CLERMONT-FERRAND, France—Michelin and Faurecia are coming together to accelerate automotive fuel cell technology.
The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding to create a joint venture in Symbio, previously a subsidiary of Michelin, according to a Michelin spokesman. The company will develop, produce and market hydrogen fuel cells for light and utility vehicles and trucks, as well as for other applications.
Fabio Ferrari, Symbio founder and CEO, started the company about 10 years ago with a goal for commercializing fuel cell technology after working with the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) to find the right market for the product, he said.
"They have been developing fuel cell systems for about 30 years now. They're really good at the technology, and they were looking for ways to put it into the market," Ferrari said. "I worked with them for about one year to define where are the right market segments to start, and at the end of the study, I decided to create the company."
The company worked alongside Michelin for several years before Michelin came in as a shareholder in 2014.
With Michelin's concurrent sustainable mobility research, the two companies found a stride working together, especially on projects aimed at boosting the flexibility of electric vehicles, he said.
Ferrari said Michelin bought Symbio in February, introducing it as a subsidiary of the group. The company will be owned equally by Faurecia and Michelin through the JV.
Faurecia, a French automotive systems supplier, found common ground with Michelin in hydrogen as a solution for powering vehicles, according to Eric Fohlen-Weill, head of corporate communications for Faurecia.
"Both companies believe that hydrogen will be complementary to battery electric vehicles," Fohlen-Weill said.
While battery electric vehicles are useful for various applications, the system doesn't adapt well for trucks as an example, he said. Trucks see regular, intense use for long distances, and can't be left charging for 2-3 hours.
"Those two key elements are already available with hydrogen solutions," Fohlen-Weill said. "You can have more than 1,000 kilometers of autonomy with a hydrogen solution, and the refueling time is 3-5 minutes. So hydrogen is a suitable solution for light commercial vehicles and delivery vehicles."
Hydrogen is additionally useful because even after a day full of making deliveries, "at the end of the tailpipe, it's only water. It's a zero-emission solution," Fohlen-Weill said.
A hydrogen system uses more simplified architecture and reduces price, Ferrari said.
"It's four times smaller and five times lighter if you compare a battery to fuel cells," he said.
One drawback is a lack of widespread refueling stations, but as the system becomes more popular, those will be easier to sustain, Ferrari said. Because of their regular routes, light commercial vehicles such as fleet vehicles can make a good choice for hydrogen systems.
"The good thing is that you're not going to holiday with this vehicle, so they come back to the parking lot every night, so it's easy to put in the right position, and to optimize the business model for this working condition," Ferrari said.
Sending a message
Through the JV, Michelin and Faurecia are sending a message to the industry to pay attention to fuel cell systems, Fohlen-Weill said.