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The stuff that drives the car industry

Hydrogen-powered vehicles have already tackled the first stretches. And some experts are sure that many more will follow. For them, fuel cell vehicles are the future of the automotive industry. But still H₂-cars are a long way from conquering the roads of the world. It is clear, however, that hydrogen cars need powerful cables and tubes. The industry has to prepare for this development now in order to be able to pick up speed in time.


Emission-free driving without having to change over in everyday life - that sounds promising. Because the H₂-car can be refuelled within minutes and has a range of over 500 kilometres. Impressive arguments that could make battery-based electric cars only see the taillights. Mind you, "could", because there are still only a few hydrogen filling stations and the purchase prices are significantly higher compared to other cars.


Hydrogen-driven buses
Some auto manufacturers are already on course when it comes to using H₂-powered engines. For example, a hydrogen express bus is already on the road in Pau, France. 125 people can take a seat to cover a six-kilometre stretch between a station in the south and the north of the city. A direction that some car manufacturers also want to take. The BMW Group's view is that hydrogen vehicles are an important alternative and supplement to electric battery engines. "From 2025 at the earliest, and depending on market requirements and general conditions, the BMW Group will offer vehicles with fuel cells to customers," the car manufacturer announced. Mercedes already has a pre-series model on the road. Other companies also have produced the first fuel cell vehicles. It's just a start, because so far only a few hundred of them are on German roads.
 

High quality cables
The change towards electric and hydrogen cars has consequences for the cable industry. This is because, unlike the internal combustion engine car, there are no cables in connection with the fuel system. In terms of wiring, the hydrogen car is more similar to the electric car - but the main difference is the origin of energy production. In the fuel cell - instead of in the battery as in the electric car - the hydrogen is converted into electrical energy. In both electrically powered vehicles, the electrical energy finally finds the engine and drives it. So H₂-powered cars and electric cars have an electric engine. Both in the case of pure battery technology and a hydrogen system with fuel cells, the functional units must be connected with cables. Electric cars and hydrogen cars needed more cables and wires in total than a car with an internal combustion engine.

The development of fuel cell vehicles is challenging the cable industry not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality, as higher quality cables are needed. Because hydrogen is extremely flammable. The drive components including cables and tubes must be designed and protected accordingly.


Standards as a central theme
For tank systems installed in hydrogen-powered vehicles, the subject of standards is of fundamental importance. Railway example: "For hydrogen fuel cell operation, we use rail-approved cables," explains Wolfgang Wolter, Chief Executive Officer Operations + Sales of Wystrach, a manufacturer of hydrogen tank depots for buses and local trains. Depending on the connection and linking technology under consideration, the base materials used would have to exhibit not only conformity to standards but also properties such as good connection and cross-linking properties, if, for example, connector housings were to be moulded on. "In addition, the different installation types, including demands on cable protection, must be taken into account," Wolter emphasises.

Cutting CO₂ emissions
The network of filling stations is still extremely lacking. Another shortcoming: The tanks must be considerably larger. Experts therefore currently see a greater possibility of getting H₂ technology on the road with trucks.

Ecological aspects favour the hydrogen car, because it only blows water vapour into the environment via the exhaust. According to a Shell study, by 2050, around 113 million fuel cell cars could cut up to 68 million tonnes of fuel usage and save almost 200 million tonnes of CO₂-emissions. "In this way they could make an important contribution to energy saving and greenhouse gas reduction in the transport sector," the Shell study states.

Billions of euros for hydrogen
The still young industry is very promising. With the National Hydrogen Strategy, Germany aims to become the world's leading supplier of modern hydrogen technologies. The Federal Government wants to use a total of nine billion euros to make the energy source marketable. The funds are flowing into the steel and chemical industries, into the heating sector and also into the transport sector. And in doing so, the H₂-vehicle is also slowly coming onto the road and revolutionising the industry. In any case, the next stage of vehicle development is already beginning.


Innovations in the fields of wires, cables, tubes and pipes will be presented at the leading trade fairs wire and Tube from 20 to 24 June 2022 at Düsseldorf Fairgrounds. Further information is available under www.wire.de and www.tube.de