Ingo Benecke, Managing Director, Horiba Fuelcon Ingo Benecke, Managing Director
Many countries have recently announced major commitments to significantly cut their carbon emissions, planning to reach “net zero” in the coming years. This term is increasingly becoming a global rallying cry, cited as a necessary step to successfully beat back climate change and the devastation it is causing. But to reach the “net zero” point, the global automotive industry first needs to ensure that alternative fuel sources like hydrogen and fuel cells are capable enough to replace the traditional combustion engines. Because one of the major roadblocks to “net zero” is the ‘range anxiety’ or the fear that electric vehicles won’t have sufficient charge to complete their duty. EV manufacturers thus require a future-proof test environment at their disposal to assess their battery powertrains and fuel cells to ensure they are perfectly suited for long-range use. However, as it is a relatively niche topic, most automotive OEMs and manufacturers lack the necessary knowledge and skillset to develop a robust, future-proof test environment for their batteries and fuel cells. Helping them overcome this impediment is precisely where HORIBA FuelCon cements its cornerstone.

With more than 70 years of experience, HORIBA FuelCon is the leading provider of test environments for fuel cells, batteries, and electrolysers. “Being a future-oriented company, innovation is the steady impulse that we use to develop customer-specific fuel cell and battery test systems and set the standards for tomorrow’s energy,” comments Ingo Benecke, managing director of HORIBA FuelCon.

How It All Began

HORIBA FuelCon is the brainchild of Benecke and Mathias Bode, the managing directors of the company. Two of them launched a startup called SensoTech in 1990. Over time, the company established a second branch for pump test systems. The success of this venture eventually led Benecke and Bode to kickstart FuelCon in 2001. From the very start, the company focused all its resources on mastering the challenges of energy transition and developing fuel cell and battery test stations. And owing to their popularity in the EV market, FuelCon was acquired by Japanese firm HORIBA in 2018. Since then, the company has become the competence centre for creating sustainable battery and fuel cell test solutions for the entire HORIBA Group.

Today, HORIBA FuelCon positions itself as a competent partner for testing, qualifying, and validating future developments of fuel cells as per the highest technological standards. Combining its extensive experience in fuel cell and battery testing with a gamut of proprietary test stands, HORIBA FuelCon can create a wide variety of test scenarios, ranging from simple tests and extensive driving cycles to long-term tests.

Under the Hood of HORIBA FuelCon

While HORIBA FuelCon’s deeper understanding of fuel cell and battery makes the company a cut above the rest, what complements this trait is their best-of-breed test stands. The company’s battery and fuel cell test stands enable comparison, evaluation, and optimisation of battery modules, packs, and drivetrain components, including power electronics. The test stands can be used for specific measurements of fuel cells like performance tests and material characterisation of individual cells, components, cell stacks, hotboxes, or complete systems.

Offering a granular look into HORIBA FuelCon’s test stands, Benecke shares that the fuel cell testing system features three main sub-sections: the powertrain development area, where a range of simulations is conducted using the prime mover; the fuel cell system area, which powers the prime mover; and the battery emulation area. Battery emulation provides a variety of functions, including supplemental energy for the fuel cell system(s), buffering, and storage of regenerated power from the powertrain under test. At the same time, diverse mixing options for the input gases enable the simulation of any fuel gas scenario.

HORIBA FuelCon’s test systems can thus ensure that test programs and thermal cycles run smoothly at temperatures of up to 1,100 degrees Celsius. Together, these subsections provide a complete vehicle testing experience where real-world impacts are assessed within a controlled lab environment, with the safety of purpose-built component test stands.

Being a future-oriented company, innovation is the steady impulse that we use to develop customer-specific fuel cell and battery test systems and set the standards for tomorrow’s energy

This comprehensive testing solution is automated by HORIBA STARS Powertrain, which integrates all functions of the testing environment under one platform and provides the user real-time results, wherein STARS Enterprise Apps manage data preparation and sharing of results.

Adding a Layer of Automation to Fuel Cell Testing

To hasten the pace of testing, HORIBA FuelCon adds a layer of automation to its test stands. A prime component of HORIBA FuelCon’s test benches, TestWork Automation realises and reliably implements tests on both hardware and software. In the interaction of all HORIBA FuelCon components, tests can be controlled in real-time, and highly dynamic driving cycles can be mapped. “For test bench operators, it is irrelevant how complex or extensive a test run is to be implemented; the preparation, execution, and evaluation in TestWork is always simple and clear,” notes Benecke. “Thanks to the intuitive operation, complex test runs can be mapped automatically without losing track of the essentials on our test stands.” Corroborating Benecke’s statement, the graphical UI of HORIBA FuelCon was developed together with users and takes into account the latest findings from the field of software ergonomics. The focus is on intuitive operation—regardless of the specialist area of the respective operator.

Beyond Simple Fuel Cell Testing

Apart from automated test equipment, HORIBA FuelCon offers an extensive list of accessories that optimally support test requirements. “The range of accessories for our test equipment is just as extensive as our product portfolio. From simple housings to diagnostic devices such as the TrueData-EIS, a wide range of solutions are possible,” underscores Benecke. TrueData comprises a range of innovative analysis devices that have been particularly developed for the characterisation of test equipment. The core element is the TrueData- EIS impedance spectrum analyser. In combination with the electronic load modules TrueData-LOAD, powerful electrochemical analysis systems can be implemented. In addition, ancillary functions such as multi-channel adapter, cyclic voltammetry modes, or multi-quadrant operation can also be integrated. And with the products of the TrueXessory series, HORIBA FuelCon also offers sophisticated test accessories tailored to the demanding test requirements of special designs or applications. Together with the Evaluator test benches, powerful tools for characterisation, modelling, and optimisation are available.

Pushing the Envelope for a Green Revolution in Powertrain and Fuel Cells

With continuous further development, HORIBA FuelCon relies on a close exchange with users and experts. The consistent dialogue with its customers also ensures that the company can optimally respond to the needs and wishes of daily practical applications and create added value for the application. Within its software version, HORIBA FuelCon even equips clients with free updates, so that they always benefit from HORIBA FuelCon’s further developments.

Moving ahead, HORIBA FuelCon is now poised to play a more prominent role in the ongoing “net zero” movements and catalyse a safer and healthier tomorrow. “Fuel cell and battery-related mobility are important for emission-free transportation. Therefore, the transition of mobility to eMobility is closely linked to sustainable solutions to stop climate change and pollution. In providing test equipment for fuel cells, electrolysers, and batteries, our focus will always be on sustainable and clean power solutions,” concludes Benecke.