Hanover (dpa) – Climate-friendly fuel cell drives have to be promoted significantly more for use in smaller and cheaper cars, according to Continental CEO Elmar Degenhart.
“We welcome the fact that politicians want to invest billions in the hydrogen complex,” said the CEO of the automotive supplier to the German Press Agency on the new strategy of the German government. However, the broader inclusion of cars is necessary. In traffic, this technology has so far been a “niche for commercial vehicles”. “This is a very big mistake,” said Degenhart.
In the fuel cell, hydrogen reacts with oxygen, generating electricity. Only water is created as a product.
“We believe that it could be comparable to the battery-electric car drive in about eight or nine years – from an environmental point of view and in terms of costs,” said the head of the Dax group from Hanover. “In heavier cars and on longer journeys, the fuel cell will even outperform the electric drive in the future,” estimates Degenhart.
The federal government wants to subsidize investments in hydrogen technologies with billions and is campaigning for more coordination in the EU in order to reduce CO2 emissions. According to the concept, “the use of hydrogen can also be an alternative in certain areas of cars”.
A lot of energy is initially required to obtain pure hydrogen, for example by reversing the splitting of water (electrolysis). From an ecological point of view, it is therefore crucial that the highest possible proportion of electricity from renewable sources is used.
In terms of the overall structure, the fuel cell drive is quite similar to some combustion engines, said Degenhart. In view of the difficult change from gasoline and diesel engines to alternative drives, it could, therefore, play an important role for future-proof jobs in the automotive industry: “In view of the technological competencies available in Germany and thus employment, it makes more sense than the battery-electric version. »
Countries like Japan, South Korea or China would have recognized the opportunities. “With us, on the other hand, there is now also a great danger that the e-charging infrastructure will later be developed to such an extent that the willingness to set up a second infrastructure for hydrogen is no longer present,” said the boss of the world’s largest supplier after Bosch. Conventional lithium-ion technology in electric cars has “physical limits that prevent us from approaching the cost level of a modern combustion engine”.
Large parts of politics and industry still rely almost everything on this classic type of battery. “It is difficult that manufacturers are forced to ramp up e-mobility massively between 2025 and 2030 – and this has to be lithium-ion-based,” says Degenhart. “A technological leap” is already necessary for battery drives. But solid-state batteries made of other materials with a higher energy density are not realistic on an industrial scale before 2030.
The automotive industry is in a fundamental upheaval that, together with the low demand in the Corona crisis, could mean the end of many traditional jobs. In addition to CO2-free drive types, digitization is a key issue. Car manufacturers are also hiring more and more software experts. However, he sees no direct danger that they could use it to dig the suppliers’ water, said Degenhart.
“90 percent of the software volume in vehicles today comes from suppliers. Even if our software share is reduced to 60 percent, we expect the total market for software to increase tenfold in the next five to ten years. » Manufacturers and suppliers are in the same boat: “Either we win together against attackers from other areas or we lose.”
In the meantime, the Conti boss sees the Federal Republic relatively well-positioned in industrial research. “We ended up spending 3 percent of our gross domestic product on research and development. That is a reasonable value, »said Degenhart. “However, there are industrialized nations that, like us, have no raw materials other than education and knowledge and – like South Korea – are 4.5 percent.” In addition, one must keep an eye on absolute figures: “China spends about five times as much on research and development as we do, the United States as well.”
Better funding for schools and universities is urgently needed. With a budget increase in this year’s federal budget of just 0.1 percent compared to 2019, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is one of the last places of all departments. “That speaks volumes,” said Degenhart. It must occupy one of the top ranks, but work and social issues are far ahead. “We give redistribution priority over education. That is not sustainable and must be corrected. »