Competitors Volvo AB and Daimler Trucks are teaming up to produce hydrogen fuel cells for long-haul trucks, which the companies say will lower development costs and increase production volumes. The joint venture, called cellcentric, aims to bring large-scale “gigafactory” production levels of hydrogen fuel cells to Europe by 2025.
As the two companies team up to produce the fuel cells through the cell-centric business, all other aspects of truck production will remain separate. The location of the next gigafactory will be announced next year. The companies did not specify the production capacity of the future plant either.
Even though Volvo AB and Daimler Trucks used ambitious signage terms such as “gigafactory” – a term popularized by Tesla because of the gigantic capacity of its factories – the executives added a few caveats about their goal. The European hydrogen economy will depend in part on the European Union’s ability to produce a policy framework that further cuts costs and invests in refueling stations and other infrastructure, the leaders noted during a briefing. In other words, manufacturers like Daimler and Volvo looking to invest in hydrogen face the ‘chicken and egg’ problem: boosting fuel cell production only makes sense. whether this happens in parallel with the construction of a hydrogen network, including pipeline refueling stations to transport hydrogen and renewable energy resources to produce it.
“In the long run, I mean, it has to be a business like everything else,” Volvo CTO Lars Stenqvist told TechCrunch. “But in the first wave, there has to be the support of our politicians.”
Together with other European truck manufacturers, the two companies are calling for the construction of hydrogen refueling stations in Europe of around 300 by 2025 and around 1,000 by 2030.
Swedish and German automakers have suggested that policies such as a carbon tax, incentives for CO2-neutral technologies or an emissions trading scheme could all help ensure cost competitiveness relative to the market. to fossil fuels. Heavy trucking will only account for a fraction of hydrogen demand, around 10%, Stenqvist pointed out, with the remainder being used by industries such as steelmaking and the chemical industry. This means that pressure for hydrogen-friendly policies is likely to be heard from other sectors as well.
One of the biggest challenges for the new venture will be reducing the inefficiencies associated with converting hydrogen to electricity. “It’s the heart of engineering in trucking, to improve vehicle fuel efficiency,” Stenqvist said. “It has always been in the DNA of engineers in our industry… energy efficiency will be even more important in an electrified world.” He estimated that the cost of hydrogen should be in the range of $ 3-4 per kilogram to make it a cost-effective alternative to diesel.
Volvo is also investing in battery-powered electric technologies and Stenqvist said it sees potential use cases for internal combustion engines (ICE) running on renewable biofuels. He agrees with Bosch executives who said earlier this month that they see a place for ICE in the future. “I am also convinced that there is a place for combustion engines for a long time, I do not see an end, I do not see any withdrawal date for combustion engines,” he said.
“From a political point of view, I think it would be completely wrong to ban a technology. Politicians shouldn’t ban – shouldn’t endorse technology – they should point the way, they should talk about what they want to achieve. And then it’s up to us as engineers to find the technical solutions. “