Climate protection has been high on the agenda for companies and society for a few years now. In recent months, the topic has gained further priority and has led many companies to relaunch their strategies. In particular, the mobility sector is included in a transformation that Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, as a supplier to automotive and commercial vehicle manufacturers worldwide, cannot and does not want to escape.
Classic business, especially with combustion engines and transmission solutions in the automotive sector, will decline steadily in the coming decades as a result of electric mobility, Claus Möhlenkamp explained at a press conference held in Munich at the end of September. It is now a question of substituting the long-term decline in sales of products for internal combustion engine drives with a sustainable strategy. An extensive product portfolio of components for electric mobility applications, ranging from classic sealing solutions to electric drives, power electronics, batteries and fuel cells, is an integral part of this strategy.
Focus on heavy-duty business
While the focus in the automotive business will remain on components, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies is developing into a systems supplier of fuel cells and batteries for heavy-duty applications, i.e. for commercial vehicles, ships and trains. “The technical requirements for performance and long-term reliability are particularly high in the heavy-duty business. This is in line with our technological and innovation expertise,” said Möhlenkamp. The company deliberately decided against applications for passenger cars, as numerous suppliers already serve this segment.
Strengthening expertise through acquisitions
The fuel cell is not a new topic for Freudenberg Sealing Technologies. In fact, the company has been relying on this sustainable and forward-looking technology since 1995, as Dr. Manfred Stefener, Vice President of the Lead Center Fuel Cell Systems at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, explained. This experience, built up over decades, was further strengthened through the acquisition of the fuel cell manufacturer Elcore in 2018.
The acquired development team now forms the core of the Freudenberg Sealing Technologies’ Fuel Cell Innovation Center in Munich. There, 60 engineers are currently working on their own fuel cell stacks for mobile applications with a power spectrum of 30 to 100 kilowatts. The site still reminds of a young start-up, however a complete fuel cell system is to go into series production by 2024. That’s why the company is also heavily expanding its workforce, Dr. Stefener explained during a tour of the test facility.
At about the same time, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies gained important technological expertise in battery technology through the acquisition of the US manufacturer XALT Energy. Here, too, the aim is to be able to offer customers a complete solution for storing and converting energy. Möhlenkamp explained that most of the control and regulation technology the company needs is also manufactured in-house. The company is also considering to launch a charging system in order to enter the fast-charging system business.
Interest in the market is already very high
With its two technologies of the future, batteries and fuel cells, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies is well on its way to achieving an outstanding position in the market. In particular, by combining the two technologies for clean, powerful and economical drives, the company is already making great progress. Numerous pilot projects are proof of the strong interest in the marketplace. For example, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies recently announced its cooperation with FlixBus.
Freudenberg Sealing Technologies will develop the first long-distance bus equipped with a fuel cell drive, a hybrid vehicle with a matching battery system, for the largest European coach company. With New Flyer, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies has also gained the largest North American bus manufacturer as a customer. Möhlenkamp explained that the focus is also on shipbuilding, in particular the cruise ship segment.
Shipping is under particularly great pressure to reduce its emissions. “The main reason for using fuel cells in the shipping sector is economies of scale. This is much greater for ships than for passenger cars,” Möhlenkamp added. The first tests at sea are already planned for 2021.