This month, 18-tonne hydrogen-powered Hyundai H2 Xcient trucks will start running on Swiss mountain roads.
Invented almost two centuries ago, * hydrogen fuel cells were long forgotten until the task of limiting harmful emissions from automobiles came to the fore. Hydrogen fuel cells are inferior to batteries because they are expensive, hydrogen is difficult to store, and most of it is extracted from natural gas in a process that produces carbon.
But Hyundai and its partners argue that in the case of trucks, batteries do not always cope, because the higher the payload, the more – and heavier – the battery, which becomes a real problem in the mountains, for example, in Switzerland. And since more than half of the electricity in this country is generated by hydroelectric power plants, there is the potential for extracting “green” hydrogen from water through electrolysis – an energy-intensive, but carbon-free (if you use electricity generated by hydroelectric power plants) process.
So far, hydrogen in Switzerland is much more expensive than diesel, but Hyundai hopes that by 2030 it will fall in price to the same level. Together with good indicators of energy efficiency and the cost of operating machinery over the life of this, hydrogen fuel cell trucks will be more attractive than their diesel counterparts. In the meantime, Hyundai relies on government tax incentives and its own subsidies to make H2 Xcient trucks cost-effective for its partners: end users, gas stations and green hydrogen suppliers.
Hyundai H2 Xcient trucks have a 190 kW fuel cell and seven high-pressure tanks containing almost 35 kg of hydrogen, which allows them to cover distances of over 400 km without refueling, far surpassing heavy trucks with electric batteries in this parameter.
At first, 50 H2 Xcient trucks will be in operation, but by 2025 it is planned to launch 1,600 such vehicles on Swiss roads. In addition, this year it is planned to launch similar projects in at least two other European countries. The candidates are Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.
Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility (HHM), created by Hyundai and a Swiss startup H2 energy, has entered into a partnership agreement with Hydrospider, a joint venture of H2 Energy with industrial gas producer Linde and Swiss energy company Alpiq ALP.SG. Hydrospider intends to start producing hydrogen for 40-50 Hyundai trucks at a 2 MW electrolysis plant in Gesgen. As more trucks are put into operation, the installation capacity will also increase. By 2023-2025, it will reach 70-100 MW.
The first truck users will be members of the Swiss H2 Mobility Association. It includes retail chains, food manufacturers, gas station operators – almost 20 companies. They will lease trucks with pay for use, receiving a guarantee, service, insurance and access to sufficient hydrogen. According to HHM, Hydrospider and gas stations will make “reasonable profits” from the start of the project. The company does not hide that this is a subsidized business model, but it is necessary for the introduction of new technology. Hyundai subsidies are not disclosed.