Quantron AG, a spin-off of Germany’s Haller Group, will help Ford Trucks on a fast track to put its F-Max trucks to be built in Turkey on a fuel cell hydrogen diet. Both parties signed a letter of intent to share Quantron’s know-how in energy management systems, e-axles, high-power batteries, fuel cells, and tank integration.
Ford Trucks is the brand name of Ford Otosan, the Istanbul-based joint venture that is equally 41% owned by Ford and Turkish Koç Holding. Last month, it signed a deal with Canadian hydrogen specialist Ballard Power to partner on developing a fuel-cell version of the long-haul 44-ton F-Max. Ballard also delivers fuel cells to German Quantron.
Dual-fuel engine from CMB-Tech
In June, Ford Trucks announced it would investigate retrofitting F-Maxes with dual-fuel H2/diesel engines with Belgian technology firm CMB-Tech. Burning hydrogen is another option with no CO2 produced, but the combustion process still generates considerable NOx. That’s why it’s not considered zero-emission.
The conversion requires no adjustments to the traditional diesel engine; only a hydrogen injection ring is added to the airline, making the concept highly scalable, CMB-Tech says. Diesel remains a backup solution for those moments when hydrogen refueling is impossible. CMB-Tech sees dual-fuel technology as a short-term fix on the way to full hydrogen-powered trucks.
Canadian fuel cells
In August, Ford Trucks let the world know it would partner with Canadian Ballard to prepare four F-Max fuel cell trucks to participate in the EU’s Horizon Zero Emission Freight EcoSystem (SEFES). In that project, FCETs carrying more than 40 tons of load are expected to drive at least one million kilometers in 2025 over the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) roads. Daily distances are to average 500 to 750 km.
Ford Trucks Leader Emrah Duman states in the press release about the Quantron partnership that it “promises to yield substantial value in the times ahead. Ford Trucks’ primary focus is on electrification, closely followed by advancements in hydrogen technology.”
Focus on battery-electric so far
Quantron AG depicts itself as a platform provider for trucks, buses, and vans with fully electric powertrains and H2 fuel cell technology in the light vehicle segment up to 7,5 t and the heavy-duty trucks (HDT) up to 44 t. So far, it has delivered more than 200 zero-emission vehicles, but primarily battery-electric ones.
In its whitepaper “BEV or FCEV? The complementary roles of Battery and Fuel Cell Electric Trucks”, published in January 2023, Quantron sees a rapid increase in the adoption of electric vehicles, especially in the bus and light vehicle segments.
Nine percent of global CO2 emissions
Still, the heavy-duty vehicles sector is lagging due to challenges in transitioning them toward efficient, cost-competitive, and dependable zero-emission alternatives. Though they account for only a tiny share of all vehicles in operation, they are responsible for a much higher percentage of the emissions from all road transport.
That is 1,2 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions globally in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), or 41% of global road freight emissions, accounting for 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Quantron states BETs have a clear edge over FCETs regarding energy efficiency. It is more efficient to store electricity directly into a battery and then use it directly for the motor than to produce hydrogen and generate electricity from a fuel cell. That is reflected in better operating costs, but drawbacks are heavy batteries that cannibalize freight load capacity and long charging times.
FCETs have a more significant driving range per charge, short refueling times, and are better suited for extreme driving conditions. Quanrtron believes they currently have an edge, both in terms of geopolitical considerations – think about China’s dominance in batteries – and long-term cost reduction potentials as hydrogen infrastructure and supply develop.
So, for Quantron, decarbonizing the heavy-duty trucks sector is not an either/or choice between BETs and FCETs, but it’s essential to accept that the two technologies are complementary.