Chemnitz Region: Top-Notch Hydrogen

Hydrogen is one of the most important keys for a successful energy and mobility turnaround. – The requisite path has been paved in the technology region Chemnitz. With the HIC – Hydrogen Innovation Center, the venue will be one of the trailblazers of the branch in Europe.

Visualization of the future HIC – Hydrogen and Mobility Innovation Center. (Source: Chemnitz University of Technology / Jacob Müller)
The HIC - Hydrogen and Mobility Innovation Center - is being built on this site at the Chemnitz Technology Campus. It is one of four locations of the national technology and innovation center for hydrogen technologies. (Source: Foto: HZwo e. V. / Thomas Höppner)


Huge white fabric banners announced at the Fraunhoferstrasse in Chemnitz at the end of August 2021: #Ready4Wasserstoff [#Ready4Hydrogen]. The message had been posted on fertile ground. A few days later, it was decided that Chemnitz would be one of the sites of the national German innovation and technology center for hydrogen technologies. On an area totaling about 37,000 square meters (about 400,000 square feet), the HIC – Hydrogen and Mobility Innovation Center is currently being built. It will be the heart of the expanded Technology Campus in Chemnitz. As part of a network consisting of four locations spread throughout Germany, the HIC will focus on fuel cells and powertrains of hydrogen-powered road and rail vehicles. That’s why a research, test, and certification infrastructure will be created for fuel cell stacks and systems as well as complete drives and individual components. 

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Thomas von Unwerth, Leiter der Professur Alternative Fahrzeugantriebe der Technischen Universität Chemnitz und Vorstandsvorsitzender des HZwo e. V., (Quelle: TU Chemnitz / Jacob Müller)

Pioneer of Hydrogen Mobility

“Testing, certification, and standardization are among the big challenges that need to be met if German enterprises want to be competitive in the global push for hydrogen technologies. So far in Europe, no place exists where in particular small and medium sized enterprises as well as startups can solve these complex tasks in a comprehensive manner. That’s why we’re glad to be the pioneers in this field,” says Professor Thomas von Unwerth. The current Director of the Institute of Automotive Research (IAF) at Chemnitz University of Technology and Chair of the HZwo e. V. association accepted the appointment of the university to establish a Professorship of Advanced Powertrains with a specific focus on fuel cell systems. In particular due to his practical experience gained at a renowned automobile manufacturer, he is able to link academic research closely to the actual requirements and demands of industry. “It’s our objective to quickly apply the research and to create value in and for Saxony,” emphasizes Professor von Unwerth.

HZwo & HIC

That’s why he initiated together with additional partners the association and innovation cluster HZwo in 2017. This is where primarily small and medium sized enterprises as well as research institutes are working together on R&D projects. Since then, they have advanced the development of new materials, industrial-scale production processes, and control strategies for fuel cell stacks as well as such system components as bipolar plates, air compressors, cooling systems, or hydrogen tanks within Saxony’s hydrogen project family HZwo:FRAME. This has yielded impressive technical and commercial results. For example, one of the HZwo members established the mass production of bipolar plates and stacks which began its operation at the end of 2022 and, thus, opens up a brand-new business segment.

In the meantime, the HZwo network has undertaken the next step on becoming a leading European region for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies by having been awarded the HIC. “Our members already indicated the need for a hydrogen technology center in 2019. Now the extensively researched hydrogen technologies developed in Saxony need to be made ready for the market and made available as quickly as possible. The HIC is our most urgent project,” explains Karl Lötsch, Managing Director of the HZwo e. V. association and Spokesperson of the HIC alliance.

In autumn 2021, the preliminary planning began for the industrial research, test, and certification facility that is unparalleled in Europe. It is to open in 2025, the year in which Chemnitz will be the European Capital of Culture. By then, test and inspection labs for fuel cell systems and components, workshops for functional samples and prototypes as well as educational and training facilities for SMEs, startups, developers, suppliers, and vehicle manufacturers revolving around the topic of hydrogen will have been built. And the facility will be directly integrated into the high-performance research and industrial infrastructure. “With the technical universities in Chemnitz and Dresden, the Fraunhofer IWU and ENAS institutes as well as the service providers for testing and inspection located already in the region, the HIC has an excellent partner network which makes the HIC so unique due to the available expert knowledge in hydrogen and the innovative capabilities of all stakeholders,” explains Professor Thomas von Unwerth. The same is true for the test track for rail vehicles on the nearby Smart Rail Connectivity Campus in Annaberg-Buchholz as well as the test site for road vehicles at the Lausitzring.

The HIC is the core of the hydrogen test region Chemnitz. It was awarded the status of a HyExperts model region for hydrogen research in the national HyLand competition. Commercial enterprises, universities, research institutions, municipalities, and district counties between Freiberg and Plauen want to jointly establish a hydrogen economy. The key phrase in this is sector coupling, which means linking and uniting across sectors. The focus is on the production, storage, and transportation of green hydrogen which is used, for example, in research, mobility, intralogistics, and the provision of energy. The utility company eins has a vision that sees the potential for the creation of a regional hydrogen hub on the grounds of a former gasworks in Chemnitz. From here, it would also be possible to supply the HIC with green hydrogen which is needed for research, lab experiments, and road tests.

“Hydrogen is a decathlete,” describes Professor von Unwerth the versatility of this energy carrier and emphasizes: “It’s one of the most important keys to make the energy and mobility turnaround a success and an important locational factor for the high-tech state of Saxony; a vital component for solving many current problems. It would, thus, be wise to develop all CO2-neutral technologies further and to pick up the pace. In Saxony, we have excellent prerequisites to accomplish this. So let’s use them,” he argues vehemently for even more speed at all levels.