Progress on highway to hydrogen HGVs

By Categories: NewsPublished On: Friday 1 May 2020

Further progress has been made in the field of hydrogen-powered HGVs, as a major wholesaler has put Scania trucks featuring Cummins’ hydrogen fuel cell module technology into operation – while Volvo Group and Daimler Trucks have announced a collaboration to produce hydrogen fuel-cell technology suitable for heavy-duty vehicles.

The announcement of a fuel cell joint venture between commercial vehicle giants Volvo and Daimler came in the same week that oil prices plunged into negativity, and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz car arm ceased development of its hydrogen fuel cell technology and stopped production of the F-Cell fuel-cell SUV.

Daimler countered the apparent contradiction by explaining that it had transferred all its fuel-cell technology into the joint venture with Volvo Group, with Volvo contributing €0.6 billion in exchange for 50 per cent of the venture: a clear indication that Daimler believes fuel cells have more to offer in the heavy-duty sector than in passenger cars.

The joint venture will operate as an independent and autonomous entity, with Daimler Truck AG and the Volvo Group continuing to be competitors in all other areas of business.

Joining forces will decrease development costs for both companies and accelerate the market introduction of fuel cell systems in products used for heavy-duty transport and demanding long-haul applications.

A joint statement from the companies said: “In the context of the current economic downturn cooperation has become even more necessary in order to meet the Green Deal objectives within a feasible time-frame.”

Martin Lundstedt, Volvo Group president and CEO (pictured), added: “Electrification of road transport is a key element in delivering the so-called Green Deal, a carbon-neutral Europe and ultimately a carbon-neutral world.

“Using hydrogen as a carrier of green electricity to power electric trucks in long-haul operations is one important part of the puzzle, and a complement to battery electric vehicles and renewable fuels.

“Combining the Volvo Group and Daimler’s experience in this area to accelerate the rate of development is good both for our customers and for society as a whole.

“By forming this joint venture, we are clearly showing that we believe in hydrogen fuel cells for commercial vehicles. But for this vision to become reality, other companies and institutions also need to support and contribute to this development, not least in order to establish the fuel infrastructure needed.”

In a separate development, four electric Scania trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cell modules are now in operation with Norwegian grocery wholesaler Asko, in a pilot scheme described as the first of its kind by Cummins, the provider of the technology.

Cummins says its acquisition of specialist manufacturer Hydrogenics has allowed it to provide a full product line of hydrogen fuel cell modules under its HyPM brand, with a track record of being successfully integrated into numerous heavy and medium duty trucks and buses worldwide, among other applications.

“We are excited to see these trucks begin operation and are proud to provide marketing-leading solutions to Asko and Scania that support their operational and sustainability goals.” said Amy Adams, vice president for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies at Cummins.

“Our fuel cell power modules are well suited to address Norway’s climate and terrain conditions, and we look forward to obtaining valuable insights from their performance as part of Asko’s fleet.”

The pilot follows Asko’s exploration of alternative fuel and powertrain solutions in a bid to reduce emissions and boost sustainability across its distribution network. The firm identified hydrogen as an appealing zero-emissions option for long-haul electrified transport, with early tests suggesting the technology worked well in colder climates.

The 27-ton trucks’ internal combustion engines have been replaced with an electric engine, powered by fuel cells fed with hydrogen and managed with rechargeable batteries. The lightweight hydrogen storage system, which weighs 33 kilograms, provides the trucks with a 400-500 km range using a single 90 KW high density fuel cell power module.

Cummins says the project will assist Asko in its goals of reducing energy consumption by 20 per cent and becoming a self-sufficient provider of clean energy, using 100 per cent renewable fuel.

“We are happy to have the most competent partners contracted for this project, including Scania for the electric truck, and Cummins/Hydrogenics for the integrated fuel cell and tank system,” added Jørn Arvid Endresen, chief executive officer of Asko Mid Norway.

In terms of electric vehicles, using fuel cells to turn hydrogen into electricity with water vapour as a by-product beats conventional batteries in terms of the range/payload compromise and in refuelling times.

However, the production and storage of hydrogen is a challenging issue. Most commercial hydrogen is currently extracted from hydrocarbon fossil fuels, so it cannot be described as ‘carbon neutral’.

Hydrogen can be extracted from water by electrolysis (in a reversal of the fuel cell process itself), but doing so uses far more electricity than storing the equivalent electrical energy in a battery.

However, fuel cells do not consume the large amounts of rare earth metals and other materials in manufacture that are used to produce batteries for electric vehicles.

In a report released today, the North West Hydrogen Alliance (NWHA) called on government to take urgent action to support the proliferation of hydrogen vehicles once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

This, NWHA says, would capitalise on the ‘green gains’ many areas have experienced during lockdown; and hydrogen investment would help power up the economy as part of the country’s recovery plan, the alliance contends.

“Use of hydrogen vehicles in place of those fuelled by petrol and diesel has the potential to significantly improve air quality on roads,” said NWHA in its Hydrogen Mobility Roadmap report.

“Hydrogen vehicles emit only water vapour and warm air and so widespread adoption would avoid emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates, which can impact on human health.”

NWHA highlighted a range of developments in hydrogen-powered vehicles in the north west of England, where the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and partners Arcola and BOC are rolling out 20 hydrogen buses on routes into central Liverpool.

Meanwhile Storengy of Northwich is working with Cheshire East Council to supply a fleet of hydrogen-fuelled refuse vehicles, and ULEMCo in Aintree has been converting trucks and refuse vehicles to hydrogen or dual-fuel hydrogen-diesel.

NWHA called for the government to set standards for the decarbonisation of HGVs and introduce a subsidy for zero emission vehicles. It suggested an industry consortium could be developed to promote the introduction of hydrogen vehicles to the UK market.

For buses, the alliance advocated the amendment of rules associated with the Bus Service Operators Grant to incentivise hydrogen use.

It added: “The Department for Transport has the power to immediately amend the current guidance to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to provide meaningful, simplified support for renewable hydrogen produced by electrolysis.”

This would contribute to providing: “a clear and strong driver for both manufacturers and fleet operators to take the necessary investment decisions to really kick-start the hydrogen transport revolution.”

NWHA claims its roadmap could cut CO2 emissions by 0.3 million tonnes per year from the transport sector by 2030 in the north west alone.

Professor Joseph Howe, chair of the NWHA and executive director of the Thornton Energy Institute at the University of Chester, said: “Over the past month we have seen that a rapid change in government and individual behaviour is possible, resulting in a significant decrease in our impact on the environment as we slow activity in certain areas.

“We all want life to return to normal as quickly as possible, however there are some valuable lessons which have been learnt during lockdown, and we believe supporting hydrogen fuel is one way of ensuring those lessons are not left behind.

“It isn’t a case of electric versus hydrogen vehicles. Electric cars are likely to dominate, until we have a network of hydrogen refuelling stations, but there are other forms of transport where hydrogen is the better option.

“With longer running distances and faster refuelling, hydrogen is perfect for HGVs and trains. Hydrogen could also fuel buses to help improve air quality in our cities and around our ports when used in the haulage and marine sectors.”