In yet another indication that hydrogen fuel cells will become the power source for future long distance and for that matter short haul trucks, truck industry behemoths Daimler and Volvo have announced that they are creating a joint venture to pursue fuel cell technology.

It is another clear indication that the commercialisation of hydrogen fuel cell technology is edging closer with the two heavy hitting,  heavy-duty truck companies saying that they will contribute the equivalent of close to $AUD1billion ($€600 million) for a half share in the new company, which will take over the operations of Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz fuel cell vehicle development operation and will be based in Germany.

The two companies say they have signed a preliminary non-binding agreement to establish the new joint venture.

Chairman of the Board of Management Daimler Truck AG and member of the board of management of Daimler, Martin Daum  that truly CO2-neutral transport can be accomplished through electric drive trains with energy coming either from batteries or by converting hydrogen on board into electricity.

“For trucks to cope with heavy loads and long distances, fuel cells are one important answer and a technology where Daimler has built up significant expertise through its Mercedes-Benz fuel cell unit over the last two decades,” said Daum.

“This joint initiative with the Volvo Group is a milestone in bringing fuel cell powered trucks and buses onto our roads,” Daum added.

Daum’s counterpart at Volvo, the group president and CEO, Martin Lundstedt, says that electrification of road transport is a key element in delivering the so called Green Deal, a carbon neutral Europe and ultimately a carbon neutral world.

“Using hydrogen as a carrier of green electricity to power electric trucks in long-haul operations is one important part of the puzzle, and a complement to battery electric vehicles and renewable fuels,” said Lundstedt.

“Combining the Volvo Group and Daimler’s experience in this area to accelerate the rate of development is good both for our customers and for society as a whole and by forming this joint venture, we are clearly showing that we believe in hydrogen fuel cells for commercial vehicles,” he added.

“But for this vision to become reality, other companies and institutions also need to support and contribute to this development, not least in order to establish the fuel infrastructure needed,” Lundstedt said.

The two companies say the joint venture, will operate as an independent and autonomous entity, while  Daimler Truck and the Volvo Group will continue to be competitors in all other areas of business.

The companies say that joining forces will decrease development costs for both and accelerate the market introduction of fuel cell systems in products used for heavy-duty transport and demanding long-haul applications.

The joint statement says that in the context of the current economic downturn cooperation has become even more necessary in order to meet the Green Deal objectives within a feasible time-frame.

The common goal they say, is for both companies to offer heavy-duty vehicles with fuel cells for demanding long-haul applications in series production in the second half of the decade, while other automotive and non-automotive uses are also part of the new joint venture’s scope.

To enable the joint venture, Daimler Trucks is bringing together all group-wide fuel cell activities in a new Daimler Truck fuel cell unit. Part of this bundling of activities is the allocation of the operations of “Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell GmbH”, which has longstanding experience in the development of fuel cell and hydrogen storage systems for various vehicle applications, to Daimler Truck AG.

Fuel cell technology is favoured for long haul trucks because they can be fuelled rapidly just like a diesel truck, while battery-electric trucks take longer to charge and impose a weight penalty on trucks that is avoided by using the much lighter fuel cell systems that generate electricity internally.

What is emerging is that for urban and regional medium- and heavy-duty transport battery-electric may be the right solution while longer distance and heavier duty trucks may be better powered by fuel cell electric systems. The core powertrains are almost exactly the same with the only real difference being how the electricity delivered to the truck and its powertrain

Toyota/Hino and VW’s Traton recently announced an MOU to look at and  explore electricification and hydrogen fuel cell technology, while US start-up Nikola has scored a $250 million investment from another European truck manufacturer in Iveco. Paccar’s Kenworth has also been involved with Toyota in developing 10 hydrogen fuel cell prime movers that will be used in a trial in the Long Beach/Port of Los Angeles precinct.

While the Daimler/Volvo JV is likely to really push hydrogen fuel cell technology along, Martin Lundstedt said that other companies will also have to push the technology and help develop a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure to make fuel cell vehicles viable.

That’s already starting to happen, with California already in the initial stages of building a hydrogen fuel station network while Korean maker Hyundai is working with a joint venture in Switzerland to build stations for fuel cell trucks that will enter service there later this year.

Hyundai plans to build 1,600 fuel cell heavy-duty trucks and has a contract to haul goods for Coop and Migros, Switzerland’s two largest retailers who will pay for the freight services, creating cash flow that will be used to build the fueling network.

Back in the USA, Nikola is intending to market all-inclusive leases for fuel cell trucks  including  the truck, the fuel, maintenance and repair, etc., and plans to start testing this concept with customer fleets by the end of 2022 with production to follow in 2023. Nikola has said that the lease payments will finance construction of a fueling network which initially will be located in or near depots of its large fleet clients. Nikola says it will start with specific city pairs where it has customers and build out the network as it gets more customers saying it intends to have around 700 filling stations across America by 2025.