A pan-European programme has been launched to drive down the cost of hydrogen cars by developing the mass manufacture of fuel cell stacks.

Like electric vehicles, vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are essential to helping reduce carbon emissions.

Called DIGIMAN, the €3.5 million programme will receive funding from the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) under the EU's Horizon 2020 programme.

The aim of the programme is to provide a future blueprint to enable fully automated mass manufacturing of fuel cell stacks for the automotive market.

Fuel cell stacks for hydrogen cars are currently manufactured on an individual basis, making them very costly. The programme will therefore help ensure that fuel cell technology remains cost competitive for the future and increase consumer uptake.

Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of the FCH JU, said: “The project will improve manufacturing techniques by reducing the production time and costs, and increase the quality levels of PEMFC stacks. The project, which gathers industry, academia and research centres, is contributing to maintain Europe at the competitive edge on the key technologies for clean transport.”

The programme’s technology lead is provided by British-based clean energy company Intelligent Energy, with overall coordination provided by European innovation laboratory CEA Tech-Liten. Also involved in the three-year programme are Freudenberg Performance Materials SE&Co.KG, Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick, and Toyota Motor Europe. The latter will be responsible for best practice requirements for future automotive stack production.

The programme will enable the development of Intelligent Energy’s proprietary air-cooled fuel cell architecture, which will also benefit commercialisation in other market sectors such as stationary power and drones.

Martin Bloom, Group CEO at Intelligent Energy, said: “With the wealth of experience we have in this area resulting from our ongoing joint manufacturing venture with Suzuki (SMILE), in addition to almost 30 years of fuel cell development, we have the know-how and capability to ensure we support and mobilise this ecosystem of partners.”

Once developed, the blueprint design will enable build-to-print machine configurations with ready to scale production capacity to meet future requirements of more than 50,000 fuel cell stacks by 2020.

Photo: DIGIMAN, an industry group to develop the mass manufacture of fuel cell stacks for hydrogen vehicles is launched.