Hydrogen gets a fresh boost as alternative to EVs in Europe
The shortcomings of electric batteries as a power source for both light and heavy commercial vehicles have reanimated European interest in hydrogen as a clean fuel for transport.
Last week (5 May), the European Commission and 20 CEOs of companies that produce hydrogen electrolysers committed to a tenfold increase in electrolyser manufacturing capacities within the European Union by 2025. Their goal is to be able to produce 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen annually by 2030, boosting Europe’s supply of clean energy and reducing its reliance on Russian gas.
The Commission said the move will pave the way for large-scale clean hydrogen production in Europe, which will enable the decarbonisation of transport.
As deadlines rapidly approach in certain countries for bans on the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines powered by petrol or diesel, commercial vehicle fleets face difficult choices. Plug-in vans, especially in the 3.5-tonne sector, do not offer the range between charges that businesses require operationally, especially when loaded with tools and cargo or towing a trailer; take an unprofitable and unproductive length of time to recharge if this has to be done during the working day; and electric vehicles that are available cost close to three times as much as their diesel equivalents.
EVs not always best option
Alison Bell, Operations Director at Venson Automotive Solutions, said: “We believe electric gets more than its fair share of the focus, but it is not the best option for every driver or every fleet.”
She added that hydrogen refuelling infrastructure (in the UK) is a long way behind where it needs to be to establish a 100% fossil-fuel free commercial vehicle sector, but said growing investment in hydrogen hubs was one of the steps that could help fleets to run green and profitable operations.
The Stellantis group of Peugeot, Citroën and Opel has launched a mid-size van powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell, with an official WLTP range of 400km and a refuelling time from empty of just three minutes. The zero-emission vehicle (the hydrogen fuel cell generates its own electricity, with only water as its bi-product) is already in service with Miele, the domestic appliance manufacturer, in Germany, and with energy company Suez in France.
Marcus Lott, Opel’s Head of Development, said: “The new Vivaro-e Hydrogen perfectly meets the requirements of fleet customers. The hydrogen van is the ideal solution for driving long distances with zero-emissions-in-use as well as for transporting larger loads without losing time while charging the batteries.”
Renault, too, has a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle ready for launch in the middle of this year, its Master Van H2-TECH promising 12 cubic metres of cargo volume and a range of up to 500km. Importantly, Renault has also formed a joint venture, called HYVIA, with Plug Power to create a complete hydrogen ecosystem. By the end of this year, HYVIA claims it will be ready to sell, lease or rent hydrogen refueling stations to customers, either generating hydrogen on site through water electrolysis or supplying it in bulk in trailers.
David Holderbach, CEO HYVIA, said the company will be able: “to deploy its ecosystem in all territories and professional fleets for a carbon-free mobility.”
The hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in Europe remains extremely limited, although it is growing, with 158 700-bar stations and 60 350-bar stations. In Germany, H2 MOBILITY already operates over 90 stations and has secured funding to run 300 stations by 2030.
Images: Stellantis and Renault