An inconspicuous building in Jablonec nad Nisou hides the remains of the stone foundations of a glass factory. The past strangely meets the future here. Every day, developers pass through the offices and workshop, turning hydrogen visions into reality.
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Devinn, one of the most innovative companies in the Czech Republic, has its hydrogen workplace here. And hydrogen is mentioned in every sense, as the fuel of the future for cars and trains or as a tool for long-term storage of renewable energy.
One of the projects being created in Jablonec is a small rover that looks like something out of Star Trek. It is powered by hydrogen, of course, and the prototype will soon be tested with its first customer. The so-called H2BOT is intended to function as a mobile remote-controlled charging station for electric vehicles.
"See? We hung this here a year and a half ago," Devinn co-founder Luboš Hajský points to the designs of a hydrogen truck hanging on the workshop wall. "And today the prototype is physically standing," he adds.
H2BOT is independent of the power grid, the energy source is compressed hydrogen. It is controlled online almost like a video game, so it does not need a human operator on site, can connect a power cable with a robotic arm thanks to a camera, and can recharge electric vehicles in large central car parks. Meanwhile, the fuel cell's energy production produces no emissions - apart from energy, only clean and slightly heated water and steam are produced.
It's not the only automotive and energy prototype they're working on here. Devinn is one of five companies involved in the development of a hydrogen-powered Czech truck on the chassis of Kopřivnice Tatra. And developers from Jablonec are also behind the H2BASE hydrogen mobile generator, which regularly powers the Rock for People festival stage.
In the Devinn workshop, you can't tell who is the developer, engineer or designer. They are specialists in both automotive and hydrogen systems, united by their desire to address sustainability, renewable energy and ecology. Development, programming and 3D models work hand in hand with classic mechanical design. The office and the workshop are only a few metres apart. This means that ideas are immediately tested in practice, and you can even meet colleagues who would normally be sitting behind a monitor "in their overalls".
"Each team member should have an overview of the entire project. That way, they can move it forward together and quickly. They learn from each other and are passionate about the cause. I try to make the team work together as much as possible," explains Luboš Hajský.
On the labour market, it is looking for graduates mainly from the Technical University in Liberec, both technical universities or industrial schools. All professions related to mechatronics, electronics, mechanics or software are applicable in the company. Devinn is also currently looking for experts in subsidies and communication or evaluation of innovative technical solutions.
To retain graduates and attract new ones, Hajský started his own training academy four years ago. He accepts people who don't have the necessary education but are interested in the field. The company then offers permanent positions to the best ones. At the same time, Devinn is developing a programme to work with practical teachers in secondary schools.
"We are able to establish cooperation with universities mainly because the work on our projects is simply more technically diverse and students can try out more areas with us. They are not working on a partial component, but on a functional whole. However, we are still competing with multinational corporations that provide generous financial contributions to a large number of universities. Unfortunately, they are essentially diverting experts away from the Czech Republic. Although they work on our territory, the added value is transferred abroad," adds Luboš Hajský.
"People often find us on their own and come here with the clear goal of working in development. It's a new topic for everyone. At the same time, it is a topic that makes sense and has a future," notes Hajský, whose company, with 130 employees and a projected turnover of CZK 250 million this year, is the market leader in hydrogen applications in the Czech Republic.
Luboš Hajský had already seen himself in hydrogen seven years ago. The company he founded with his wife Vera needed to quickly design a solution that could solve the situation when an electric car suddenly runs out of power.
"It was in 2017, when the global trend for electromobility was already clearly set and when we were developing a mobile charger for a major car company," he says. Conventional batteries were not suitable for a mobile solution, as they cannot carry enough energy without quickly adding weight to the charger.
Thanks to previous cooperation, Hajský visited the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Řež near Prague. "When my colleagues and I were walking through one part of the institute, one of the experts there said to us: 'Well, here we are working with hydrogen, and it has the property that one kilogram of hydrogen stores 33 kWh of energy', and at that moment my colleagues and I looked at each other and knew we had a solution for our mobile charger," he says.
While hydrogen technology was already in common use in the West, it was still in its infancy in the Czech Republic. "So we started building them here," notes the founder of Devinn.
Although the company is only in its ninth year, it has already completed more than 150 development projects. It is a major Czech integrator of hydrogen systems in energy and transport, develops and sells its own products and can compete with multinational companies with a long tradition in the market.
It cooperates with Tatra Trucks, Škoda Auto and other companies in the automotive sector, as well as with energy giants such as Orlen Unipetrol. It is developing technologies that can help make buildings more energy self-sufficient by using hydrogen and photovoltaics. And it can offer hydrogen solutions for powering cars or trains.
According to a study by consultancy Enerdata and the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, hydrogen is currently the most promising short-term storage option for surplus renewable energy, especially from wind and photovoltaic power plants.
Stationary hydrogen fuel cells are also used as backup power sources in critical sectors such as hospitals and data centres. And if more green hydrogen can be produced at lower cost, it can play a major role in decarbonising European industry.
"Hydrogen is very interesting from the point of view of energy security and self-sufficiency, mainly because of the possibility to produce it anywhere and by anyone in the world. It is a great opportunity in general, especially in industry, energy and also in train and bus transport, as well as in heavy goods transport," summarises Luboš Hajský.
This is why it is a promising industry for the future - the Hydrogen Roadmap Europe states that up to one million employees will work in the European hydrogen sector by 2030, rising to 5.4 million by 2050, which is approximately three times the number of jobs in the EU chemical industry today.
According to consultancy McKinsey, more than 30 countries have already adopted their own national hydrogen plans. And at the same time, governments have pledged more than $70 billion in public funding to support the hydrogen boom. In total, global hydrogen investment is expected to exceed $300 billion over seven years.
Devinn is also continuously investing in the development of other products such as the mobile hydrogen filler. And also in its own hydrogen production using an electrolyzer, which in conjunction with the H2BASE generator can create an energy self-sufficient building.
"We are not hydrogen activists, but we are convinced that hydrogen can significantly complement the current energy mix. For example, we want to support the inadequate infrastructure of charging stations with electricity generated from hydrogen," says Hajský.
His aim is to develop and produce a product in the field of renewable energy or transport that would put Devinn at the forefront on a European scale. "We don't want to be 'patent hunters', we are primarily looking for functional solutions to translate innovation into real practice," the company owner emphasises.
It remains to be seen how this will work out in practice with the H2BOT robotic hydrogen charger. If we take the pure price per kWh, hydrogen energy is competitive, but the problem is the cost of acquiring the whole technology.
"It's a question of the future. There are many places where you can't build a conventional charging station. With the prototype, we wanted to show what we can do and use our mobile app Caren, which users will have to choose the exact time to charge their car," Hajský says.
Whether Devinn will produce more of these vehicles, he says, will be determined by the market situation, as with the H2BASE mobile hydrogen generator. In the Czech Republic it is still unique, but there could be a lot of interest abroad. "The hydrogen market is just emerging and we see that demand is growing rapidly," Hajský points out.
A mobile charger for electric vehicles called H2BOT is being completed by experts from Jablonec nad Nisou. It produces electricity thanks to a hydrogen generator. The idea is the brainchild of DEVINN, a Czech development company that has long focused on similar hydrogen technologies. The charger should work for example in large car parks...
February's freezing temperatures were the perfect opportunity to test how the entire system would behave in a real-world environment with temperatures approaching 20 degrees below zero.
Among the interviews with experts and leaders of Czech business, you will find a new one with our CEO Luboš Hajský. You will learn how hydrogen know-how is being built in the Czech Republic and why we rely on our own development instead of buying ready-made components. We also talked about the time of mass expansion of hydrogen technology in practice.