FUELCELLBOX: Climate protection meets MINT promotion

The challenges posed by climate change, and by the energy transition in particular, has led to an enormous increase in the need for qualified specialists in the disciplines of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology (MINT). The competition for schoolchildren known as FUELCELLBOX is therefore reaching out to the potential experts of tomorrow. It arouses the schoolchildren’s enthusiasm and motivation for technical and scientific careers by means of practical tasks related to everyday life and thus combines the promotion of MINT disciplines with climate protection. Until now, around 5,000 schoolchildren across North Rhine-Westphalia have taken part in the competition and intensively examined climate-friendly solutions for energy supply and mobility.

The annual competition, which is run by EnergieAgentur.NRW in collaboration with H-TEC EDUCATION GmbH and supported by various sponsors, is based on fuel cell technology, which is considered to be a potential key technology for the energy transition. Climate-friendly electricity can be produced using fuel cells through the reaction of hydrogen with oxygen. Harmless water vapour is generated as a waste product. In teams consisting of two or maximum three schoolchildren, the participants have to develop innovative solutions for various areas of energy supply and mobility using this technology. The specific task that they have to cope with, under the supervision of a specialist subject teacher, varies from year to year.

Engine for progress:

  • Education in the technologies of the future for schoolchildren and teachers
  • The promotion of MINT disciplines meets climate protection
  • Potential for transfer to other areas of application and to places outside of North Rhine Westphalia

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Photo: EnergieAgentur.NRW

Live contest of the FUELCELLBOX competition in 2016/2017 – Mobility for changing times: in the background, the historic Hespertalbahn (Hespertal railway) with its diesel engine, in the foreground, young researchers with their future-oriented solutions for a train powered by fuel cells.

Competition for schoolchildren shows a wide diversity of applications

In previous years, for example, the remit was to develop climate-friendly and innovative solutions for supplying energy for mobile phones, radio stations or even villages, or to use the technology as an alternative means of driving vehicles, even including Mars robots. The themes often have a current relevance: last year, for example, the competition referred to the first railcar in the world powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which the train construction company Alstom launched in 2016. The schoolchildren had to produce a miniature train powered by the same emission-free drive system. The inspiration for the current round of the competition in 2017/18, the patronage of which has been taken over by the NRW Minister of Economics Prof. Dr Andreas Pinkwart, is the newly-christened, climate-friendly passenger ship MS innogy.

Schoolchildren in years nine to eleven at any secondary school in North Rhine-Westphalia can take part in the competition, which lasts a maximum of one academic year and is divided into two phases. First of all, the schoolchildren have to work on the prescribed task in a theoretical way: by collecting, applying and presenting specialist knowledge. The 20 best teams are selected from all proposals submitted. These then receive a high-spec FUELCELLBOX, which contains all the technical components needed to complete the task. Finally, it is a matter of working meticulously, of measuring and evaluating in order to synchronise the components in an optimal way. From the completed projects, the five best teams are invited to the final, where the overall winner is chosen by a five-man jury consisting of the managing director of EnergieAgentur.NRW, one representative from each of the Centre for Fuel Cell Technology, Forschungszentrum Jülich research centre and the energy company GP Joule, and a teacher from Gladbeck, Guntram Seippel.

Further support and training for teachers

In addition to the competition for schoolchildren, the concept competition, FUELCELLBOX_BASIC, has also been held since 2016. This is aimed at all educational establishments in North Rhine-Westphalia which lack the financial resources to buy new innovative technology, which young people can use to learn through hands-on experience. In the context of the competition, the schools can apply for a BASIC_BOX, which contains all the components needed to illustrate on a model scale how hydrogen is produced from renewable energy and how it is used in fuel cells, and to enable related tests to be carried out. Since 2015, an annual seminar has also been offered for teachers to be trained in the subjects of hydrogen and fuel cells in the context of the energy transition.


Video: H-TEC Education/EnergieAgentur.NRW

Photo: EnergieAgentur.NRW

“A deeper understanding of the need for structural change and for the expansion of renewable energies is gained as a result of young people getting intensively involved in the subjects of fuel cells and hydrogen and the way they are provided. The competition has an impact on the attitude of young people towards the energy transition and is intended to inspire them with enthusiasm for the technologies of the future as well as motivate them to choose a career in the field of the MINT disciplines.”

Dr Thomas Kattenstein, Head of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen, E-Mobility Network NRW

Partners and sponsors

  • H-TEC Education
  • Landesregierung NRW