Hydrogen a fuel of the future?

Hydrogen a fuel of the future?

Why hydrogen fuel cells could be one of the solutions for a future of sustainable transport.

Electrification, automation and various hybrid and alternative fuel solutions are already attracting a lot of attention. However, one possibility that has been overshadowed in comparison is hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

And yet Scania’s efforts to drive the shift towards sustainable transport include work in this area, too. The company is in partnership with Norwegian goods wholesaler Asko to test hydrogen gas propulsion in trucks.

The trucks, which are fully electric, are fitted with an electric powertrain, and energy is converted to electricity from hydrogen gas in fuel cells on board the vehicles. The fuel cell-powered truck also has a battery for moments when extra power is needed, and when the vehicle needs to recuperate electric power from brake energy.

Hedvig Paradis.Dan Boman 2016

Hedvig Paradis is the Project Manager in charge of Scania’s collaboration with Asko. With a PhD in fuel-cell technology from Lund University, she has been studying and working in this rapidly-evolving area for several years. She is excited by its potential.

“Different customers in different regions around the world will need different solutions, and hydrogen fuel-cell technology can be one of those solutions. We can see for example in Japan, South Korea and California that they are pushing for hydrogen-based solutions, and building hydrogen gas stations,” she says.

Zero-emission technology

A major strength of hydrogen-based solutions is the fact that it is a zero-emission technology; only water is actually emitted locally by the truck itself. This is based on the fact that the hydrogen is produced in a renewable way.

Another real positive for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, and a reason for the growing interest, is that they have attributes comparable to conventional vehicles, such as refuelling patterns and infrastructure build-up. That’s attractive to those who are wary of making the dramatic change some new technologies require.

However, as with all new technologies, there are also challenges.

“The technology is not so mature yet,” explains Paradis. “It needs us to take greater steps in a shorter time, such as trying to solve the issues of degradation and lifetime of the fuel cell.”

Sustainable transport solution

There’s also the central issue of how and where the hydrogen fuel is produced.

“Hydrogen gas stations are not that developed yet, although there is more infrastructure emerging. Some, like Asko, are actually building their own refuelling stations so they are in control of their own ecosystem. There’s a need for sustainable solutions that have less environmental impact.”

Added to this is the need for a lot of space on the truck or bus for the hydrogen tanks. The solution available today takes up a lot of volume to maintain a good range that could otherwise be used for transporting goods or people.

Nevertheless, Paradis is confident that the technology will overcome these hurdles, and will establish itself as one of the sustainable transport solutions.

“I believe there is a bright future for fuel cells,” she says.

“It will certainly be one of the options for the future. We can see around the world that things are happening – in passenger vehicles, with different companies, with pilot fleets.”

“I’m sure there will be different solutions for different regions, and one solution won’t necessarily fit all, but hydrogen fuel-cell technology will have its part to play.”

How it works

A fuel cell creates electricity by an electro-chemical process using hydrogen and oxygen.

The electricity generated by the fuel cells powers the electric powertrain. The system has an integrated battery buffer.

The only emissions are pure water.