pilot plant will soon go into operation.

“In 128 years of our company’s history, we have built up unique expertise that we can now draw on in the field of hydrogen.”“

Dr. Markus Digruber
Head of Innovation and Business Development
Compression Division 
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In the 1990s, the Automotive Division revolutionized the production of synchronizer rings for manual transmissions. Where other market players milled and forged, HOERBIGER was able to offer high-quality products at competitive prices in impressive quantities using steel forming. At the same time, HOERBIGER perfected the coating of these rings – the so-called friction linings – and thus enabled countless generations of vehicles to shift gears comfortably with minimal wear. 

But what do transmission components have to do with hydrogen? The keyword is bipolar plates: Piled up in stacks, they form the core of an electrolyzer. Though their production is still very complex, large-scale production offers considerable savings potential and could therefore help hydrogen technology achieve a breakthrough. “One option for largescale production is the cold forming of sheet metal with subsequent coating,” says Dr. Robert Braun, Head of Sales and Product Lines, Automotive Division. “The manufacturing accuracy and cleanliness of a bipolar plate have a significant impact on its performance.” 

Metal forming and coating in large quantities, with high quality and at competitive costs? The Automotive Division has perfected all that in three decades of automotive production. It is precisely these skills that customers are looking for. No wonder hydrogen is one of the Division’s most important future fields alongside electromobility.

Learn more about electrolysers here.

“The manufacturing accuracy and cleanliness of a bipolar plate have a significant impact on its performance.”

Dr. Robert Braun
Head of Sales and Product Lines
Automotive Division
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Within the HOERBIGER Group, the Engine Business Unit specializes in gaseous fuels and is a pioneer in hydrogen mobility. In 2004, BMW launched the Hydrogen 7, the world’s first production vehicle powered by an emission-free hydrogen engine. At that time, HOERBIGER supplied the injectors, which were key components for the hydrogen engine’s intake manifold. Four years earlier, HOERBIGER had already supplied hydrogen valves for the small-series BMW 750hL – one of the highlights of Expo 2000 in Hanover.

Thanks to these decades of experience, Engine is now the technology and innovation leader for hydrogen injectors and ignition systems and also the organizational home of the HOERBIGER H2 Incubator. This is where the Group bundles all its hydrogen activities that still require a certain amount of time to reach market maturity. The aim is to develop hydrogen solutions in the incubator, from idea to series production, and to make maximum use of synergies. In the incubator, automotive products such as the Hydrogen Pressure Control Unit (HPCU) for fuel cells and the Refueling Data Interface (RDI) for hydrogen fueling stations find both the right starting conditions and the environment required for longer-term development.

In order to orchestrate the various hydrogen activities within the HOERBIGER Group, the units have established the Hydrogen Opportunity Team: „Through regular exchange, we ensure that synergies and know-how are optimally utilized,“ says Bernhard Zemann, who coordinates the team in addition to his role as Head of the H2 Incubator and the Engine Business Unit.

Only a very small amount of energy is required to ignite hydrogen, so controlling static electricity is of crucial importance. Since the crash of the airship Hindenburg in 1937, the public has been aware of how dangerous hydrogen can be. According to the investigation report, the hydrogen was ignited by sparks caused by an electrostatic discharge. With the upswing in hydrogen mobility, the construction of thousands of hydrogen fueling stations is now planned worldwide, with strict international standards to manage the risks posed by static electricity. 

Newson Gale, a company in the Safety Business Unit and part of the HOERBIGER Group since 2016, has been a leader in protection against electrostatic hazards for over 40 years. The company develops grounding systems that stop electrostatic charges accumulating and thus protect human lives and equipment. For 2023, Newson Gale forecasts a threefold increase in sales of hydrogen applications compared to 2022. The company has supplied protection systems to the two leading manufacturers and distributors of hydrogen in Europe, as well as the top manufacturers of hydrogen fueling stations in Germany, the UK and Canada.

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