Air QualityEnvironment & ClimateFossil Fuels

Has the time come for heavy duty & industrial vehicles to adapt to hydrogen power?

By June 2, 2020 No Comments

Hydrogen fuel cells have become a buzz word as one of the zero emissions future options for the automotive industry, with manufacturers & advancements in technology gaining considerable traction in recent years.

Despite the inherent issues with hydrogen fuelling infrastructure’s, across the globe more & more industrial companies are spear heading the need & the availability for hydrogen fuel as a clean & zero emissions alternative to traditional fossil based fuels & presenting another alternative to electrification & hybrids.

‘When hydrogen is burnt, only water is released, making hydrogen potentially the cleanest road transport fuel available. However, when burnt in conjunction with (even) small amounts of fossil fuel in an ICE, high temperatures can result in NOx emissions being produced, along with very small amounts of hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide. However, its tailpipe emissions will still be much lower than a conventional diesel van – the ULEMCo duel fuel Ford Transit conversion for example produced 40% less nitrous oxide than a conventional diesel van’(1)

In light of the uptake & interest in hydrogen fuel cell technologies, manufacturers & policy makers now face the same issues as they did when the EV market took off, namely ensuring that the innovative products they are producing, have the fuelling infrastructure to support them.

The EV charging market is still behind with the expectations & needs of the EV’s already on the roads. ‘Based upon assumptions and findings from the Fuelling Europe’s Future (FEF) II by Cambridge Econometrics, the total cumulative costs for public charging infrastructures is estimated to be €12 billion with about €20 billion investment needed for private charging by 2030 (62% of all infrastructure costs)’ (2)

But how does this affect the innovations across the network of industrial hydrogen machinery manufacturers, manufacturers of heavy-duty trucks, haulage, industrial machinery & trains?

The EU has mandated that from 2025, heavy-duty vehicles will have to emit 15 per cent less CO2, rising to 30 per cent from 2030. The organisation adds that as a first step, the CO2 emission standards will cover large lorries, which account for 65-to-70 per cent of all CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles. In the UK, the government’s Road to Zero Strategy is driving the transition to zero emissions across all vehicle types for public, commercial and private transport. (3)

Nikola Motor Company, one of the innovators of the hydrogen truck market has already launched three haulage models in their zero emissions range in North America.

The Nikola One is a fully hydrogen semi sleeper, Nikola Two a fully-electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric day cab semi-truck & the Nikola Tre a fully-electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric cabover semi-truck (4)

The Nikola TRE, the latest in the Nikola Motor Company line, has been developed in collaboration with IVECO & FPT, the commercial vehicle and powertrain brands of CNH Industrial N.V. The Nikola TRE will be built at the IVECO manufacturing plant in Ulm, Germany. ‘The Nikola TRE is a fully zero emissions battery electric vehicle (BEV) heavy duty truck, which is the first step towards the fuel-cell electric (FCEV) model.’ (5)

With an estimated range of 500-750 miles (1,200+km) between re-fuelling, the Nikola TRE truck can travel as far as diesels & more than twice the distance of comparable battery only vehicles. The Nikola TRE also uses hydrogen made from a variety of renewable sources & due to the lack of weight in the hydrogen tanks; the vehicles efficiency is improved in comparison to the weightier batteries in an EV alternative.

Furthermore, not only have the Nikola Motor Company developed a full fleet of hydrogen powered vehicles, but they have already begun the necessary outlay to ensure enough H2 fuelling stations exists for their trucks. (Currently available in North America)

Further afield & with a more industrial application, China have recently completed their hydrogen-lithium battery hybrid 200 tonne mining truck.

The Weichai Power & CRRC Yongji mining hydrogen-lithium hybrid truck is not only a great environmental addition to their range, but also (claims the manufacturers) is more cost effective than the traditional diesel engine alternatives.

‘Based on 45 round trips per vehicle per day, a vehicle can save 20 t of fuel per day, which is equivalent to saving 21,739 litres of diesel (1 litre equals 0.92 kg). Calculated on the basis of saving one litre of diesel and reducing 2.63 kg of carbon dioxide, it is equivalent to reducing 57,174 kg of carbon dioxide emissions (about 57 t) per vehicle per day, so has a significant energy saving effect.’ (6)

Dolphin N2 has recently been exploring the zero emissions commuter options available to those who are returning to work during the Covid19 UK recovery. However, as has been proved, public transport is still running at considerably lesser rate than ever before, with those who are returning to work choosing to use their own modes of transport.

However, it does not stop public transport vehicle manufacturers & pioneers from altering their development pathways.

Dolphin N2 have already explored how the Hydrogen bus is being introduced across the UK, but what about the train networks?

It is yet again a question of infrastructure. With many of the UK’s existing train network infrastructures still needing upgrading to cleaner electrification capabilities; the idea of trying to introduce a hydrogen model is some way off.

However, French company Alstom have recently completed tests on their hydrogen passenger train the Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell train, on 65 kilometres of line between Groningen and Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands.

‘The Coradia iLint is the world’s first regional passenger train to enter service equipped with fuel cells to convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, thus eliminating pollutant emissions related to propulsion. The completely train is quiet, & its only emission is water. Purpose-built for use on non-electrified lines, it provides clean, sustainable traction with no sacrifice in performance. It has a range of approximately 1000 kilometres – the same as equivalent-size diesel multiple units.’ (7)

Hydrogen as a sustainable, renewable & efficient fuel for energy & automotive applications is certainly proving to be a front runner to add to the zero emissions developments across the globe. Despite the initial processing & extraction of the hydrogen from oxygen, the burning process only emits water & is therefore, working entirely independent of hybrid fossil fuel back up; hydrogen is one of the cleanest fuels for on road vehicle applications thus far.

Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2