Germany keeps a low profile
Fuel cell vans as an alternative?
If you leave your e-transporter at the charging station forever and cannot use it, you lose money. For example, one of the reasons the fuel cell is preferred in France. And because that’s the case, the Stellantis group and all its subsidiaries offer hydrogen-powered vans, including Opel.
As a type of drivetrain, the fuel cell in passenger cars is likely to remain a niche technology for a long time to come. The situation is different in road freight transport: in addition to the truck division, many van manufacturers are now also relying on the alternative with long-haul batteries. In Germany, Stellantis’ subsidiary Opel is making advances in terms of technology.
Since the end of 2021, the Rüsselsheim-based company has been building the Vivaro-e not only as a purely battery-powered electric van, but also in a “hydrogen” variant with an additional fuel cell. The van has only a small battery, enough for a journey of around 50 kilometers. Three 700 bar hydrogen tanks in the underbody, which feed a 45 kW fuel cell, cover the remaining 350 kilometers. The bottom line is that the Vivaro-e is nearly 100km farther than the purely battery-powered model.
Range is not an advantage
The slight increase in battery life is not the real advantage, but the fast charging. “Refueling with hydrogen takes only three minutes,” explains Opel chief Uwe Hochschurtz. When it comes to commercial use of light commercial vehicles, short downtime in day-to-day operations is cash. “Fuel cell electric cars offer an ideal solution for customers who want to travel long distances in their zero-emission vans and at the same time want to refuel quickly.”
However, Opel’s hydrogen offensive is slowly starting. By the end of 2023, 2,000 vehicles will initially be built and delivered to select fleet customers. Miele is one of the already well-known customers, but hydrogen carriers are also expected to appeal to energy suppliers, package delivery companies and municipalities. But even companies hoping to improve their image through local zero-emission drive technology could benefit from a Vivaro-e.
H2 vans also to Citroën and Peugeot
Other Stellantis brands offer similar vans, Peugeot has equipped its e-Expert sibling model with identical technology on request, and Citroën also supplies an H2 variant of the e-Jumpy. Stellantis builds fuel cells on its own in the Symbio joint venture, managed with tire manufacturer Michelin and supplier Faurecia, but competition is also involved when it comes to hydrogen: this year Renault wants to offer the Master van as a hydrogen vehicle . The range is announced at nearly 500 kilometers. Other construction variants will follow later, including a shuttle bus. The carmaker also wants to provide the hydrogen filling stations needed for the depot.
The fact that the French in particular are so energetically committed to hydrogen may also have something to do with the politics of their home country. The government is investing heavily in developing a hydrogen economy. The goal is leadership in the global market for green hydrogen, which however should not only be produced from wind and solar energy, but also with the help of nuclear power. One of the most important points is the conversion of freight and passenger transport to hydrogen vehicles, among other things by the end of 2028 up to 1000 refueling stations for fuel cell vehicles will be built.
Germany wants to import green hydrogen
Germany also wants a hydrogen economy, but sees itself differently from France, a nuclear country, but less as a gas producer. Instead, green hydrogen would have to be mainly imported. When asked about the origin of the energy source, the head of Opel Hochschurtz also answers the question about the origin of the energy source with foreign countries: “Soon, large quantities of renewable energies will be produced at low cost and with zero climate impact on a large scale. remotely scale places around the world and then transported to consumers. Hydrogen will play an important role because transport is easier and cheaper than grid-connected electricity. “
Despite these optimistic predictions, the availability of green hydrogen is one of the biggest problems in fuel cell technology. Because so far, most of the H2 bottled in Germany and used elsewhere is the “gray” variant, produced mainly from natural gas. For the climate and the environment, nothing is gained by using them.
A large-scale import of green hydrogen has not yet been identified. As long as this is the case, the battery electric van will be the main opponent of the fuel cell delivery van. Also because the available green electricity can be used much better there. Because even with clean electricity, producing hydrogen is extremely energy-intensive and far less efficient than using electricity directly in the battery-powered car.
But that probably won’t bother Opel and its Stellantis sisters. For the German and French brands, the expansion of the range of delivery vans to fuel cell vehicles is also interesting from other points of view. On the one hand, more experience is gained with fuel cell technology, which will certainly also play an important role in freight transport in the future. On the other hand, large customers are served a product that no other large manufacturer currently has on offer. This – so the calculation – should translate into more opportunities to do business with each other. Then maybe even with battery carriers.