Volvo says it has started testing trucks with fuel cells powered by hydrogen

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According to Volvo Trucks, fuel cells for the vehicles will be provided by cellcentric, a joint venture with Daimler Truck that was established in March 2021.
Tomohiro Ohsumi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Volvo Trucks said Monday that it had begun to test vehicles that use “fuel cells powered by hydrogen,” with the Swedish firm claiming their range could extend to as much as 1,000 kilometers, or a little over 621 miles.

In a statement, Gothenburg-headquartered Volvo Trucks said refueling of the vehicles would take under 15 minutes. Customer pilots are set to begin in the next few years, with commercialization “planned for the latter part of this decade.”

Fuel cells for the vehicles will be provided by cellcentric, a joint venture with Daimler Truck that was established in March 2021.

“Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric trucks will be especially suitable for long distances and heavy, energy-demanding assignments,” Roger Alm, president of Volvo Trucks, said.

Alongside hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Volvo Trucks — which is part of the Volvo Group — has also developed battery-electric trucks.

The electrification of long-haul, heavy-duty trucks poses its own unique set of challenges. The International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook for 2021 has described long-haul trucking as needing “advanced technologies for high power charging and/or large batteries.”

Competition within the sector has increased in recent years. Volvo Trucks’ focus on zero-emission technologies will put it in competition with companies like Tesla and JV partner Daimler Truck, which are both developing electric trucks.

Like Volvo Trucks, Daimler Truck is focusing on both battery-electric and hydrogen vehicles.

In an interview with CNBC last year Martin Daum, chairman of the board of management at Daimler Truck, was asked about the debate between battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell.

“We go for both because both … make sense,” he replied, before explaining how different technologies would be appropriate in different scenarios.

“In general, you can say: If you go to city delivery where you need lower amounts of energy in there, you can charge overnight in a depot, then it’s certainly battery electric,” he said.

“But the moment you’re on the road, the moment you go from Stockholm to Barcelona … in my opinion, you need something which you can transport better and where you can refuel better and that is ultimately H2.”

“The ruling is not out, but I think it’s too risky for a company our size to go with just one technology.”

While there is excitement in some quarters about the potential of hydrogen-powered vehicles, there are hurdles when it comes to expanding the sector, a point acknowledged by Volvo Trucks on Monday.

It pointed to challenges including the “large-scale supply of green hydrogen” as well as “the fact that refueling infrastructure for heavy vehicles is yet to be developed.”

Described by the IEA as a “versatile energy carrier,” hydrogen has a diverse range of applications and can be deployed in a wide range of industries.

It can be produced in a number of ways. One method includes using electrolysis, with an electric current splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used in this process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar then some call it “green” or “renewable” hydrogen. Today, the vast majority of hydrogen generation is based on fossil fuels.

Last week, Volvo Construction Equipment, which is also part of the Volvo Group, said it had commenced testing of a “fuel cell articulated hauler prototype.”

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