ARNOLD UMFORMTECHNIK prepares for the hydrogen era

  • Connection specialist ARNOLD sees great potential for hydrogen and fuel cell technology in commercial vehicles, ships and locomotives
  • Heat supply at the Dörzbach plant can be converted to green hydrogen and thus significantly reduce the CO2 footprint in production
  • Intensive exchange on the topic of hydrogen at the Kocher plant in Ernsbach

The future technology of hydrogen is also gaining momentum in the region. On Tuesday, April 16, 2024, the Kocherwerk - Haus der Verbindungstechnik in Forchtenberg-Ernsbach discussed the many challenges currently facing hydrogen production and application. The Saxon hydrogen and innovation cluster HZwo organized a potential workshop for manufacturing companies there together with ARNOLD UMFORMTECHNIK and other partners. The meeting was supported by the Fuel Cell BW cluster of the state's e-mobil BW innovation agency, the Heilbronn Region Economic Development Agency (WFG) and the transformation alliance from the automotive and supplier industry cH2ance.

The future workshop at Kocherwerk showed that there is no fear of contact when it comes to this topic. Competitors also came together and exchanged ideas, such as the valve manufacturers Müller coax, Bürkert and GEMÜ or the fastening specialists TOX and ARNOLD. "We will only find new answers to the familiar questions if we network," said ARNOLD Head of Development Uwe Wolfarth, who reported on the potential and opportunities of hydrogen technology in vehicle construction together with Energy Management Officer Tobias Irouscheck.

During the all-day event, there were many exclusive insights, for example from Jan-Michael Grähn from Robert Bosch GmbH, Manfred Dzubiella from heating manufacturer Viessmann, Professor Thomas von Unwerth from Chemnitz University of Technology and Dr. Daniela Lindner from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Lampoldshausen. It became clear time and again that the political players at German and European level are still required to create favorable framework conditions for the production and use of the green energy source hydrogen. For the economically strong business landscape in the Hohenlohe district and the rest of the Heilbronn-Franconia region, the green energy source certainly opens up promising prospects.

Head of Development Uwe Wohlfahrt explains why ARNOLD believes in the future of hydrogen in the mobility sector and how the company is preparing for this in an interview on the fringes of the event at Kocherwerk.

"If hydrogen propulsion becomes established, we'll be there"

The transition to sustainable mobility is a challenge for the connection technology specialist ARNOLD UMFORMTECHNIK from Forchtenberg. While the end of the combustion engine is not yet in sight, the company currently sees great potential for innovation in hydrogen drives - as became clear at a network meeting of the HZwo hydrogen cluster on Tuesday at the Kocherwerk in Ernsbach. In this interview, Uwe Wolfarth, Senior Director for R&D at ARNOLD, talks about the special features of this type of drive and how emissions can be reduced along the value chain.

Interview mit Uwe Wolfarth, Senior Director R&D, Startups und IP, ARNOLD UMFORMTECHNIK

Electromobility has not yet fully established itself, but ARNOLD UMFORMTECHNIK is already talking about hydrogen as an alternative form of drive. Isn't that brave, Mr. Wolfarth?

Uwe Wolfarth: No. We may only be talking about it today. But we've been working on it for around seven years. At that time, the fundamental change in mobility was becoming apparent. We weren't just looking at electric drive systems, but also at fuel cell technology.

Today, seven years later, the first hydrogen filling station is just being built in Hohenlohe. So are you backing the right horse?

Uwe Wolfarth: We are continuing to focus on electromobility, but we are also certain that it cannot meet all requirements. Hydrogen offers unbeatable advantages, especially for commercial vehicles, ship propulsion systems and locomotives, due to its energy density. We also know that hydrogen is not the answer to all questions. The better is often the enemy of the good. But if hydrogen propulsion catches on, we'll be there.

Do you believe that hydrogen cars will be a success?

Uwe Wolfarth: Certainly not in the short term. But if there is enough green hydrogen available at some point, then perhaps hydrogen cars will become established.

Do hydrogen vehicles need special connecting elements?

Uwe Wolfarth: Yes and no. There are few connecting elements in the core, the so-called fuel cell stack. However, there are numerous other assemblies and add-on units around this stack that require familiar materials and many connecting elements.

Are special materials or coatings required to meet the requirements?

Uwe Wolfarth: Whenever components can come into contact with hydrogen. It is indeed a challenge to make these special materials economically formable. But that is our core competence. We don't wait until a technology is ready for the market, but work on the fundamentals years in advance. That was the case with the standardization of screws more than a hundred years ago and it is the case now with hydrogen drives. The ability to innovate is part of the DNA of our company, which is over 125 years old.

The sustainability goals are not just about mobility. How can production be made more climate-friendly?
Uwe Wolfarth: A large proportion of our CO2 emissions are caused by the processing of 25,000 tons of steel per year, from which we manufacture over 5 billion individual parts. We are working with our suppliers to reduce these emissions. Although our forming technology requires little energy, heat and electroplating treatments currently still contribute significantly to CO2 emissions. As soon as green hydrogen is available, we could generate the heat that is currently produced with natural gas in a CO2-neutral way. Everything is ready for this, and the changeover would be possible immediately.

Couldn't you also produce hydrogen yourself?

Uwe Wolfarth: That's not all ready to go yet, but it's definitely part of our considerations. In cooperation with our parent company, Adolf Würth GmbH & Co. KG, and other production companies in our division, we are working on a wind energy project. If you connect an electrolyzer to a wind turbine, you could use surplus wind power to produce hydrogen - similar to what DLR and Zeag in Lampoldshausen have been doing nearby for several years.

A lot is already happening in the region. This is also demonstrated by the network meeting that ARNOLD is organizing here at Kocherwerk together with the hydrogen association HZwo.

Uwe Wolfarth: That's right. Our neighbors from the Kocher Valley, Müller coax and Bürkert, were there, as well as customers such as Bosch, various colleges and universities, our colleagues from HZwo in Chemnitz and representatives from various projects, including those run by the Heilbronn Region Economic Development Agency and DLR. We are all interested in using hydrogen. But it has to be available.

So what do you expect from politicians?

Uwe Wolfarth: It is now important to expand the hydrogen infrastructure and make green hydrogen available. I hope for cooperation with other countries and regions where the production of hydrogen in large quantities is cheaper than here. This could also trigger positive developments for the inhabitants of these countries. I am optimistic.

How does Würth support your efforts towards sustainability?

Uwe Wolfarth: We enjoy the full support of our parent company and the Würth family – especially when it comes to major investments. The most recent example is the new building at the Rauhbusch site here in Forchtenberg. We are setting standards there in terms of energy consumption. This is not a matter of course on this scale. But the entire Group wants to achieve its sustainability goals.

Uwe Wolfarth (58) joined ARNOLD UMFORMTECHNIK in 2008 from the Würth subsidiary Schraubenwerk Gaisbach (SWG). He was responsible for sales and development topics there for eight years and played a key role in developing the lightweight joining technology for the VW Passat, among other things. Since 2016, he has been Senior Director R&D, Startups and Intellectual Property (IP) in the management team responsible for research and development as well as internal startups.

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