New fuel cell production plant opens in Burnaby – Technology

Cellcentric’s new high-tech fuel cell manufacturing and R&D facility in Burnaby. † Chung Chow

Metro Vancouver’s reputation as a technology center for hydrogen fuel cells was further cemented on Wednesday with the grand opening of a new multi-million dollar manufacturing and R&D facility in Burnaby.

The German Daimler Truck AG and the Swedish Volvo Group founded a new division last year, cellcentric GmbH & Co. KG, which specializes in the production of fuel cell systems for medium and heavy duty trucks.

One of the new plants recently opened in Burnaby’s Riverbend Business Park – just a few blocks from Ballard Power Systems (TSX:BLDP), where previous iterations of cellcentric were born in 2008.

The new cell-centric facility, which previously operated out of a wing of Ballard’s Burnaby headquarters, is twice as large and has three times the production capacity. The new 56,727-square-foot facility will employ 70 people, most of whom are engineers specializing in fuel cell technology.

The Burnaby plant produces hydrogen fuel cells and stacks – the core of fuel cell systems – for the medium and heavy duty truck market. They are then shipped to Germany where they are integrated into complete fuel cell systems for trucks at cellcentric’s headquarters.

“We do parts of the cell manufacturing and final stack assembly here in Burnaby, as well as key parts of the fuel cell R&D, especially the stack R&D,” said Christian Mohrdieck, Cellcentric’s Chief Commercial Officer.

“That’s the most innovative part of the fuel cell and we think we have a unique knowledge base here in Burnaby and Canada.”

The truck fuel cell market is still in its infancy, but government mandates for zero-emission vehicles — including in Canada — are expected to force the truck industry in North America and Europe to go all-electric, either through battery power or hydrogen fuel cells. (Fuel cell vehicles are electric, but with the electricity produced chemically from hydrogen, rather than from battery storage.)

Medium and heavy vehicles account for just 5% of vehicles on the road but more than 20% of transportation emissions, according to the United States Department of Energy (DOE).

While electric batteries are likely to dominate the light and medium truck sector, hydrogen fuel cells are expected to dominate the heavier, long-haul sectors and in return to base fleets.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently predicted that hydrogen fuel cells could become cost-competitive with diesel engines for the heavy truck sector within about a decade.

“Due to improvements in fuel cells and clean hydrogen production, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are expected to become cost-competitive for long-haul heavy-duty trucks with a range of more than 500 miles by 2035,” the NREL report said. .

Together, Daimler Truck and Volvo Group control approximately 50% of the North American medium and heavy truck market.

There are currently no long-haul hydrogen fuel cell trucks on the road, but there will be in the coming years, Mohrdieck said.

“We are first looking at pilot fleets next year and after 2025 we will ramp up our production as we know that our customers will have demand during this period, especially to comply with regulations on CO2 reduction,” he said.

When asked how much the company has invested in the new Burnaby facility, Mohrdieck said, “We’re not disclosing the exact number, but as you can imagine it’s a two-digit number of one million Canadian dollars.”

At Wednesday’s opening ceremony, Secretary of Energy, Mining and Low-Carbon Innovation Bruce Ralston said he had asked Andrea Engelen, the CEO of cell-centric Canada, why the company chose Burnaby for the new facility.

“I did say why — why Burnaby?” said Ralston. “She said, ‘We need to be here — it’s the Silicon Valley of the hydrogen fuel cell.'”

Cellcentric CEO Matthias Jurytko suggested Canada’s commitment to developing a hydrogen economy was also a factor.

“We at cellcentric are driven by Europeans’ commitment to zero emissions, and are encouraged by Canada’s leadership and commitment, as demonstrated by Canada’s hydrogen strategy,” he said.

The new cell-centric plant is one of many fuel cell companies whose nexus is Ballard Power Systems.

In 2008, Ballard Power sold its light automotive fuel cell division to Daimler AG & Ford Motor Company, which continued to operate out of the same building but as a completely separate company – the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation (AFCC). Another spin-off was Mercedes Benz Fuel Cells Division.

Last year, Daimler Truck AG and Volvo Group AB joined forces to create cell-centric, leveraging some of the IP and talent that emerged from Ballard in 2008.

“With Ballard’s passing, we also took over some people from Ballard…and this is still the same group of people,” Mohrdieck said.

Concerns have been raised about job losses in traditional industries such as coal, oil and gas in Canada as a result of the Trudeau administration’s ambitious policies on climate change and energy transition. But Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, has been talking in recent months about the benefits of the energy transition, which opens up new business opportunities – the new cell-centric facility is one such example.

“The opening of this new R&D facility will leverage Canadian innovation and experience with hydrogen fuel cells,” said Wilkinson. “It will enable a tripling of the local production capacity. It will help us achieve our goal of becoming a global leader in the production of these cells.”

nbennett@biv.com

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