As the commercial vehicle industry turns increasingly to electrification, Volvo Trucks is progressing a different form of zero-emissions transport in the form of hydrogen fuel cells.
The Swedish manufacturer has started to test tractor units using the technology, with the aim of vehicles going on sale in the second half of this decade.
The only emission produced by hydrogen fuel cells is water vapour. The two fuel cell units mounted in the test trucks generate 300kW of electricity and Volvo says its trucks will be able to offer a capacity of 65 tonnes or even higher and an operational range comparable to diesel trucks of up to 1,000km (620 miles), with refuelling taking less than 15 minutes.
The fuel cells are being developed by cellcentric, a joint venture between Volvo and rival commercial vehicle manufacturer Daimler Truck AG. Cellcentric plans one of Europe’s largest production facilities for fuel cells specifically designed for use in heavy vehicles.
The fuel-cell vehicles will be the third emissions-reducing technology introduced to the Volvo line-up, which already includes battery-electric and biogas vehicles.
Volvo admits that fuel cell technology for use in trucks is still at an early stage of development with several challenges to overcome. Among the most pertinent will be securing a large-scale supply of green hydrogen – produced using renewable sources such as wind, solar or water power – and developing the infrastructure required to refuel fuel-cell trucks.
However Roger Alm, president of Volvo Trucks, expects supplies of green hydrogen to increase significantly in the next few years due to many industries relying on the technology to reduce their CO2 emissions. “We cannot wait to decarbonize transport, we are already running late,” he says.
“My clear message to all transport companies is to start the journey today with battery electric, biogas and the other options available. The fuel cell trucks will then be an important complement for longer and heavier transports in a few years from now,” Alm adds.
He believes hydrogen fuel cells will fulfil a particular need; “Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric trucks will be especially suitable for long distances and heavy, energy-demanding assignments. They could also be an option in countries where battery charging possibilities are limited.”