New Fuel Cell Electric Truck Gets A Big Thumbs-Up

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The battle between batteries and fuel cells is heating up to the boiling point, but Daimler Truck, for one, is not picking sides. The A-list European battery-electric truck maker has put its foot down firmly in the middle. Exhibit A is the company’s new Mercedes-Benz GenH2 hydrogen fuel cell truck. The new truck is aimed at operations that are less than optimal for battery-electric trucks, and five leading stakeholders have already signed up to give it a whirl.

Daimler Truck Likes Batteries and Fuel Cells, Too

For the record, Daimler Truck is new to the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The company separated from Daimler in 2021. In February of 2022 Daimler rebranded itself as the new Mercedes-Benz Group to focus on building the most desirable cars in the world (their words), while Daimler Truck is still keeping its eyes on, well, trucks. As part of the deal, the Mercedes-Benz brand still appears on trucks under the umbrella of Daimler Truck.

Got all that? Good! In its former life Daimler Truck made a firm commitment to battery-electric trucks, and that has continued. In October 10 the company doubled down on its battery-powered portfolio with the launch of the new long haul, heavy duty battery-electric eActros 600 truck, slated for production around the end of next year.

When Daimler Truck announced the aActros 600 launch, they stated that the new truck would replace “the majority of diesel trucks in the segment over the long term” with a 500-kilometer range and a payload of about 22 tons.

That seems to fit the profile of a long haul, heavy duty hydrogen fuel cell truck, leading one to wonder why Daimler Truck decided to move forward with the GenH2 fuel cell truck just two months after announcing the aActros 600.

Nevertheless, they are, and they have reasons.

“Battery-electric trucks are the ideal choice for distribution haulage and in the case of the eActros 600, for long-distance haulage with regular deployment on plannable routes with suitable distances and charging options,” Daimler Truck stated in a press release dated December 19.

“However, fuel-cell trucks could be a better solution especially for very flexible and particularly demanding deployments in heavy-duty transport and long-distance haulage,” Daimler Truck said in the next breath.

In the same press release, Daimler Truck also made a point about deploying both batteries and fuel cells to push the demand for electricity from renewable resources, stating that “the availability of appropriate infrastructure and sufficient green electricity are crucial for a successful transition to CO2-free technologies.”

“Daimler Truck is convinced that rapid and cost-improved coverage of this energy demand can only be achieved with both technologies,” the company emphasized.

In terms of green electricity, the vision of a symbiotic relationship between batteries and fuel cells may seem counterintuitive. As a matter of fact it does not make much sense, if any, under a conventional hydrogen supply chain that relies on natural gas. However, Daimler is apparently thinking of the emerging green hydrogen industry, which depends on electricity generated by wind, solar, and other renewables.

Freight Haulers To Test Liquid Hydrogen Fuel Cells

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread. Meanwhile, Daimler Truck is forging ahead with the new Mercedes-Benz GenH2 fuel cell truck. The December 19 announcement describes plans for five semi-trailer tractors to ply pre-planned routes in Germany beginning around the middle of 2024.

Amazon, Air Products, INEOS, Holcim, and Wiedmann & Winz have signed on to use the new trucks on a trial basis.

“The vehicles will be refueled at designated public liquid hydrogen filling stations (sLH2) in Wörth am Rhein and in the Duisburg area. Daimler Truck and its partner companies are thus creating a lighthouse project and demonstrating that decarbonized transport with hydrogen-powered trucks is already possible today,” the company explains, though it advises that scaling up to a full-on commercial enterprise would require more fuel stations and more green hydrogen.

Putting The New Fuel Cell Truck Through Its Paces

The trial run is designed to assess the performance of fuel cell technology in different use cases. Some of the five participating firms also seem interested in comparing the new fuel cell truck with their battery-electric truck experiences.

Holcim’s Gerdes + Landwehr branch, for example, will use the GenH2 to transport building materials in the form of granulates and minerals. “After extensive tests with battery-electric trucks, we are delighted to continue exploring the path towards sustainable transport with a hydrogen-powered truck,” said G+L head John H. Landwehr.

Similarly, Wiedmann & Winz have started using an eActros 300 electric semi for daily operations. “Now we are looking forward to taking the next step with the GenH2 Truck, testing a long-haul truck with hydrogen fuel-cell drive,” they stated.

Amazon is another company with a strong footprint in the battery-electric vehicle field, but it has also begun expanding its horizons into green hydrogen as part of its 2040 carbon neutral commitment. “We look forward to participating in this pilot project and learning from it,” Amazon explains.

Air Products represents a different outlook. As a leading hydrogen stakeholder, they have already laid plans to convert their entire fleet to hydrogen. The company expects that the trial run will inform its industrial gas transportation operations moving forward.

INEOS is another leading hydrogen stakeholder, and they also anticipate that the liquid hydrogen factor will place them in the vanguard of the fuel cell truck field. “Powering heavy trucks on liquid hydrogen is a revolutionary and vital step forward,” INEOS emphasized.

More Green Liquid Hydrogen For Fuel Cell Trucks

If you caught that thing about public liquid hydrogen filling stations, that’s an interesting twist. Figuring out how to store hydrogen in a moving vehicle has been one of the key challenges for fans of fuel cell technology. So far much of the activity has centered on compressed hydrogen gas. Liquid hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles is a new thing, but it appears to be catching on quickly.

Range is a key selling point for the GenH2 fuel cell truck, and Daimler Truck is depending on liquid hydrogen to deliver 1,000 kilometers or more on a single fillup. “This makes the truck suitable for flexible and demanding applications, especially in the important segment of heavy-duty long-haul transport,” Daum explained in an interview with The Hydrogen Council, an organization of which Daimler Truck is a founding member.

“We clearly prefer liquid hydrogen in the development of hydrogen-based drive,” Daum stated emphatically. “Liquid hydrogen has a higher energy density than gaseous hydrogen. As a result, more hydrogen can be carried, which significantly increases the range and enables a vehicle performance on eye level with a diesel truck.”

As for increasing the supply of green hydrogen, Daum notes that pouring investor dollars into new green hydrogen projects is all well and good, but money alone is not enough.

“We see new announcements of significant investments into hydrogen almost every day – but we need more to enable an era of renewable energies with green hydrogen,” Daum said. “Alongside we also need a practicable and supportive regulatory framework for producing green hydrogen, transporting and distributing it.”

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Post, and LinkedIn.

Image: New Mercedes-Benz GenH2 fuel cell truck runs on liquid hydrogen (courtesy of Daimler Truck).


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