The Battle of the Trucks:  H2 vs. Batteries

News Brief by Kip Hansen – 16 April 2022

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration there were “nearly 12.5 million commercial large trucks and buses were registered in 2016”.   There are more now. 

Governments around the world are considering or actually enacting laws, rules and regulations to phase out petroleum powered transportation (gasoline and diesel) and replace it with low- or no-emissions cars, trucks and buses. 

Jack Ewing, writes in the New York Times about automotive business and the transition to electric vehicles.  His latest article is titled: 

“Truck Makers Face a Tech Dilemma: Batteries or Hydrogen?”

“Under pressure to cut emissions, truck manufacturers are choosing between batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. Wagering incorrectly could cost them billions of dollars.”

He says that the major makers of trucks, in the U.S. and Europe, have already decided that they will be required to give up the ever-dependable diesel power that they have so much experience with and shift to low emissions alternatives. 

“Truck makers are divided into two camps. One faction, which includes Traton, Volkswagen’s truck unit, is betting on batteries because they are widely regarded as the most efficient option. The other camp, which includes Daimler Truck and Volvo, the two largest truck manufacturers, argues that fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity — emitting only water vapor — make more sense because they would allow long-haul trucks to be refueled quickly.”

Battery-powered long-haul trucks cost way more than diesel trucks – up to three times according to Ewing – but at least there is a short-haul version that one could buy.  “Daimler Truck, for example, began producing an electric version of its heavy duty Actros truck, with a maximum range of 240 miles, late last year.”

Yes, producing, but they sold only 712 in 2021 worldwide, compared to 455,000 ICE trucks the same year.  “Daimler has a new long-range Mercedes-Benz eActros commercial truck, which comes in at three times the price of the gas version.” [ source ].   These trucks have about a 400km or 240 mile range – it is not clear if this is an over-the-highway mileage or a more pragmatic average driving conditions mileage, such as making deliveries in London or NY City.

And hydrogen fuel cell (H2)versions?  “In April (2021), Daimler began testing a prototype “GenH2” long-haul truck capable of going 600 miles between visits to the hydrogen pump. But lots of work is needed to bring down the cost of the equipment and there is not yet a network of hydrogen fueling stations or an adequate supply of hydrogen produced in a way that does not cancel out the environmental benefits.” [ source ]

Electric city buses, short-haul people-carrying vans like airport shuttles, or local delivery vans all make basic sense for batteries, as these types of vehicles return to a central depot each day where they can be recharged and maintained. 

 “The environmental side is hugely important but if it doesn’t make financial sense, nobody’s going to do it,” said Paul Gioupis, chief executive of Zeem, a company that is building one of the largest electric vehicle charging depots in the country about one and a half miles from Los Angeles International Airport. Zeem will recharge trucks and service and clean them for clients like hotels, tour operators and delivery companies.” [ source ]

Ewing points out that H2 trucks will be lighter and can be fueled (once there are fueling stations) in a similar manner to diesel trucks. 

One of these two technologies may come out a big winner or the two technologies may share the market.  Only time will tell. 

The winner of the technology battle will rule the future truck market, worth billions. . . Winning billions or losing billions if one manufacturer picks the losing technology. 

These mega-corporations have already poured in millions of research dollars and euros and set their best brains to try to outguess the future.

Which tech do you think will come out on top?

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Author’s Comment:

I have an unsettled, not-yet-formed opinion.  Battery power seems to have the edge in the present moment.  Batteries are available and becoming better.  Electricity for charging is already well distributed along major trucking routes and ubiquitous even in the less populated areas. 

H2 is tricky to deal with – it sneaks out of containers and pipes and in the end, can be explosive.  A leak can act as a FAE, a fuel air explosive.  Anyone with a bit of chemistry background can make enough H2 at home to be dangerous (ask me, I had my three boys in home school).  That said, it does burn cleanly producing only energy and H2O.

I don’t think I would want to drive a vehicle on the existing U.S. highways with a tank full of pure hydrogen strapped under the seat.

Yes, I know, gasoline is dangerous too….but not quite in the same way.  Maybe it’s just me. 

Thanks for reading.

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via Watts Up With That?

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April 16, 2022 at 08:56AM

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