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Fuel cell systems for grid hardening

By Sven Geitmann

May 31, 2024

Image titel: Benedikt Eska

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Fuel cell systems for grid hardening

Interview with Christian Leu and Benedikt Eska from Axiosus

An important but often neglected area of application for H2 technology is the uninterrupted supply of power. To prevent flickering lights and even more so blackouts, so-termed UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems are indispensable. In the best-case scenario, when the network is stable, they will not be used, but their presence is nevertheless of central importance. H2-international spoke about this to Benedikt Eska and Christian Leu, the managing directors of Axiosus Energy GmbH, as well as about the company itself and the technology platform Clean Power Net (CPN).

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Fig.: Christian Leu

H2-international: Let’s start with your FC and hydrogen CV. You have both been in the H2 business for some time already. Since when and where or as what?

Leu: It all started when I started working as a development engineer for fuel cell technology at the Berlin start-up Heliocentris in 1998. Most recently, I was responsible for the stationary fuel cell power supply product line there and during this time involved in the first commercial roll-outs for FC grid replacement systems at the radio communications service BOS in Germany.

Eska: My first serious contact with the subject of fuel cells was over 25 years ago already. In 2001, I then started at Proton Motor and was one of the people responsible for the IPO in London in 2006. In 2009, I founded my consulting company with focus on fuel cells and hydrogen.

Mr. Leu, after this long time at Heliocentris, you were initially active alone in Berlin. Why then did you join forces with Mr. Eska?

Leu: Following the insolvency of Heliocentris in 2017, I took over a position at the firm ITK Engineering, a company within the Bosch Group, for the development of expertise and business in the field of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Over time, I developed the desire not only to support developers, but above all to help users successfully bring finished developments into commercial use in the long term. As this was not compatible with the business model of ITK, I was looking for opportunities for my own business. In Benedikt, I found an ideal partner – like-minded and complementary in experiences and strengths.

Mr. Eska, after these years of working independently – what prompted you to found your own company with Mr. Leu??

Eska: There were more and more requests in my consulting company asking if I could also help with implementation. For this reason, I had been thinking about changing my legal form for some time and putting my business on a broader footing. Then, something of a coincidence conspired, as I phoned Christian at the right moment. After having already worked together on other occasions, we had an intensive exchange and saw common ground. Admittedly, before COVID and the learning curve with online meetings, we probably wouldn’t have founded the company together in this form a few years ago.

When exactly did you start working together?

Eska: We founded the company together in 2022, but we actually already knew each other from the VDMA (German association for mechanical engineers) working group on fuel cells, or really – for those who know it – from the predecessor AK Berta. That must have been around 2003 or 2004.

Before we come to your services: What does Axiosus stand for?

Leu: We often get this question, of course. Axiosus is a made-up word and already has our field of activity in its name. Axiosus is composed of the Greek axiópistos for “reliable” and the English “sustainability.” Axiosus Energy therefore stands for reliable, sustainable energy supply solutions.

I see. What exactly do you offer then?

Eska: We see ourselves strongly at the interface between system providers and users. The suppliers want to focus on their standard products, and the users are looking for an optimal solution for themselves. We bring both sides together. This starts with the technical conception and site planning through to implementation on site with the various builders. For this, we rely on our partners, for example from the electrical and civil engineering industry. From the user’s point of view, we can also act as a general contractor for suitable projects. We act manufacturer-neutral and open to all technologies.

In summary, there are two pillars: consulting and project development. Our hardware projects are currently mainly in the area of emergency power supply for critical infrastructure. We also provide consulting services in the fields of electrolysis, hydrogen supply and strategic-technological corporate development.

Can you please give us an insight into how big the market for this is – here in Germany alone?

Leu: Without taking into account other applications from other areas of critical infrastructure, 3,800 base stations are in operation in the BOS radio network alone, with power requirements of less than 5 kW. In the service range, we tend to assume more than 10,000 applications with high availability requirements.

You look after, for example, the BOS digital radio in Brandenburg. Can you briefly discuss what you’re doing there with respect to this project?

Eska: In Brandenburg, we are are working as subcontractors of the fuel cell manufacturer Advent Technologies from Denmark. We coordinate all necessary planning and installation work for emergency power systems. We are also the first point of contact for technical questions for the operator. In the next phase, we will also take care of the maintenance and service work.

There’s this great term “grid hardening.” What does that mean?

Leu: The aim of grid hardening is to secure the entire BOS radio network for 72 hours. For this purpose, the existing battery UPS systems are usually supplemented by stationary emergency power systems. Many of the German states rely on fuel cell solutions for this.

Axiosus was at a CPN workshop in 2022, but isn’t, according to the website, a partner of Clean Power Net (CPN). This alliance has been very quiet in recent years. This was once one of the lighthouse projects (Leuchturmprojekt) of the German administrative agency for hydrogen and fuel cell technology (NOW). Is anything still happening there?

Eska: We see CPN as a valuable alliance of manufacturers and suppliers. As we are not members ourselves, we cannot comment on current CPN activities. As guests at the 2022 workshop, we were able to report on our operating experience in Brandenburg.

What is your latest project?

Leu: In our latest project, we are currently helping a big company with the design and procurement of hydrogen storage systems along with the associated logistics concept. We are also continuing to build up our company. First of all, we need to recruit more staff this year in order to meet demand. If all inquiries materialize, we will be able to provide larger power supply services and other orders as a general contractor.

Last question: Are you actually also internationally active?

Eska: Even though we have not been operating for long under Axiosus Energy, we already have customers from both EU and non-EU countries. Our collaboration with the Danish Advent Technologies A/S we’ve already mentioned.

Thank you very much for your answers to the questions.

Interviewer: Sven Geitmann

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