Rupert Stadler, chief executive of Audi, last week said hydrogen fuel-cell cars are “a must,” as reported by Reuters. Stefan Knirsch, Audi’s technical development said he expected Audi to start production of a fuel-cell car by 2020. Knirsch was speaking with Stuttgarter Zeitung, a German daily newspaper. He said Audi was waiting until 2020, as hydrogen fueling infrastructure become more developed.
Audi and Volkswagen, its parent company, were not among the seven global automakers that signed a letter of understanding in 2009 that it would begin mass production of hydrogen fuel-cell cars by 2015—in order to spur governments and energy companies to build necessary infrastructure. However, in March 2016, Audi said it would lead the Volkswagen Group’s development of fuel cell vehicle, a step that followed in the wake of VW’s diesel scandal.
In March, Knirsch told Automotive News that any perceived advantage of battery-electric cars or hydrogen fuel-cell cars was not “so black and white.” He cited the ability for hydrogen cars to fill up in a few minutes as one of its advantages. Although Audi is not committing to a specific fuel-cell car by a certain date, the company is working to reduced the cost of fuel-cell catalysts and to develop eco-friendly ways to produce hydrogen. The company’s plant in Werlte, Germany, produces hydrogen through electrolysis, using electricity generated by wind and other renewable sources. “We are certain that we will be able to offer hydrogen produced in a CO2-neutral way in the future,” Knirsch said.
In January 2016, Audi debuted its h-tron quattro fuel-cell concept SUV at the Detroit auto show. “It’s more than experimentation,” said Siegfried Pint, Audi’s head of development for electrified powertrain, in an interview with FuelCellCars.com. “The h-tron represents our fifth generation of fuel cells already. We want be there [with hydrogen cars] if the obstacles are overcome.”
The hydrogen fuel cell stack in the h-tron makes 110 kilowatts of power, which is augmented by another 100 kW of power from a 1.8-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack. The h-tron uses two electric motors: a 90-kilowatt motor in front and a 140-kilowatt motor for the rear wheels. The combined output is 230 kilowatts—or about 310 horsepower. Zero to 62 mph acceleration in the five-passenger SUV is less than seven seconds.
The fifth-generation Audi fuel cell was also employed in its A7 h-tron sportback, unveiled in 2014. Audi said its efficiency rating was higher than 60 percent, well in excess of what’s available in internal combustion engines. The A7 h-tron uses a pair of 113-horsepower motors, individually for front and rear wheel to provide instantaneous acceleration. As a plug-in hybrid, the first set of 20 or so miles can be powered from a battery, which after hydrogen provides an additional 310 zero-emission miles.
Germany’s hydrogen network is the largest in Europe, with approximately 20 stations currently in operation. The H2 Mobility Initiative, a coalition of fuel providers and Daimler, is working to install 100 stations by 2017 and 400 by 2023. Thomas Weber, a member of the board of management at Daimler AG, said, “By 2023 there should be more hydrogen filling stations in Germany than there are conventional gasoline stations along the Autobahns today. With this, we create step by step a comprehensive infrastructure for the everyday use of fuel-cell technology.”
Audi has been working on fuel-cell concepts at least since 2004 (with its A2H2 concept). More than 1,700 Audi engineers are currently working on development of the technology, according to Handelsblatt, a German business newspaper.