Webasto Joins With Vaillant To Develop Fuel Cells

March 07, 2006 by Jeff Shepard

European heating technology manufacturer Vaillant Group and global automotive supplier Webasto have entered into an agreement in which the companies will jointly develop fuel cells for use in both cars and stationary heat and power, co-generation, applications.

For decades, Webasto has been developing fossil-fuel burners for auxiliary and parking heaters and has more recently applied that experience towards fuel cells. Since 2002, Webasto has focused heavily on automotive on-board power systems known as auxiliary power units (APUs), in which electrical energy is produced from liquid fuels with the aid of a high-temperature fuel cell. Through advances with APUs, Webasto created a solid oxide fuel cell module (SOFC) that, fuelled by natural gas or heating oil, can be used for single- family home energy generation and heat supply. This technology also has mobile applications.

Vaillant has worked on the development of fuel cell-powered heating systems for multi-family houses and light industrial applications since 1998 and has already gathered a wealth of practical experience in the testing of prototypes in European field trials. Through this joint venture with Webasto, Vaillant is extending its fuel cell heating system development activities to single-family dwellings.

"The combining of Webasto's and Vaillant's core competencies and expertise means that we can step-up our development of fuel cell-powered heating systems even further and in doing so send out an important message for power and heat cogeneration in the future," said Dr. Michel Brosset, Vaillant Group managing director. "At the same time, we will continue the ongoing development of heating systems for multi-family houses."

"This is an important step for this highly-promising technology," said Franz-Josef Kortuem, CEO of Webasto AG. "The pooling of our two companies' know-how and innovative capabilities means that key synergies from home heating technology and automotive sectors will be combined for the first time."

Webasto's role will be focused on the development of the SOFC's thermally insulated core module including the re-heater and reformer. The reformer converts natural gas into the hydrogen-rich gas needed for the fuel cell's functioning.

Vaillant will be responsible for developing this core module and other system components into a fuel cell-powered heater and efficiently integrating the result into a single-family home's heating system. Given the challenges being faced in terms of environmental protection and rising energy prices, the market for decentralized heating systems combined with power generation (co-generation) is expected to offer significant future sales opportunities.