While the world battles to contain the spread of Coronavirus, let us not forget that we are facing another global survival challenge that, perhaps understandably in the face of the current crisis, has taken a temporary backseat to the COVID-19 pandemic. I refer to climate change. This is as big a challenge to our survival as is COVID-19. It thus comes as good news that major commercial vehicle players are putting massive effort into fuel cell technology as a means of achieving a carbon neutral future by 2050.
In Japan, Hino and Toyota are determined to continue being proactive in developments that will resolve the current global environmental issues. Hino’s Environmental Challenge 2050, which was announced in 2017, includes the aim of cutting the average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new trucks and buses by 90% from the levels in 2013.
While there is a swing towards electrification for many forms of transportation, Toyota Motor Corporation is continuing to develop hydrogen fuel cell vehicles while also bringing Toyota Group electric vehicles to market. One of the company’s latest fuel cell projects is a joint venture between Toyota and its wholly owned, truck-making subsidiary, Hino, to develop a heavy duty fuel cell truck.
Toyota and Hino have positioned hydrogen as an important energy source for the future and have worked together on developing fuel cell technologies for more than 15 years, since their joint demonstration of a fuel cell bus in 2003. Hino and Toyota will continue to partner each other to accelerate efforts towards the realisation of an environmentally friendly hydrogen society.
The Hino heavy duty truck model on which the new development is based is a 700-Series freight carrier. It is fitted with a large capacity high pressure hydrogen tank that will provide a range of about 600 km on an integrated city and highway driving cycle. This makes it ideal for long distance transport where operators require a relatively long range between refuelling stops and the ability to refuel the truck quickly. Fuel cell trucks running on hydrogen meet these requirements with zero emissions.
The development truck uses two of Toyota’s polymer electrolyte fuel cell stacks that were developed for the recently unveiled Mirai passenger car. Electricity is stored in lithium ion batteries and drive to the rear wheels is by means of a powerful alternating current (AC) electric motor. A comprehensive weight reduction programme has been undertaken to ensure sufficient load capacity.
Hino’s internal research has shown that heavy duty trucks account for more than 60% of CO2 emissions from commercial vehicles operating in Japan, so this has spurred on this joint venture with Toyota.
JV between Volvo Group and Daimler Truck AG
Many thousands of miles away, the big news from Europe is that Daimler Truck AG and the Volvo Group have signed a preliminary non-binding agreement to establish a new joint venture with the intention being to develop, produce and commercialize fuel cell systems for heavy-duty vehicle applications and other use cases. This is in line with the Green Deal vision of sustainable transport and a carbon neutral Europe by 2050
Daimler will consolidate all its current fuel cell activities in the joint venture. The Volvo Group will acquire 50% in the joint venture.
“Truly CO2-neutral transport can be accomplished through electric drive trains with energy coming either from batteries or by converting hydrogen on board into electricity. For trucks to cope with heavy loads and long distances, fuel cells are one important answer and a technology where Daimler has built up significant expertise through its Mercedes-Benz fuel cell unit over the last two decades. This joint initiative with the Volvo Group is a milestone in bringing fuel cell powered trucks and buses onto our roads,” says Martin Daum, Chairman of the Board of Management Daimler Truck AG and member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG.
Martin Lundstedt, Volvo Group President and CEO says electrification of road transport is a key element in delivering the so called Green Deal, a carbon neutral Europe and ultimately a carbon neutral world. “Using hydrogen as a carrier of green electricity to power electric trucks in long-haul operations is one important part of the puzzle and a complement to battery electric vehicles and renewable fuels.
“Combining the Volvo Group and Daimler’s experience in this area to accelerate the rate of development is good both for our customers and for society as a whole. By forming this joint venture, we are clearly showing that we believe in hydrogen fuel cells for commercial vehicles. But for this vision to become reality, other companies and institutions also need to support and contribute to this development, not least in order to establish the fuel infrastructure needed,” says Lundstedt.
The Volvo Group and Daimler Truck AG will be 50/50 partners in the joint venture, which will operate as an independent and autonomous entity, with Daimler Truck AG and the Volvo Group continuing to be competitors in all other areas of business.
Joining forces will decrease development costs for both companies and accelerate the market introduction of fuel cell systems in products used for heavy-duty transport and long-haul applications. In the context of the current economic downturn, cooperation has become even more necessary in order to meet the Green Deal objectives within a feasible time-frame.
The common goal is for both companies to offer heavy-duty vehicles with fuel cells for long-haul applications in series production in the second half of the decade. In addition, other automotive and non-automotive use cases are also part of the new joint venture’s scope.
The signed preliminary agreement is non-binding. A final agreement is expected by Q3 and closing before year-end 2020. All potential transactions are subject to examination and approval by the responsible competition authorities.
May the drive towards solving the current global environmental issues be tackled with the same gusto as is being thrown into fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for truly, climate change is a dire threat to mankind.
Facts: Fuel cells and hydrogen as fuel
A hydrogen fuel cell converts the chemical energy of the fuel, in this case hydrogen, and oxygen (in the air) into electricity. The electricity powers the electrical motors that propel an electrical vehicle. There are two main ways to produce the hydrogen needed. So-called green hydrogen can be produced locally at the filling station using electricity to convert water into hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is expected to be produced from natural gas, utilizing carbon capture technology to create a carbon neutral fuel.