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Monday, August 2, 2021
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Cellcentric: Daimler and Volvo ready for hydrogen fusion

Two of the industry’s biggest heavyweights discuss why they are working together on fuels using the lightest element

Cellcentric, a company formed by two of the undisputed heavyweights of the commercial vehicles industry – Daimler Truck AG and Volvo Group – finally received its global launch last month. Fusing together the two fierce competitors to focus on hydrogen-based fuel cells for long-haul trucks is no small undertaking. However, with the legal and structural work now behind them, Martin Daum, CEO of Daimler Truck AG, and Martin Lundstedt, CEO of Volvo Group are ready to talk on why Cellcentric will become a leading global manufacturer of fuel-cell systems, starting with the construction of one of Europe’s largest planned series production of fuel-cell systems.

That plant’s operation is planned to start production in 2025 but both men agree that to accelerate the rollout of hydrogen-based fuel-cells there needs to be a harmonised EU hydrogen policy framework to support the technology in becoming a viable commercial solution.

In short, they want the bloc to help put 300 high-performance hydrogen refuelling stations suitable for heavy-duty vehicles on highways by 2025 with that number ramping up to around 1,000 hydrogen refuelling stations “no later than 2030” across Europe. Their argument is that by using hydrogen as a carrier of green electricity to power electric trucks in long-haul operations, is one important part of decarbonising of road transport.

“Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric trucks will be key for enabling CO2-neutral transportation in the future. In combination with pure battery-electric drives, it enables us to offer our customers the best genuinely locally CO2-neutral vehicle options, depending on the application. Battery-electric trucks alone will not make this possible,” says Daum. “Together with our partner Volvo Group, we are therefore fully committed to our fuel-cell joint venture cellcentric and we are both pushing forward the development of the technology as well as the series production preparations. Regarding the necessary hydrogen infrastructure, it is clear that green hydrogen is the only sensible way forward in the long term.

For decades, the European truck manufacturers have had been set targets by the EU on its emissions. This is in turn has loaded on development costs and skewed planning for the new truck generations. They have also seen initiatives, such as biodiesel, wax and wane in that time as policies and politicians change. Even if it is designed to steer discussion at the very highest levels while leaning on their status of huge employers and industrial engines in the EU, Cellcentric’s focus on the state-of-the-art technology to get the fuel into the market is about as near to a disrupter as the two giant organisations can get.

“Our united ambition is to meet the targets in the Paris agreement of becoming CO2-neutral by 2050 at the latest,” says Lundstedt. “We are convinced that hydrogen fuel-cell technology plays an essential role in helping us reach that milestone. But we know there is so much more to achieve than just the electrification of machines and vehicles. There needs to be greater cooperation between public and private stakeholders to develop the necessary technology and infrastructure, which is why we are calling for united action from policymakers and governments around the world in helping us make hydrogen fuel-cell technology a success. Partnerships like cellcentric are vital to our commitment to decarbonising road transport.”

Daum adds: “When you start working together you have discussions about solutions and who should do what. You start to talk about what you should do together with your capabilities. We have a fantastic set of people competences to really develop a fuel cell stacks that are competitive. We are up and running and we are building on a lot of work that has already been done.”

While hydrogen fuel-cell technology remains further in the distance than say, the hybrid and electric vehicles that are emerging on the market, they share the commercial challenge of proving they can be affordable for fleets.

“We are reducing the cost as we speak; step-by-step in a very concrete roadmap so we can see the cost parity with both the scaling of volumes and engineering. We are also working on pre-series production in Essling and Stuttgart,” explains Lundstedt before revealing that Daimler, Volvo and Renault fleet customers will be approached for trials in the next three years as the production plant comes on-stream.

“It will be a large, Gigafactory. Serial production will be in 2025. The location to be announced in 2022.”

Daum and Lundstedt frequently mention the word investment and the plant represents a bold and risky pay out for a technology that remains someway behind the electric, ion-based battery drives in both political and public minds. Lundstedt argues that there is a place for both and stresses that it will be essential if the EU and other governments are serious about reaching the climate goals set out in the Paris agreement.

Lundstedt says that it is not enough to continue to only invest in more research in developing lighter, smaller electric vehicle batteries and fast charging systems.

“We are seeing the two tracks obviously with two different contents. Of course, fast charging (for instance) is very important, and we will continue to drive in the eco-system. But in the long run to get these millions of tonnes kilometres every year, all over the place and in all applications, we are going to need hydrogen. It is a contender for renewable energy generation and our conviction is that we need the two of them. Fuel cells have an advantage in certain applications and electric battery vehicles have advantages in others. Both will play a very important role.”

“In the next two or three years, clearly it will be battery electric (leading the way),” adds Daum. “But then we are talking 10,000 trucks on the road. In this small volume battery electric is certainly more viable. When we are looking at the end of the decade and especially the time after 2030 and going up to 2035 we need a second source. We don’t have a revolutionary breakthrough on battery technology. We don’t have an idea of what a green power network grid is going to look like.

“I also absolutely see the price of the fuel cell being lower than today’s battery packs. Or even tomorrow’s battery packs will be the same price.”

For full coverage of the Cellcentric launch read June’s issue of Truck&Fleet Middle East magazine. 

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Stephen Whitehttps://truckandfleetme.com/
Stephen White was formerly editor of Big Project ME.
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