'Cheapest way to decarbonise heavy vehicles is to invest in both hydrogen and electric infrastructure': Daimler




Truck manufacturer argues that ‘sun-to-wheel’ efficiency between imported green H2 and electricity in Europe works out the same


Both hydrogen and battery-electric options will be necessary to decarbonise Europe’s roads — and investing in infrastructure for both will be cheaper than only expanding the grid, according to Daimler Truck, the world’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturer.


“Building up both infrastructures, one for batteries and one for hydrogen, requires actually less investment than scaling up the electricity grid alone,” wrote the company’s head of truck technology, Andreas Gorbach in a recent blog post.


“Because while the initial cost of electric infrastructure is fairly low — you basically need to install chargers and connect them to the existing grid — the cost of upgrading the power grid is fairly high. In contrast, as demand and utilization increase, hydrogen infrastructure decreases in relative cost.”


This would appear to track with independent academic modelling published last year, which suggests that investing in H2 infrastructure and expanding the grid in tandem would save €72bn ($78.4m) a year, while only focusing on the grid would reduce system costs by €46-61bn.


The Daimler head of truck technology also noted that both charging and refuelling infrastructure is woefully insufficient for the scale of decarbonising Europe’s heavy vehicles.


In addition to less than 50 chargers above 350kW, when battery-electric long-haul trucks would need at least 700kW to recharge sufficiently during a break, Gorbach pointed out that there are only around 50 hydrogen refuelling stations for trucks, “most of them today not even suitable for long-haul applications”.


Gorbach estimates that to meet 2030 interim climate targets in Europe, around 35,000 megawatt-scale chargers and 2,000 hydrogen refuelling stations would have to be installed, although this corresponds to 400 chargepoints and 25 filling stations built per month.


The EU’s Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation mandates the 27 member states to ensure that publicly accessible gaseous H2 refuelling sites capable of serving both heavy-duty and light vehicles are set up in every “urban node” and every 200km along the core routes of the planned Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) by 2030 — expected to result in hundreds of new filling stations being installed.




Gorbach also hit back at a criticism often levied at hydrogen for vehicles: efficiency.


Since green hydrogen is produced from renewable electricity, with efficiency losses when converting power to hydrogen and back again inside a vehicle, as well as from the transportation, storage and distribution of H2, only about 30% of the original energy input can be used at the wheel of a fuel-cell vehicle. This has led many analysts to argue that directly using that green electricity would be more than twice as efficient — and far cheaper than using green hydrogen.


But Gorbach argues that this is not comparing apples with apples.


“There is a balanced “sun-to-wheel” efficiency for hydrogen trucks and battery trucks,” he wrote.


“Because with green hydrogen coming from a solar installation in the sunny south, a hydrogen truck can travel a similar range per year as a battery truck with energy coming from a solar installation of the same size in Europe.


“In short: The higher efficiency of solar panels in sunny regions can compensate the lower efficiency due to electrolysis and drive train conversion.”


However, it is unclear whether this accounts for the extra losses associated with transporting hydrogen over long distances, such as during conversion to ammonia and liquid organic hydrogen carriers or during shipment as a liquid.


Gorbach also noted that Europe currently imports 60% of its energy, suggesting that even in a net-zero future, the continent would not be able to supply 100% of its demand.


However, he admitted that the operating cost of both hydrogen and battery-electric vehicles would have to significantly decrease in order to compete with incumbent diesel options.


“Today, one kilowatt hour (kWh) in Europe costs about €0.70 at public chargers, one kilogram of hydrogen about €10-15 at the pump,” he wrote. However, trucking companies would have to see these reduced to €0.40/kWh and €4-5/kg respectively in order to make a business case for purchasing these vehicles.


“As energy prices are hard to predict, especially considering today’s geopolitical tensions, we will have to make use of a second steering impulse to speed up the transformation: Making the operation of diesel trucks more expensive,” Gorbach wrote, adding that an upcoming CO2 toll on heavy vehicles in Germany “is a first step in the right direction”, along with higher taxes on diesel.



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