Hydrogen fuel cell trucking took another step toward commercialization with Daimler Truck AG and Volvo Group creating a joint venture to pursue the technology.
The heavy-duty truck companies said Tuesday the Volvo would contribute the equivalent of
$650 million for a half interest in the new company, which takes over the operations of Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz fuel cell vehicle development and will be based in Germany.
“It is a very positive development and a really strong signal that truck makers/powertrain providers are seriously building the capability to provide zero emissions operations across all operating modes,” said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president and head of trucking programs for Pasadena-based clean transportation non-profit Calstart.
The companies said they are looking for a long-term solution for long-haul trucking that meets the vision of “sustainable transport and a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050.”
But both companies sell trucks in the U.S. Technical advances made by the manufacturer in Europe typically appear in their North American offerings.
Daimler owns the Freightliner and Western Star brands. Volvo has Volvo and Mack trucks. Daimler is launching its eCascadia Freightliner electric truck here using technology from a Mercedes-Benz model developed in Germany. Volvo also is using technology developed in Sweden to launch an electric version of its VNR in the U.S.
Fuel cell technology is seen as a good application for long haul trucks. The vehicles can be fueled rapidly like a diesel truck. Battery-electric trucks take longer to charge. The fuel cell system also is lighter than batteries, avoiding a weight penalty for trucks that need to haul large loads.
“What is emerging, though not absolute, is a sense that urban and regional medium- and heavy-duty transport will likely be battery-electric and longer distance travel may move toward fuel cell electric,” Van Amburg said. “The core powertrains are almost exactly the same – the difference is now to get electricity delivered to the powertrain.”
Toyota, Nikola, Kenworth and others also are developing electric trucks. Toyota is in the process of building 10 prototypes based on two early trucks. The vehicles will go into service later this year hauling freight from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to other points in Southern California.
“For trucks to cope with heavy loads and long distances, fuel cells are one important answer and a technology where Daimler has built up significant expertise through its Mercedes-Benz fuel cell unit over the last two decades,” said Martin Daum, chairman of the board of management of Daimler Truck AG.
He called the venture a “milestone” in developing both fuel cell trucks and buses. Daimler and Volvo also build buses.
“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,” said Martin Lundstedt, Volvo Group’s chief executive. “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.”
But Lundstedt said other companies will also have to push the technology and help develop a hydrogen fueling infrastructure to make fuel cell vehicles viable.
That’s already starting to happen. California is in the initial stages of building a hydrogen fuel station network.
Hyundai is working with a joint venture in Switzerland to build stations for fuel cell trucks that will enter service there later this year. Hyundai plans to build 1,600 fuel cell heavy-duty trucks and has a contract to haul goods for Coop and Migros, Switzerland’s two largest retailers. The retailers will pay for the freight services, creating cash flow that will be used to build the fueling network.
In the U.S., Nikola is marketing all-inclusive leases for fuel cell trucks it plans to start testing in at customer fleets by the end of 2022. Production will come the following year. The lease payments will finance construction of a fueling network. Nikola will start with specific city pairs where it has customers and build out the network as it gets more customers.