27. January 2021

Quo vadis?

The Horizon 2020 SME Instrument programme aims to help innovative SMEs with strong growth potential in international markets. Celeroton started its SME Instrument Phase 2 project in June 2019. It involves taking the last technological and commercial steps to introduce Celeroton’s unique turbo compressor systems as the key technology for oxygen supply in the fuel cell market for vehicles.

We spoke with Dr Fabian Dietmann. He is the project manager responsible for the SME Instrument project at Celeroton. He studied mechanical engineering and earned his doctorate in centrifugal compressor design at the University of Stuttgart. He joined Celeroton in 2014 and played a decisive role in the development of numerous custom-built compressors with gas bearings. Since 2016, he has headed the turbomachine and electric motor development team.

What are the advantages of Celeroton’s turbo compressor with air bearings compared to other compressors used in fuel cell systems?
Various compression technologies like scroll or side-channel compressors are currently used to pressurise fuel cells. In contrast, Celeroton compressors rely on the aerodynamic compression effect of a centrifugal compressor. This technology’s distinctive feature is a small number of rotating parts, making it highly robust and efficient. The gas bearings used also result in a long operational life thanks to their wear-free operation. This combination results in a compressor that achieves the compression effect with high efficiency and durability at a relatively small size. I think it is ideal in combination with fuel cell technology.

Turbo compressor system for fuel cells in light / mid size commercial vehicles

Can the compressor help improve the efficiency of the entire fuel cell system?
Yes. Celeroton turbo compressor systems are optimised for efficiency. A highly efficient compressor system increases the fuel cell system’s overall efficiency, thus reducing operating costs.

What were the most significant challenges the new development faced during the SME Instrument project? Moreover, how did you solve them?
The biggest challenges were to develop new strands of technology suitable for serial production and combine them to create a functional product that was scalable in terms of quantities. Notable examples are the new gas bearing technology and the advancement of motor technology. We solved these challenges thanks to the employees’ immense creativity, the latitude and support of Celeroton’s senior management, as well as the constructive dialogue between manufacturing partners and consultants.

From prototype to serial production: What were the most important factors to consider?
As an established company in the development of miniature turbo compressors with gas bearings, we can already draw on a broad range of custom-built developments and over a decade of design experience. However, this project’s significant challenges were to combine the ‘gas bearing’ high technology with cost-effective and reliable manufacturability. However, this step will only succeed if we pull out all the stops and work closely together with technology and manufacturing partners.
Apart from external interfaces, we also had to complete many internal tasks before the incoming parts could be processed further. We created new structures, systematised inventory management, defined processes, and introduced quality management. But that is not all. I am delighted every day, knowing that this continuous change for improvement is a large part of Celeroton and enjoys the active support of all employees.

Moving forward: What are the possibilities for using the new compressor system, besides the fuel cell?
The turbo-compressor system developed as part of the SME project is primarily designed for use with air or gases very similar to air. Applications for creating positive or negative pressure are conceivable here. An application is advantageous where high power density is required, and long operational life and continuous operation are prerequisites. The technology developed can also be transferred to other gases such as noble gases or refrigerants.
Overall, I am quite optimistic that the SME project’s support has provided Celeroton with many new perspectives on the direct application of this system and the technology.

Many thanks to Dr Dietmann for giving us an inspiring insight into the work on this exciting project.

Man sitting on chair in front of blackboard