Freudenberg, ZF team on fuel cell drives

By Mike Brezonick15 September 2022

Fuel cell truck Freudenberg and ZF have signed a strategic agreeement to jointly develop fuel cell-based drive systems for heavy-duty commercial vehicles. (Photo: Freudenberg/ZF)

Freudenberg and ZF Friedrichshafen AG have signed a long-term strategic agreement for the development of a hybrid fuel cell/battery drive system for trucks and coaches. The first prototype vehicles are expected to hit the roads by 2023, using a high-performance fuel cell/battery system that replaces the conventional diesel engine. The start of series production is scheduled shortly thereafter.

The two companies will jointly develop clean e-Drive ‘powerpack’ solutions, consisting of a fuel cell and drivetrain system, as well as share components for a variety of applications. The initial focus of the agreement is to develop a highly integrated fuel cell e-drive solution for commercial vehicles. While Freudenberg will offer scalable e-power systems in kit form with various power outputs, ZF will offer complete electric driveline systems of up to 360 kW continuous power. ZF said this move is in line with its new CeTrax 2 electric central drive for heavy-duty vehicles.

In 2021, Freudenberg and ZF started the HyFleet research project to develop a fuel cell drive for new long-distance bus platforms. Now the goal is to develop a highly integrated hybrid fuel cell/battery drive system and the balance-of-plant (BoP) components that are critical for its functioning, specifically for heavy-duty commercial vehicles. This will initially focus on truck and bus applications, but later it can also be extended to rail and special vehicle systems – such as construction and agricultural vehicles – as well as to marine applications.

“We are investing heavily in the mobility of the future,” said Dr. Mohsen Sohi, CEO of the Freudenberg Group. “In battery, hydrogen and fuel cell technology as well as in the development of high-tech components for electric vehicles. The long-term cooperation with ZF agreed-upon today underscores the strategic importance and growth potential that we at Freudenberg see in this sector.”

“Decarbonization is a major aim of the transport industry, and within this, fuel cell technology will be a game changer,” said Wilhelm Rehm, ZF board member with responsibility for Commercial Vehicle Solutions, Industrial Technology and Materials Management. “Together with Freudenberg, we can offer a ‘one-stop-shop’ solution enabling manufacturers to quickly bring e-mobility solutions to market and supporting the industry’s transformation towards a more sustainable future.

“ZF’s cooperation with Freudenberg will develop highly integrated fuel cell e-drive solutions for the commercial vehicle industry. By reducing manufacturers’ development and project costs, our powerpack solutions will also help to lower the Total Cost of Ownership.”

Freudenberg fuel cell Designed for long service life and high system efficiency, Freudenberg fuel cells are specifically engineered for heavy-duty applications. (Photo: Freudenberg/ZF)

Freudenberg e-Power Systems is taking a modular approach with its fuel cell system development intended to accommodate different performance categories depending on customer and application requirements while also offering simple, plug-and-play vehicle integration. The focus of the development is on the lifetime and efficiency of the individual components and the respective subsystems.

For heavy-duty applications all aspects of the system must be designed for a long service life and the highest possible system efficiency, the company said. While passenger cars run for about 8000 hours during the vehicle’s lifetime, trucks spend at least 35,000 hours on the road. In addition, Freudenberg said it is particularly important to achieve the highest possible overall system efficiency. At nominal load and taking into account the BoP’s energy requirement, Freudenberg said it is striving for an overall efficiency of 50%.

“Our goal is to design the fuel cell battery drive system for a long service life and real-world heavy-duty profiles,” said Dr. Max Kley, CEO of Freudenberg e-Power Systems. “This ensures that our customers benefit not only from a sustainable, emission-free solution in heavy-duty transport, it also pays off economically for them throughout the lifetime of the systems.

“Freudenberg and ZF are longstanding, experienced players in the industry and have complementary technology know-how. Through our cooperation, we’re bundling this experience to develop clean e-drive solutions and thus provide targeted support to the industry in achieving its climate goals.”

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