The momentum of hydrogen


The momentum of hydrogen

Süddeutsche Zeitung, article by Bernhard Lohr, 18.02.2020, Brunnthal.

SFC offers numerous application examples for state-of-the-art fuel cells. Brunnthal could benefit from this.

The introduction doesn’t exactly pull you out of your chair. In an emphatically calm voice, the woman announces on the Youtube channel “Camper-Style-TV” the “most boring test” “we’ve probably ever done” – and yet she actually has an exciting thing to present. The fuel cell is supposed to help solve the really big problems soon. Many are hoping that this will enable climate-neutral mobility, primarily powering heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks. The first thing that becomes apparent in the mobile home is that the technology of Brunnthal-based SFC AG has been perfected on a small scale, and everything runs smoothly and unspectacularly.

Because the test on the camper is not about the drive of the heavy vehicle itself. Such large aggregates are not the metier of SFC from the industrial park Brunnthal-Nord, which has made an international name for itself with fuel cells since its foundation 20 years ago. As a TU student, Manfred Stefener founded the start-up in 2000, which became Smart Fuel Cell GmbH in 2002, went public in 2006 and has been trading under the name SFC Energy AG since 2010. Dutch investors jumped in, tech companies were docked. It’s been a turbulent few years.

Because the SFC founders experienced the not at all unusual fate of a company that is involved in a future technology. A good idea can come too late or too early, as SFC CEO Peter Podesser confirms. One was early. There was a lot of praise from politicians, for example. But the proof that money can be earned with fuel cells was not provided for a long time. The balance sheets showed losses since 2006, while the turnover and the number of employees increased. In 2017 the turnaround came and in 2018 there was a profit. Podesser says, “We went through a tough time.” But, he says, they were one of the few companies in the field to survive. Not only that, “We’re the first to show that you can make money with this technology.”

The survival strategy was not to develop large units and equip the fuel cell vehicle of tomorrow. SFC specialized in small, handy products that run on methanol as a hydrogen carrier and perform well in campers. Once the fuel cell is installed, the woman from Camper-Style-TV says in her test, it runs all by itself. With 20 liters of methanol she had twelve months of electricity. If the camper then also has a solar system on the roof, you are virtually self-sufficient.

According to Podesser, the fact that SFC AG, as a company listed on the Öko-Dax, has now experienced a somewhat stronger upswing over the past two years, is actually related to the heightened awareness raised by the climate debate that things cannot go on like this. At the end of 2018, SFC entered into a development partnership with Adkor GmbH near Berlin to also address fuel cells up to an output of 100 kilowatts. The product range can now be expanded to include electromobility, it was said at the founding of the alliance with Adkor GmbH near Berlin. Electromobility is now also on the long-term radar.

The most important pillar of SFC is still devices that have little to do with climate protection, except for the fact that a camper in the wilderness with a fuel cell for about 2000 euros certainly no longer has to run the engine to get the car warm or charge batteries. SFC uses the same principle to build emergency power units for mobile phone masts far away from power lines. The oil and gas industry in Canada in particular is a customer and, with the help of SFC, is equipping its pipelines in remote regions with autonomously functioning measuring and testing devices. Recently, the military sector became even more important, which, according to Podesser, has been opened up as a market, also with the support of the CSU member of the Bundestag Florian Hahn.

Soldiers equipped with helmet displays, radios and tablets are dependent in the field on an independent, reliable, permanent and, in case of doubt, noiseless power supply. The Bundeswehr is a customer. And business is also being done with India, Israel and the UK. SFC signed a distribution agreement with the US military supplier AITC. The commitment to such fields in such niche markets “was also our survival strategy,” says Podesser.

To date, more than 50,000 fuel cells have been sold, the company is active in various markets worldwide and, with around 280 employees today, describes itself as the first profitable fuel cell manufacturer in the world to be listed on the stock exchange.

SFC was involved when the district of Munich applied to Berlin as a hydrogen model region. Now, the “Hy-Performer” format, supported by federal funding, is intended to show how this technology can be used. The south-east of the county, where SFC is based, could play a special role in this. The Ganser Group in Brunnthal has brought up the idea of an energy and industrial park near the SFC headquarters where hydrogen could be produced with the help of a geothermal and biomass power plant. SFC boss Podesser has many ideas how hydrogen could be used. He sees his company “well positioned” in the district with its research facilities, its companies and many qualified people. The “momentum” is given, says the company boss, to advance hydrogen technology.

Link Article Süddeutsche Zeitung


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