Soon fleets of hydrogen trucks on the roads?

“Green” heavyweights are an increasingly tangible reality. Switzerland started rolling 36-tonne hydrogen-powered trucks from South Korean automaker Hyundai in July. By the end of the year, 50 trucks of this type will have been put into service.

« We benefit from a good alignment of the planets, explains Lionel French-Keogh, Managing Director of Hyundai France : a client, manager of large food stores and wishing to have a zero emission fleet for well-marked routes between its warehouses; a constructor, ourselves, who master the technology, and a State which was kind enough to finance infrastructure. Switzerland, a state of modest size, is well suited to testing this first fleet of heavyweights, even if Hyundai is already eyeing the side of a big neighbor, Germany.

Asian countries, pioneers

Hydrogen mobility was born in Asia. ” Electricity is expensive in both South Korea and Japan, and these countries are seeking to reduce their dependence on imported oil »Explains Marc-Antoine Eyl-Mazzega, researcher at Ifri, author of a report on the challenge of clean road mobility in Europe. Hence their research on hydrogen.

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Today, Hyundai and the Japanese Toyota are the only manufacturers to offer a model of passenger car running on this technology. Equipped with a fuel cell that transforms hydrogen into electricity, they are a technical alternative to electric vehicles running on batteries only, even if their cost is currently much higher.

Performance equivalent to that of heat engines

Currently, almost 98% of trucks run on diesel. ” Today, 20% of CO emissions2 due to transport come heavy goods, recalls Marc-Antoine Eyl-Mazzega, and road freight is expected to double by 2050. »Besides the fact that it allows you to drive without CO emissions2, hydrogen has the advantages of a range and recharging time almost equivalent to those of a heat engine: essential criteria for transporters, because the immobilization of a truck represents an enormous cost.

Hydrogen vehicles will first equip the “captive” fleets: those always making the same journeys, such as buses, waste collection vehicles and, therefore, trucks. Moreover, and even if manufacturers are continuing their research in this field, the size of a battery for an all-electric truck is currently prohibitive.

A technology still to be perfected

The industrialization of hydrogen trucks nevertheless remains dependent on many factors. First of all, if the major European axes for truck traffic are clearly identified, funding still needs to be found to equip them with recharging infrastructure.

Moreover, as it stands, the technology is beginning to be mastered but is not yet complete. ” A hydrogen engine requires a fuel cell, explains Gaëtan Monnier, from the French Institute of Petroleum, New Energies (IFPEN), but also an electric battery. The battery and battery sizes may vary, depending on the intended uses of the vehicle, but also their cost. If ever the price of batteries were to fall more sharply than that of the battery, it would slow down the diffusion of the technology. »

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Believing that there is also a lack of perspective on the reliability of the battery in the long term, Gaëtan Monnier warns against fad effects. If hydrogen enjoys strong support from the public authorities as part of the recovery plan, it should not, according to him, “Slow down the investments required in interesting transitional solutions, such as biofuels or natural gas ».

A gradual extension

The diffusion of the technology will therefore be slow, even if the French manufacturers have themselves announced the delivery of hydrogen vans in the next two years. In the transports, ” the automobile will benefit by the windfall effect of hydrogen, foresees Jean-Luc Brossard, research and development director of the Automotive Platform (PFA), after the railway or aeronautics have been studied ».

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In France, it is estimated that 30% of the fleet will run on electricity – with batteries alone or fuel cell – from the 2030s. « It is only from this period that the costs, thanks to the volumes, will have significantly decreased. », Predicts Jean-Luc Brossard. French equipment manufacturers are investing, including Michelin and Faurecia, partners in fuel cells, ET Plastic Omnium, a world-class nugget in hydrogen tanks.

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Trains too

Work on a hydrogen gas station began Monday, October 26, near Frankfurt in Germany. It will be intended for the 27 fuel cell trains that Alstom is due to deliver by mid-2022. They will replace diesel trains and have a range of 1,000 kilometers.

The network operator, Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV), is one of the largest German transport networks, covering almost two-thirds of the Land of Hesse, which helps finance the infrastructure. Infraserv Höchst, which operates an industrial park serving the chemical industries, is responsible for the construction and operation of the refueling station.

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