Alexander Vlaskamp, CEO of German heavy truck maker MAN Truck & Bus, is no believer when it comes to hydrogen to decarbonize heavy transport. Although MAN develops both to a certain extent, he’s convinced that the limited supply and high cost of green hydrogen make a fuel cell truck unable to compete with battery electric trucks.
But on the other side of the Atlantic, in Los Angeles, Joël Henry, CEO of logistics and transportation services company IMC, running a fleet of 735 trucks, has had it with the six Class-8 Volvo electric trucks he’s been operating for two years and ordered 50 hydrogen trucks from Nikoka. The main reason is better employability, 20 to 24 hours per day.
Cost per kilometer
Ultimately, it all comes to the most efficient cost per kilometer when discussing decarbonizing heavy transport. The Dutch CEO of MAN, Vlaskamp, built up his entire career at Scania since 1997 before becoming CEO of MAN within the same Traton Group under the Volkswagen wings in 2021.
He recently told Spanish journalists in Madrid that MAN would deliver the first electric trucks in Spain in 2024 and that the company had opened a battery repair center in Barcelona. According to the Spanish economic newspaper Expansiòn, he doesn’t believe hydrogen trucks can compete with battery-electric trucks due to their lower efficiency and higher cost of fuel production.
Not available for transport
“Hydrogen is not viable. It’s one thing to have technology, and another is for technology to be viable. Green hydrogen is not available for transport, and it makes no sense to move from diesel to hydrogen if the energy source is not sustainable,” Alexander Vlaskamp said.
Today, 95% of hydrogen is produced from natural gas, emitting lots of CO2. ‘You can’t buy hydrogen for less than 13 or 14 euros today, and it’s not green. And when we have green hydrogen, it will be needed for the heavy steel, cement, or plastic,” Vlaskamp predicted.
MAN Truck & Bus is researching hydrogen-powered trucks in the so-called ‘Bavarian fleet project,’ where it is working with Bosch, Faurecia, and ZF to develop a fuel cell truck. That one is due to be delivered to five customers in mid-2024.
But Vlaskamp is a cool lover and admits to the Spanish journalist MAN will continue to research and develop fuel cell technology ‘just to test our hypothesis.’ “We may use hydrogen for transport in 2035, but only if there is sufficient green hydrogen at an appropriate price and there is the necessary infrastructure,” he added. “It’s not about believing or not believing; it’s a matter of numbers.”
Vlaskamp gets support from his Dutch patriots, in a 2022 study by the technical research institute TNO about the possible uptake of zero–emission trucks to replace diesel in the coming years shows the battery-electric truck (BET) is the most cost-effective (only) option from 2030.
That study confirmed the findings of the PwC report, saying the BET will beat the diesel truck in TCO by 2025. Fuel cell trucks will play a marginal role due to higher costs unless a way is found to produce it much cheaper.
But fuel cost is not the only delimiting factor, as American IMC boss Joël Henry experienced after extensively using six Volvo electric trucks since September 2022 in its 735 Class 8 -mostly diesel- fleet.
Continue to drive
“The main challenge with battery electric vehicles is that a truck can only get four to six hours of productivity in a 12- to 14-hour period. This is not sustainable for trucking companies, which, in comparison, can use diesel tractors about 20 to 24 hours a day,” Henry says.
Hydrogen trucks can – like diesel trucks- be filled up in minutes, if available, and continue to drive as drivers are changed. That’s why he’s now willing to test a hydrogen alternative by ordering 50 Nikola trucks, an investment of $22 million, and have a solution of delivering its trucks by mobile H2-tankers to tackle the undeniable lack of fuel infrastructure in the States.
Transport companies like IMC headquartered in California have no other choice than to invest in either BETs or FCETs, as that State is the first in America to enforce transport companies to have a certain take-up of zero-emission trucks in their fleets, starting in January 2024 en becoming mandatory for the whole fleet by 2045.