ZF, Freudenberg Developing Integrated Fuel-Cell and E-Drive System

The first prototype of the “Powerpack” system for commercial vehicles is expected in 2023.

Freudenberg will offer a range of e-power solutions in kit form and with various power outputs, while ZF will provide complete electric powertrains with up to 360 kW. (ZF/Freudenberg)

Although there were new commercial vehicles on display at this year’s IAA Transportation staged at the Hanover Messe Fairground in Germany, it was electric drive systems that formed the core of the show, with a range of new systems on display across the halls of the vast fairground.

While OEMs such as MAN, part of the Traton Group, announced that the company expected battery-electric vehicles to dominate future electric CV production, driveline system producer ZF announced a partnership with fuel cell and e-power systems developer Freudenberg. “Long range will be limited when you look at battery systems,” Nils Martens, managing director/CCO Freudenberg Battery and Fuel Cell, told SAE Media at IAA. “Five hundred kilometers (310 miles) is what you’ll find when you go to the different booths here at the show. If you really want to go across the U.S. – East Coast to West Coast – with two drivers, or even here in Europe, it’s impossible to do that on a single charge with a battery.”

The first product of the ZF-Freudenberg partnership will be an integrated fuel-cell and e-drive system for commercial vehicles. (ZF/Freudenberg)

Martens also raised the issue of refueling times, “We’re looking, with higher compression, at less than 10 minutes of charging time. If you look at a battery system, you’re looking at 20, 30 minutes plus. We also see that the total cost of ownership of a fuel-cell vehicle will definitely be superior over a battery.”

The two companies plan to provide “Powerpack” solutions. These will consist of a fuel cell and driveline system, with the two companies sharing components. The first product of the partnership will be an integrated fuel cell and e-drive system for commercial vehicles. Under the partnership agreement, Freudenberg will offer a range of e-power solutions in kit form and with various power outputs, while ZF will provide complete electric powertrains with up to 360 kW. This is similar to ZF’s new CeTrax 2 electric central drive for heavy-duty vehicles. A first prototype of the system is expected in 2023.

A driving factor for the fuel-cell-based system is the program to reduce CO2 emissions in Europe from heavy commercial vehicles, effective from 2025. From that year average CO2 emissions must be reduced by 15% compared with the average for 2019/20. The reduction will become more stringent in 2030 when it is increased to 30%. While the 2025 target can probably be met by using battery-electric distribution vehicles, the 2030 target will be more challenging. The rapid refueling offered by fuel-cell vehicles means that long-distance trucks powered by such systems would make a notable contribution towards this reduction.

“We as Freudenberg, and I think the same holds true for ZF, are not actively involved in pushing out the infrastructure. We certainly help customers if they have questions to provide them with the right network or right access,” Martens said. “I would make the claim that the advantage of fuel cell and hydrogen is that you can always, in an easier way, transport it, whereas the transportation of electricity to charging stations, especially in more remote locations, can be challenging. With 60,000,000 kilometers driven with pure electric vehicles, we know some of the challenges as the fleets grow, in terms of putting in some of the charging infrastructure for such large fleets in one dedicated spot. That’s clearly where we do believe that hydrogen infrastructure can be superior and solve some of these issues.”

The cooperation between the two companies builds on the HyFleet project announced at the end of 2021. HyFleet also involves ticketing solutions provider Flixbus and the climate NGO Atmosfair. The project was established to test and build a pure-electrically powered coach and research fuel cells for use in coaches.

“We want to really provide OEMs with the solution that is optimized, but it’s important also to say we optimized the components and subsystems to work with each other. But we are never forcing anyone to buy the complete solution,” Martens said. “We will also always have different offerings for those OEMs who only want the stack, or only want the compressor. We’ll certainly also have that right option for customers. I think for us the benefit really is to have the whole system optimized; it’s going to save money in terms of TCO.”

The system could be available to any OEM, according to Winfried Grundler, SVP Driveline Systems, ZF Group. “From a technical side, yes, but commercially we will be two companies and Freudenberg will provide fuel cell stacks and ZF will do the drivelines,” he explained. “It really can be delivered either by Freudenberg or a partner, and of course we are doing the integration and application together for a perfect match. If some bodies or bus manufacturers want to have this turnkey solution, we have offers, but if they decide to do the applications themselves, we can supply separate parts of the system or components.”