Hydrogen-powered heavy trucks capable of driving long distances are likely to reach a tipping point towards the end of the decade, according to the heads of the world’s two biggest truckmakers.

Martin Daum, chair of industry leader Daimler Truck, told the Financial Times that while diesel trucks would dominate sales for the next three to four years, hydrogen would take off as fuel between 2027 and 2030 before going “steeply up”.

Martin Lundstedt, chief executive of Volvo Group, which has just bought into a hydrogen joint venture with Daimler, said that after fuel-cell production started in 2025 there would be a “much steeper ramp-up” towards the end of the decade.

The Swedish truckmaker is aiming for half its European sales in 2030 to be trucks powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, while both groups want to be fully zero emissions by 2040.

Daimler Truck’s Martin Daum, left, and Volvo’s Martin Lundstedt © Daimler AG

The German and Swedish groups’ joint venture, Cellcentric, will start fuel cell production in 2025. Both truckmakers will use electric batteries predominantly for smaller trucks as well as heavier vehicles based in one place that can recharge overnight.

But hydrogen is viewed as essential for the long-distance, heavy trucks that criss-cross Europe, the US and other parts of the world delivering goods to multiple destinations and where refuelling stops need to be as short as possible.

Daum, who predicted the split between hydrogen and battery sales would end up being about 50-50, said that to move “40 tonnes up a hill you need an enormous amount of energy” and that after diesel, the most efficient fuel for such tasks, hydrogen was the best option.

“Fuel cells and hydrogen will play a super-important role,” Lundstedt added.

Both men urged governments not just to ensure that the necessary fuel infrastructure would be in place for hydrogen but also to provide sufficient incentives for transport companies to shift to greener trucks.

About 300 high-performance hydrogen refuelling points would be needed in Europe by 2025 and 1,000 by 2030, the companies said.

Of the need to build the infrastructure at the same time as the trucks, Lundstedt said: “It can be seen as a chicken and egg. But we have said we will go for it. We will deliver the chicken. Someone else can deliver the egg.”

A plant manufacturing fuel cells
Cellcentric is working intensively to prepare the production of fuel cells © Daimler AG

Conceding that hydrogen and battery-powered trucks would remain more expensive than those powered by diesel “at least for the next 15 years”, Daum noted that customers typically spent three to four times more on fuel over a truck’s lifespan than on the vehicle itself.

He added that early adopters — who would otherwise have to “pay a penalty” with high prices — could be helped by government support through the EU’s Green Deal or other incentives. But he said that by the tipping point in 2027, a proper price for CO2 would be better as there would be too many trucks for subsidies.

Lundstedt stressed the truckmakers’ commitment was also important in terms of helping develop green hydrogen, made using renewable energy rather than natural gas as is common now, as other heavy industries such as shipping and steel consider the fuel. “This joint venture is a clear stick in the ground” from the truckmakers, he said.

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