Schaeffler, Symbio establish fuel cell JV

Schaeffler, Symbio establish fuel cell JV

Business news |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

The JV will combine the expertise of leading European automotive suppliers and a global leader in fuel cell technology for the automotive industry. The founders see high potential in the company for the developing hydrogen economy. In addition, the establishment of this Franco-German project is intended to strengthen the European value chain for mobility through hydrogen.

The company has already been christened Innoplate. It is expected to start operations by the end of the year and to push the production of next-generation BPP for the entire proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell market. As a result, the founders envision that customers in this area will benefit from increased performance, larger capacities and a lower price for these products in the future. Subject to the usual conditions, such as antitrust clearances, the formation of the JV is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

Volume production is planned to start in early 2024. The production site in Haguenau, France, will initially manufacture four million bipolar plates per year; by 2030 Innoplate aims to produce around 50 million BPPs annually and employ more than 120 people. The site will meet the highest sustainability standards and is designed for net zero emissions.

Innoplate will launch and scale the next generation of BPP series production. The joint venture’s exclusive customers are Symbio and Schaeffler. Symbio has already received an initial order from a leading global vehicle manufacturer as a major supplier for a fuel cell system. It is planned that the joint venture will manufacture the bipolar plates for this.

Symbio brings more than 30 years of cumulative experience in the development of fuel cell systems to the company and already offers an extensive product portfolio of validated and integrated hydrogen systems (StackPacks) that meet all performance and durability standards for sustainable and emission-free mobility.

As one of the leading automotive and industrial suppliers, Schaeffler claims extensive expertise in precision forming and stamping technology as well as in-depth process know-how for the high-volume production of metallic bipolar plates. Schaeffler uses these both for electrolysis to produce hydrogen and as a key element of fuel cell stacks for all kinds of mobile and stationary fuel cell applications that convert hydrogen into electricity. The company’s high vertical range of manufacture in the field of forming technology and sophisticated coating processes form the basis for BPP’s process know-how for high-volume production.

“Metallic bipolar plates are a strategic component of the fuel cell system with high added value. Innoplate will be instrumental in enabling volume production that will strengthen our customers’ programs and the market’s acceptance of mobility through hydrogen. At the same time, we will increase the systemic performance and cost-effectiveness of our solutions. With this project, Symbio is contributing to building European technological and industrial leadership,” said Philippe Rosier, CEO of Symbio.

“We are convinced that hydrogen will play a crucial role in the sustainable mobility of the future. Building a hydrogen economy and shifting to sustainable energy resources will depend significantly on the industrialization of reliable supply chains for the new technologies. Our joint venture with Symbio is a very good example of this approach. The JV enables Schaeffler to quickly enter the market with a leading fuel cell supplier as a partner,” commented Klaus Rosenfeld, CEO of Schaeffler.

We are talking about really large production volumes: The joint venture’s expectations are for at least 50 million BPPs per year by 2030, and combined with these global production expectations, Innoplate’s total investment over that period will exceed €100 million, a press spokesperson said. 

These high production volumes may be taken as an indication that hydrogen mobility will move from the experimental zone into the mass market in the medium term.

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