Volvo’s commercial truck division is testing hydrogen fuel cell semi-trucks in hopes of staying ahead of maturing technology. Using fuel cells built by CellCentric, a joint venture between Volvo and Daimler Truck Automotive Group, Volvo claims its trucks have a range of 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles) and can be refueled in less than 15 minutes.
Volvo Trucks “has been developing this technology for several years now,” the company’s president Roger Alm said in a statement this week. Hydrogen fuel cells will be suitable for long-haul transportation and could operate in countries with limited battery charging infrastructure, Alm said. The company started building battery-electric trucks in 2018, but they are still not widely used in the US. Now with hydrogen fuel cell trucks, Alm expects growth in the supply of clean hydrogen in the coming years.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and battery powered electric vehicles (BEV) are similar in that they are both powered by an electric motor, but the former generates its electricity from the compressed hydrogen it carries, while the latter stores electricity generated by the local grid. Both technologies are emission-free “at the tailpipe”, meaning they do not emit carbon in motion. But significant emissions can be released depending on the method of transporting hydrogen gas to stations, while BEVs are only as clean as the electrical grid it relies on – which can range from green sources like solar power or dirty sources like coal.
A hurdle for vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells remains the scarce availability of filling stations. Currently, there are less than 60 stations operational in the US, and they are all located in California. And according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership website, the number of hydrogen refueling stations will increase to just over 100 locations by mid-2023.
The most viable use case for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is commercial freight. With Volvo’s new truck, the company joins automakers such as Toyota, who are pioneering the technology in commercial and passenger applications, as well as GM, which is partnering with Navistar on a half-kilometre stretch of more than 500 miles and is also using the technology. to build mobile power plants.