If you didn’t believe hydrogen fuel cells will be the power source for future generation trucks and buses then think again.

Clearly if it was just a few start up company’s spruiking hydrogen fuel cells there might be some doubt, but with the world’s pre-eminent truck makers and Japan’s giant Toyota corporation getting behind the technology and spending serious money there may be some clue that this is the way we will power heavy vehicles into the future.

News a few weeks ago that Daimler and Volvo had formed a joint venture to advance fuel cell technology was a further indicator of  the seriousness of their intent.

A further statement from Daimler Truck this week again underlines its focus.

“Daimler Truck is consistently driving forward series production of fuel cells with Daimler Truck Fuel Cell GmbH & Co. KG. In the past ten years’, the statement said.

The company says experts from Daimler have already built up extensive know-how in the field and have developed production methods and processes. In close cooperation with colleagues in Vancouver, Canada, and with the ongoing fuel cell development activities, the Stuttgart-based experts are now transferring that experience to the direct preliminary stage of future series production.

Daimler says Investments are being made in new state-of-the-art facilities covering every single process stage of fuel cell production: from membrane coating and stack manufacturing to the production of fuel cell units.

“We are pursuing the vision of the CO2-neutral transportation of the future. The hydrogen-based fuel cell is a key technology of strategic importance in this context. We are now consistently following the path towards the series production of fuel cells and are thus doing absolutely pioneering work – and this goes beyond the automotive industry. We will invest a very substantial sum in the coming years to achieve this,” said Martin Daum, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck AG and Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG.

Andreas Gorbach, Head of Daimler Truck Fuel Cell: “As with the development of fuel cell technology, we benefit also in the field of production from our experts’ many years of experience. This gives us an enormous competitive advantage: We are already in a position to work specifically on one of our most important milestones, namely the technological template for the series production of fuel cell systems on a large industrial scale.”

Conventional industrial production processes cannot be directly transferred to the highly complex and highly sensitive fuel cell stacks. For example, the processing of numerous delicate components takes place in the micrometer range (1 micrometer = 1 millionth of a meter).

Even the smallest contamination could impair the functionality of the fuel cells, which is why a clean room with filtered air is being set up for some of the work in the planned pre-series production. Optimizing the ambient air in production is also especially important, since even slight fluctuations in temperature and humidity can lead to significant material changes. This would make further work in subsequent processes considerably more difficult.

However, the greatest challenge for the Daimler experts is to achieve short production cycles, which is essential for cost-effective production. For this reason, the experts in the production of fuel cell stacks sometimes rely for example on technologies from the packaging industry, which are generally not used in conventional engine production.

As mentioned earlier Daimler Truck concluded a preliminary, non-binding agreement with the Volvo Group in April, to establish a new joint venture for the development and marketing of fuel cell systems to be used in heavy-duty commercial vehicles and other applications. The joint venture will draw upon expertise from both Daimler Truck AG and the Volvo Group. The production of fuel cell systems is also to be included in the joint venture. Daimler Truck AG and the Volvo Group plan to offer heavy-duty fuel cell commercial vehicles for demanding and heavy-duty long-distance haulage from series production in the second half of this decade.

In order to facilitate the joint venture with the Volvo Group, Daimler Truck AG is bringing together all Group-wide fuel cell activities in the recently established subsidiary Daimler Truck Fuel Cell GmbH & Co. KG. This also includes the activities of Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell GmbH. Daimler Truck Fuel Cell GmbH & Co. KG is to transition into the planned joint venture at a later date. Over the past decades, Daimler has acquired considerable expertise in the field of fuel cells at its site in Nabern, Germany, (currently the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell GmbH) and at other production and development facilities in Germany and Canada.