Hydrogen vehicles in Europe – is there growing support?

September 27, 2022

Vehicles

As electromobility is in full swing, some European automakers are also working to bring hydrogen-powered vehicles to the roads, writes Autovista24 journalist Rebeka Shaid.

As the EU plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, European automakers have turned their attention to electromobility. But some manufacturers are exploring alternative powertrains, with hydrogen vehicles being touted as another “clean” mode of transport.

Political support came this month from the European Parliament, which set minimum quotas for the use of hydrogen and synthetic fuels. By 2030, the share of so-called “renewable fuels of non-biological origin” should represent at least 5.7% in the transport sector.

Two of the main hydrogen cars currently commercially available are produced by Asian brands. Toyota’s Mirai and Hyundai’s Nexo are among the best-known hydrogen vehicles, but European automakers are also diving into fuel cell technology for both passenger and commercial vehicles.

“If we look at Europe, what we hear is that hydrogen needs are increasing dramatically,” David Holderbach, CEO of hyvia – a joint venture between the Renault group and hydrogen fuel cell maker Plug Power – said Autovista24.

Hydrogen vehicles are “closest to diesel,” according to Holderbach. “European OEMs are monitoring and working on fuel cell technology,” he added, citing Renault’s efforts to build hydrogen cars.

The French brand presented its concept car, the Scenic Vision, earlier this year – a prototype hydrogen fuel cell SUV, which has a 75% lower carbon footprint than a battery electric vehicle (BEV) conventional. But the car won’t be available until the next decade, when electromobility will be the norm across Europe.

Hyvia, meanwhile, will start shipping its first hydrogen vans later this year, with a range of up to 500 km. “10 years ago, it was clearly too early for Europe to get into the hydrogen business. Today, with what is happening in Europe – whether in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain – there is a big change. The infrastructure is coming and the production is coming,” added Holderbach.

cars
Source: Hyvia

Against a current

While European automakers are investing in hydrogen, camps remain divided on its use. BMW recently confirmed that it has started producing fuel cell systems for its hydrogen-powered iX5, describing it as a climate-friendly alternative. Hydrogen cars only emit water and hot air. They can be made from renewable energy resources and BMW sees them as a sustainable complement to BEVs.

But the Munich-based company is going against the grain because its German competitors generally don’t see hydrogen technology as a viable solution for passenger cars. In 2018, Mercedes-Benz released a hydrogen SUV, the GLC F-Cell, which has since disappeared from the market.

The GLC F-Cell was primarily delivered to customers in Germany and Japan, with the automaker being selective from the start by limiting the availability of the SUV. Mercedes-Benz is now clearly going the electric route and moving away from hydrogen technology.

“The potential of fuel cell and hydrogen technology as a means of energy storage is beyond doubt. Nevertheless, the EV battery is currently superior to the fuel cell in terms of high-volume market launch, especially for passenger cars, especially in view of the still low number of hydrogen filling stations worldwide and the costs relatively high technologies,” said Mercedes-Benz said Autovista24.

As another German luxury brand, Audi has also shifted its focus from hydrogen to focus on electrifying its fleet. He considered developing a hydrogen car, dubbed the h-tronbut abandoned the concept some time ago.

While Audi, which is part of the Volkswagen Group (VW), said Autovista24 that she is responsible for the development and industrialization of fuel cell technology within the group, she said: “Under current conditions, we do not see a significant field of application for fuel cell propulsion fuel in the passenger car sector.”

Low volume production

Like Mercedes-Benz, Audi cited challenges such as building appropriate infrastructure. He added that the high energy losses during hydrogen production are also problematic, as well as converting the fuel into green hydrogen, which is the most sustainable way to develop the fuel.

None of this deters BMW, which is also directly interested in electronic fuels. The automaker is pushing ahead with its hydrogen plans, believing in the future potential of fuel cell technology for passenger vehicles. The company sees a benefit in the technology as it could reduce reliance on rare earth materials. Indeed, hydrogen systems rely mainly on recyclable metals such as aluminum, steel and platinum.

Another advantage for BMW is the battery in a fuel cell electric vehicle, which is smaller than those used in a BEV because it is not the car’s primary power source. The iX5 has an electric motor and a high performance battery. Cold temperatures are also not a problem for hydrogen cars, which have a range comparable to that of electric vehicles and can be filled in minutes.

“We believe hydrogen vehicles are technologically ideally placed to match battery electric vehicles and complete the picture of electric mobility,” BMW CEO Oliver Zipse said at an event last month.

BMW will begin low-volume production before the end of the year, with hydrogen-enthusiast Toyota supplying individual fuel cells. The two auto brands have been collaborating on fuel cell drive systems since 2013, and BMW will initially test the hydrogen vehicles on a small scale. But the company isn’t ruling out large-scale production within the next five years – if the car market is ready by then.

Commercial vehicles

According H2Stations.org, there were 685 hydrogen filling stations worldwide last year, most of which are in Asia. In Europe, Germany is in the lead with about a hundred service stations. The German government is heavily funding hydrogen projects, but with infrastructure lagging behind around the world and the variety of hydrogen models still limited, analysts say the fuel is unlikely to offer a breakthrough for passenger cars of such magnitude. early.

Europe
Source: IEA

However, the number of fuel cell electric vehicles is on the rise, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) recording more than 40,000 vehicles on the road globally by the end of June 2021. She noted that the rollout focuses on light passenger vehicles. , which represented three quarters of the stock at the end of 2020.

For commercial vehicles, such as trucks, buses and vans, hydrogen could play a bigger role. The French company Hyvia wants to offer an ecosystem comprising fuel cell light commercial vehicles (LCVs), hydrogen refueling stations, as well as the supply of carbon-free hydrogen and fleet financing services.

The company aims to achieve a 30% market share in the hydrogen light commercial vehicle market by 2030, and it wants to achieve this in a more sustainable way. Holderbach said Autovista24 that Hyvia aims to “lead green mobility with hydrogen”. He believes hydrogen-powered vans will become available quickly in Europe, within the next two years or so, with the brand showcasing its vehicles at the IAA Mobility show in September.

“It will start with hubs,” Holderbach said, particularly in places like France, Germany and the Netherlands. “When you create hubs, you have massive hydrogen production for heavy industries and light commercial use.”

Audi said Autovista24 that its competence center for fuel cell technology in Neckarsulm continues its research activities in this field. “The results of our development activities may become relevant for the Volkswagen Group in the medium term, especially for light commercial vehicles and trucks,” the automaker said.

German automotive supplier Bosch predicts that one in eight newly registered commercial vehicles worldwide will be powered by a fuel cell by the end of the decade. The company said Autovista24 that he first sees the automotive use of hydrogen in the utility vehicle sector.

Various European automakers have at one time or another announced hydrogen utility vehicles. Citroën, owned by Stellantis, is currently testing the ë-Jumpy Hydrogen, which can be filled in three minutes and has a range of 400 km. The car group has other hydrogen vehicles in the pipeline, modeled after their BEV counterparts, including the Opel Vivaro-e and Peugeot e-Expert.

LCVs are an obvious choice for hydrogen, Holderbach noted. So what about the passenger car market? “I think there will be a time when hydrogen can become more meaningful for passenger cars, but first we have to make breakthroughs,” he said.

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