FRANKFURT: South Korea’s Hyundai Motor plans to ship a new series of fuel cell trucks to Europe later this year, stepping up the pressure on rivals in a battle to test the viability of transporting heavy-duty hydrogen-powered cargo.
A new class of Hyundai Xcient trucks, equipped with more efficient fuel cells with a longer lifespan, is expected to arrive in Europe in the fourth quarter, said Mark Freymueller, CEO of Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility (HHM).
Hydrogen lags behind electric batteries in green transportation issues because it is more expensive, but proponents say that for long-haul transportation, hydrogen trucks have the advantage because they have a greater autonomy.
HHM, a joint venture between Hyundai and Swiss hydrogen company H2 Energy, has been leasing “green” hydrogen trucks to commercial customers in Switzerland since last October as part of the world’s most advanced pilot project in the field.
HHM plans to visit other European countries next year. “Germany and the Netherlands are the most likely,” Freymueller told Reuters, adding that there was also interest in pilots from Austria, Norway, France, Italy, Spain and Denmark.
Hyundai’s latest push will put more pressure on local players, who are developing their own hydrogen plans.
These include Germany’s Daimler with Swedish Volvo and Italian Iveco, a unit of Italian-American manufacturer CNH Industrial, which cooperates with low-emission truck maker Nikola.
Hydrogen has become in the spotlight in Europe, where EU environment ministers want CO2 emissions from trucks to be cut by a third by 2030 from 2019 levels, threatening to possible diesel bans and higher taxes, but promising up to 75% reduction in road tolls for greener vehicles.
Although more expensive than battery electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles driven by on-board hydrogen will potentially benefit from Europe’s desire to build a leading industry around hydrogen technology. .
A study by consulting firm Berylls Strategy Advisors estimates that by 2030, 25% of new truck sales in Europe will be battery powered and 10% fuel cell powered. But the report could change if green hydrogen were stepped up, he said.
Hyundai chose Switzerland for its pilot project on the basis of benign regulations, environmentally conscious customers and reliable hydropower, which accounts for 58% of the country’s energy mix. The local road tax is removed for carbon-free vehicles, while fossil fuel vehicles pay around 800 euros ($ 977) for each tonne of CO2 they emit.
“Anyone who wants to see how fuel cell technology works on the road should go to Switzerland,” said Steffen Stumpp, head of the commercial vehicles business unit at Berylls.
Early customer feedback on Hyundai’s pay-as-you-go pilot seems positive. The drivers of the Coop grocery chain like the payload similar to diesel trucks and with just a few minutes of refueling, a spokesperson said.
“There was no need to change my driving style,” said Nadine Sigrist, a driver for the Migros retailer in the Zurich area. “What was new to me was the tremendous acceleration and the quiet engine.”
As new Hyundai trucks arrive, Swiss power company Alpiq plans to increase its electrolysis capacity in Niedergoesgen, where it produces green hydrogen which is then transported on trucks as gasoline to stations- service.
“We will go from 2 megawatts in the direction of double digits, or 5 to 10 megawatts,” said Amedee Murisier, head of hydropower generation at Alpiq and member of the board of directors of Hydrospider, a Swiss joint venture of green hydrogen enters Alpiq, the Linde gas group. and H2 Energy.
The hydrospider could break even as early as 2022, Murisier said.
BATTERY VS FUEL BATTERIES
McKinsey expects hydrogen for fuel cell electric vehicles to break even with diesel only in 2028 at the earliest, but automakers are moving ahead with their plans, albeit at different speeds.
Nikola and Iveco say they will produce a fuel cell electric vehicle by 2023, which will give them two years ahead of Volvo and Daimler Truck, which are beefing up but will not have test trucks for three. years and a half.
In addition, the subsidiary of the Daimler group, Mercedes Benz, will prepare customer tests for its GenH2 truck in 2023.
“Nikola’s schedule is significantly ahead of Daimler / Volvo,” Stumpp said. “Hyundai will be neck and neck with Nikola / Iveco if they bring the Xcient to other European markets.”
Martin Daum, managing director of Daimler Truck, said a hydrogen refueling network must first be in place before fuel cell trucks find buyers, which would take years to develop, from so that they were timing their trips according to the infrastructure.
Truckmaker Paccar’s DAF is also in the game, but its focus is battery-electric vehicles, where Nikola is also active and expects to enter the market in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Other companies have also chosen to put fuel cell technology on the back burner.
Traton, Volkswagen’s truck division, recently said that only the battery route was chosen by its MAN and Scania units.
“Hydrogen trucks have a decisive drawback. Only a quarter of the initial energy is used for propulsion, three quarters is lost by conversion, ”wrote Matthias Gruendler, CEO of Traton, and alternative transmission specialist Andreas Kammel in a column in Handelsblatt.
“With electric trucks, the ratio is the reverse,” they said.
Traton left the door ajar by increasing its investment in truck maker Navistar, which develops fuel cells in the Americas.
On the automotive supply front, companies are hedging their bets.
Bosch, a fuel cell developer, has entered into a joint venture with China’s Qingling Motors to deliver fuel cell systems by 2022/2023.
Elringklinger and Mahle are also working on fuel cell technology.
U.S. engine maker Cummins, which is due to start building a fuel cell systems plant in Herten, Germany later this year, sees no conflict.
“Fuel cells will complement the battery electric vehicle (BEV) system in places where energy storage, range, weight and power requirements cannot be met by batteries alone,” said Amy Davis, president of New Power at Cummins.
“This is why we are investing in electric vehicle powertrain components, because we believe these will also mature and be critical to both fuel cells and batteries.
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(Reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt and John Revill in Zurich; additional reporting by Nick Carey in London. Editing by Jane Merriman)