f-cell reinvents itself

Last fall heralded the start of a new era in Germany’s hydrogen events sector. The trade fair and conference once known as f-cell, organized by Peter Sauber Messen und Kongress for over two decades, took place in Stuttgart on October 4 and 5 – this time under the sole direction of exhibition center operator Messe Stuttgart. The venue, located right next to the city’s airport, welcomed 60 speakers presenting the latest developments as well as 126 exhibitors who displayed their products across 5,000 square meters (53,800 square feet) of floor space. Given the ever-increasing number of hydrogen events and destinations, however, the key question is whether the city of Stuttgart, and the state of Baden-Württemberg in general, can keep pace with the competition.

The opening address signaled the official start of the conference under its new name of hy-fcell, the “hy” prefix added to demonstrate the equal footing given to hydrogen and fuel cells at the event. In future this new title will be used for international expos and conferences in a variety of locations – for example in Saudi Arabia which will play host from March 6 to 8, 2023. This arrangement was put in place as part of the visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the Middle Eastern nation.

As well as switching to a new venue in Stuttgart, the events program had also undergone a shake-up. Things kicked off the evening before the opening with a tour of local bars and eateries where participants who had arrived early could meet in a relaxed atmosphere. At the end of the first day of the conference, a dedicated Networking Night was held directly at the trade fair in the International Congress Center Stuttgart (ICS). The hy-fcell awards in three categories were presented during the opening ceremony.

Running in parallel to the conference was the new Speakers’ Corner stage. The main sponsor of hy-fcell, the US federal state of New Mexico, was one of the presenters that took to the podium and invited potentially interested parties to establish the region as a hydrogen hub in the United States. Mark Roper from the Economic Development Department had traveled to the event especially, bringing with him a delegation that included Cabinet Secretary Alicia Keyes and members of the management team from Pajarito Power and Universal Hydrogen.

For several years from 2008 onward, the f-cell was held at Stuttgart’s exhibition center under the umbrella of the Battery&Storage show – with Messe Stuttgart serving as co-organizer. Despite trying a range of different formats over a number of years, a critical mass of exhibitors failed to materialize at that location and Peter Sauber returned to the Haus der Wirtschaft building in the city center in 2018. Now Messe Stuttgart has started afresh, ensuring plenty of time for preparation, and has managed to achieve a breakthrough by attracting over 2,000 attendees to booked-out halls at the original exhibition center, as Stefan Lohnert, president of Messe Stuttgart, reported. He said: “I’m particularly delighted by the international reach of hy-fcell – with exhibitors and speakers from around the world and a notable 20 percent proportion of international visitors.”

Concern for Stuttgart as a trade fair destination

To date, Baden-Württemberg and the metropolitan region of Stuttgart has played a globally important role in the automotive sector – as well as in the expanding area of hydrogen and fuel cells. Yet Andre Baumann, state secretary of Baden-Württemberg’s environment ministry, sees this position under threat. As he remarked in his speech, he has watched the decline of the coal industry in Nordrhein-Westfalen with concern, saying: “If we don’t want to become the Ruhr region of the 21st century, we need to be linked up to the hydrogen infrastructure.”

He expressed his hope that the area would be connected to the European Hydrogen Backbone system. Nevertheless this is some way off, he continued, since Germany’s northern states openly admit they will make locally produced green hydrogen available to their own industries first before transporting it south. “Not that we’re being left behind.” However something needs to be done in the weeks and months ahead, urged Baumann.

Author: Sven Geitmann

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