This gas is currently making its presence felt especially in the transport sector. In the future, however, it could also be important, for example, in energy independence.
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Electric mobility is slowly but surely becoming the inevitable future of the automotive industry. However, for battery cars to become mainstream, it will be necessary to provide adequate infrastructure for their operation, and this could be a problem in some places. A possible solution is being worked on by Devinn, a company from Jablonec nad Nisou, which is developing a remote-controlled vehicle capable of recharging electric cars parked in a car park using hydrogen energy.
Devinn started and still operates as a development company for partners in the automotive sector. For example, it carries out headlight tests for Skoda and the entire VW Group. Seven years ago, however, Devinn became more interested in hydrogen and its various applications as an energy carrier.
Luboš Hajský, the founder of the company, started experimenting with hydrogen when he was looking for an ideal solution for a mobile charger to recharge the cars he was testing. His search for the ideal solution led him and his colleagues to the Institute of Nuclear Research in Řež, where they were introduced to developments dealing with hydrogen and its properties. "What stuck in our minds was that one kilogram of hydrogen equals thirty-three kilowatts of energy. That was something incredible for us, and that's how it all started," recalls Hajský.
Devinn's hydrogen development resulted in the H2Base generator, capable of converting the energy stored in hydrogen into electricity and heat. The potential of this solution was demonstrated by the company, for example, during the Rock for People festival, where the generator powered an entire stage, fitting in perfectly with the festival's sustainable philosophy.
With the developed H2Base technology, Luboš Hajský's team has now returned to the original idea of efficient charging of electric vehicles. This is how the H2Bot project was created, which Hajský says is a rarity. "There are only a few new hydrogen technologies and integrators like us around the world so far. There will certainly be more and more of them as time goes on, but for now it is still something that is unprecedented in the world," explains Hajský.
Devinn took the remote-controlled electric vehicle platform, which the company redesigned to accommodate the placement of technology from the H2Base hydrogen generator. The result was a mobile charging station that houses hydrogen cylinders in addition to the generator and a remotely controlled robotic arm equipped with the necessary charging connector. But don't look for a driver's seat in the 2.7-metre-long, 1.5-metre-wide vehicle. All machine operation is handled remotely by the operator.
The driver marks a parking space on the mobile phone app and instructs H2Bot that he wants to recharge. The operator controlling the car will drive it to the required location and stop the mobile charger so that its arm can recharge the car without any problems. The subsequent process is fully automatic in the hands of the collaborative robotic arm.
"The operator is only in control of extending and loading the car. Then the calibration with the car takes place, the cameras take pictures of the distances and choose the correct inclination of the robot's sixth axis, which opens the cap and starts recharging," says Hajský, who says that a number of variables enter into this process. From differently inflated tyres, to bumps and different tilts of the car. The varying types of fuel tank caps and how they open are also a challenge. However, the H2Bot's autonomy could deepen in the future to the point where it won't need an operator at all.
A hydrogen pack providing up to 225 kW of electrical power can be loaded on board the H2Bot, which is capable of travelling at speeds of up to 20 km/h. This should make it capable of charging five to six cars, which normally charge from 20 to 80 percent of battery capacity.
The territory where this rover should be found is clear. Due to legislation, it is not allowed on regular roads, so it will operate mainly in temporary parking lots, shopping mall parking lots or private company parking lots where the infrastructure does not allow to connect 200 charging points with a 50kW charger at the same time.
Devinn finances the development of its hydrogen solutions itself, with support from European Union funds. According to Hajský, they always manage to raise around 50 percent of the required amount, which for Devinn's entire hydrogen programme is in the tens of millions of crowns. "We are still a company with Czech capital," smiles Hajský, whose company has an annual turnover of over CZK 200 million.
He does not want to reveal the exact price of H2Bot, as the project is still under development. However, he states that the device should be able to replace eight to twelve chargers, while the purchase of one with the connection costs approximately one million crowns. The advantage of the H2Bot over a stationary charger is that it can be busy within a parking lot almost one hundred percent of the time. In contrast, stationary chargers are only used about two percent of the time. The competitiveness of the solution from Jablonec lies precisely in the fact that the cost of one H2Bot is divided among several stationary chargers that the vehicle can replace.
It should be deployed for the first time at a client in the Czech Republic as part of pilot testing, during which various bugs will be gradually worked out. " We know there will be bugs and it will need a lot of care in the pilot," explains Hajský. Deployment is expected to take place in the first half of this year, with the vehicle recharging employees' cars in a private car park.
If the project is successful, Devinn plans to mass produce it in the Czech Republic. According to Hajský, our country still works in such a way that the solution is developed by local experts, produced and then goes to the West. Here it is branded and then sold throughout Europe with added value. Therefore, Hajský would like to see things that are competitive with technology from the West produced in the Czech Republic and the added value remaining in the Czech Republic.
This could soon be demonstrated in the hydrogen-powered tractor project that Devinn is working on with Tatra in Kopřivnice. This is a delicate business, as the machine will be designed to work in the harshest conditions of the mining environment, where there will be a constant need to climb steep slopes and, conversely, to brake hard when descending them. Its development began last year and this year the company plans to fit the car with hydrogen technology and begin what is known as the revitalisation of its chassis.
The company's other projects include a mobile hydrogen filler that should be able to transport up to 100 kilograms of hydrogen to places where it cannot be delivered in any other way. But according to Devinn's founder, hydrogen may find applications beyond transportation in the future.
"In terms of transport, hydrogen propulsion makes sense especially for larger vehicles, i.e. trains, buses, trucks. But there is one major disadvantage, which is the efficiency of about 50 percent, while the rest of the energy is converted into heat," explains Hajský, adding that even so, hydrogen is still more efficient than fossil fuels in this respect, with an efficiency of around 40 percent.
Therefore, according to Hajský, the future of hydrogen could lie mainly in the energy sector. The ideal scenario would be that in summer, the surplus energy generated by a photovoltaic plant would be used to produce hydrogen using an electrolyser. This would then be converted into thermal and electrical energy using a fuel cell in the winter months, when the PV output may not be sufficient to cover the building's consumption. This so-called hydrogen economy system can create an energy self-sufficient building and can also serve as an emergency energy reserve in case of blackouts.
"So this year we want to convert our building to off-grid, which will be a challenge because we have quite a large consumption just because of the testing we do here. But we want to feel and test how the whole energy flow works, so that we have data and can eventually offer, for example, backup energy solutions," explains Hajský, adding a vision for the future direction of Devinn
"We see sustainability, ecology or the transition to electromobility mainly as a technical task that needs to be solved. At Devinn, we want to help companies from all over the world with this and use our experience," concludes Hajský, adding that H2Bot is not a cure for electromobility, just as hydrogen will not save the situation in the energy sector, but they can become an interesting alternative where conventional solutions cannot be implemented.
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