Volvo’s commercial trucking unit is testing hydrogen fuel cell semi-trucks, hoping to stay ahead of the proven technology. Using fuel cells made by CellCentric, a joint venture between Volvo and Daimler Trucks, Volvo claims its trucks can travel 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles) and can be refueled in 15 minutes.
Volvo Trucks “has been developing this technology for years,” Volvo Trucks president Roger Alm said in a statement this week. Hydrogen fuel cells would be suitable for long-distance transportation and could work in countries with limited battery charging infrastructure, Alm said. The company started making battery-electric trucks in 2018, but they are still not widely available in the United States. Now with hydrogen fuel cell trucks, Alm said he expects the supply of clean hydrogen to grow in the coming years.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and pure electric vehicles (BEVs) are similar in that they are both powered by electric motors, but the former generates electricity from the compressed hydrogen they carry, while the latter stores electricity generated by the regional grid. Both technologies are zero-emission in the “tailpipe”, meaning they don’t emit any carbon while in motion. However, depending on the method of delivering hydrogen to gas stations, which can release significant emissions, BEVs are as clean as the grid they depend on — which may not be the same as green energy sources like solar or dirty energy sources like coal.
One obstacle to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles remains the scarcity of hydrogen refueling stations. Currently, there are fewer than 60 sites operating in the United States, all located in California. The number of hydrogen fueling stations will increase to more than 100 by mid-2023, according to the California Fuel Cell Partners website.
The most viable use case for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is commercial trucking. With Volvo’s new truck, the company joins automakers such as Toyota, which is leading the technology in commercial and passenger applications, and General Motors, which is working with Navistar on a 500-plus-mile semi-trailer , and use the technology to build mobile power stations.