Mahle has received a series order from engine manufacturer Deutz for the development and supply of power cell units for hydrogen engines. The units consist of the piston, the piston ring pack and the piston pin which Deutz plans to use in stationary hydrogen engines for the first time from the end of 2024. Further applications in the off-highway sector, such as agricultural and construction machinery, are planned.
“We see hydrogen as an important building block for sustainable mobility, especially in the commercial vehicle sector. This project with Deutz is a milestone with a lighthouse effect because it shows that there are other technological levers besides electrification to achieve climate-neutrality,” said Arnd Franz, chairman of the Mahle management board and CEO, when the order was announced in July.
“To keep the world moving, we need different technology options. What a climate-neutral excavator or combine harvester will look like remains to be seen. For engines that are constantly in use and move large loads, several options are possible. One of them is the hydrogen engine. Our successful pilot projects demonstrate the potential in the commercial vehicle sector. With Mahle, we now have a strong partner to help us enter series production of our hydrogen engines at the end of 2024,” said Dr. Sebastian Schulte, chairman of Deutz.
For use in the hydrogen engine, Mahle has adapted and further developed the aluminum piston and piston ring pack from classical diesel technology. In hydrogen combustion, a key challenge is to find the optimum between the gas mixture that is forced into the crankcase during the combustion process and the oil consumption. Mahle has already verified the reliability of the hydrogen components in a wide variety of engine classes. As early as March 2021, it opened a new test center for hydrogen applications on 1,400 square meters of space at its Stuttgart location.
“To achieve the climate protection goals, we must exploit the potential of all available powertrain technologies,” said Franz. Mahle is therefore committed to technological diversity as part of its corporate strategy: In addition to e-mobility, including fuel cells and the associated thermal management, Mahle considers the climate-neutral green combustion engine, which runs on non-fossil fuels such as hydrogen, to be one of the future technologies for a sustainable powertrain mix.
Just a week earlier, Franz explained his views further when he was keynote speaker at the Hydrogen Motor LIVE event of the Alliance Wasserstoffmotor (Hydrogen Engine Alliance) held at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Mahle is among 20 partners from the automotive industry in the alliance who presented their product innovations at the meeting. The group sees hydrogen engines as an alternative to battery-electric and fuel cell drives on the verge of a breakthrough in all major markets. Representatives from industry and politics took part in the event.
“Hydrogen is an important lever for decarbonization. It has the potential to make many commercial vehicles climate-neutral particularly quickly,” said Franz in his keynote speech. He made it clear that hydrogen is the alternative to purely electric propulsion, especially in the transportation industry, because the total costs for fleet operators are the decisive factor.
“In order to achieve the ambitious climate targets, we need innovative competition and not ideologically driven technology specifications. Mobility needs for people and goods are enormously diverse. That’s why we should think in terms of diversity of technologies. A competition of ideas and concepts that is open to all technologies is the fastest and most promising way to achieve climate neutrality,” explained Franz. In the current political consultations on updating the EU CO2 fleet targets for heavy commercial vehicles, he noted, the potential of hydrogen and renewable fuels must be fully exploited in addition to electrification.
“Mahle is ready for the hydrogen engine,” Franz affirmed. He noted, prophetically, that soon the first products in series production for construction and agricultural machinery will provide proof of this. Many components and products from the company can already be used for hydrogen. Other insights from the Mahle CEO included:
- The operational hydrogen engine is a signal for the development of a hydrogen filling station infrastructure in Europe, which must start promptly to bring the technology onto the road. Hydrogen engines on the road can pave the way for an efficient and comprehensive refueling infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles as well.
- Battery-electric, hybrid drives and internal combustion engines as well as hydrogen drives will form the drive mix of the future. However, developments will vary greatly depending on the region of the world. For commercial vehicles in particular, the internal combustion engine will continue to dominate worldwide after 2035, accounting for around 60 percent.