Batteries and hydrogen in transport should complement, not compete

Both battery electric and hydrogen technologies are vital for future transport emissions goals and customer needs

A combination of battery electric and hydrogen technologies will be needed in future to meet both transport emissions goals and customer needs, representatives from various OEMs and hydrogen fuel cell producers told a hydrogen industry event on Wednesday, 8 June.

Need to be open to both technologies

Craig Knight, chief executive officer of global zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial vehicle supplier Hyzon Motors told delegates that he does not see battery and hydrogen as competing technologies within the transport sector.

“We see them as complementary,” he said, adding that “it is always good to not bet everything on one form of technology.”

Executive director of EU-backed Clean Hydrogen Partnership Bart Biebuyck said during a conference presentation that hydrogen could be a solution for passenger cars as well as trucks and that “both should be there depending on customer needs.”

Using Switzerland as a case study, Patrick Huber – head of growth and strategy at Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility – said that 30% of all cars are driving 70% of the total kilometres travelled within the country.

“It is most likely that 30% of cars will struggle to do so on a battery electric solution and so we need to be open to both technologies – just one will not match the demand and requests of drivers for the larger distances,” Huber said.

Meanwhile, vice president of hydrogen, fuel cell technology and vehicle projects at BMW Group Juergen Guldner said that the hydrogen-fuelled passenger car “has yet to become market viable,” although he sees this occuring from the 2030s.

“By then, most technologies will be on the market and available and there will be a certain percentage of people who prefer hydrogen to electric cars,” he said.

The automaker, which has partnered with Toyota to develop fuel cell technology, will have its first small fleet of new generation prototype passenger vehicles ready by end of this year, which Guldner said will serve to raise public awareness, especially within politics and the media “to test the market and waters.”

Knight meanwhile told delegates he “disagree[d] that passenger cars create a useful case for hydrogen because passenger cars go to unpredictable places at unpredictable times.”

“All trucks meanwhile know their loads, when they will be refilling and within what timeframe they will be travelling,” he said, adding that “trucks are what will create useful demand cases for hydrogen.”

Lack of infrastructure

Ultimately, delegates agreed that hydrogen technology has a long way to go before it becomes scaleable within the transport sector, which is, in large part owing to the availability of associated re-filling infrastructure.

According to director of hydrogen affairs at Toyota Motor Europe Ferry Franz, “as soon as you have a filling station nearby, sales increase dramatically but this must be located within your city, for example.”

The Toyota executive went on to say that the OEM is in the midst of negotiations with large companies “who are saying they would convert their whole fleet of vehicles if there were a re-filling station nearby,” adding that this infrastructure is “desperately needed.”

In March, a coalition led by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) stressed the importance of making charging and hydrogen refuelling stations commercially viable while the EV rollout ramps up within Europe, as well as the need for public support, financial incentives, co-funding and mandatory targets.

Meanwhile late last month, questions were raised over the plausibility of the European Commission’s €300 billion flagship hydrogen plan – REPowerEU – which outlined ambitious targets for green hydrogen use in sectors including transport.

For the transport sector specifically, the plan more than doubled Europe’s green hydrogen target in transport to 5.7% by 2030.

According to Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), this particular target is “not backed by data and could increase Europe’s demand for electricity by as much as a third.”

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