Germany lays low: Fuel cell vans as an alternative?

Germany lays low
Fuel cell vans as an alternative?

If you leave your e-carrier at the charging station forever and cannot use it, you lose money. One of the reasons why the fuel cell is favored in France, for example. And for good reason, the Stellantis group and all its subsidiaries offer hydrogen vans, including Opel.

As a type of drive, the fuel cell in passenger cars is likely to remain a niche technology for a long time to come. The situation is different in road freight transport: in addition to the truck division, many van manufacturers are now also betting on the long-range battery alternative. In Germany, Stellantis subsidiary Opel is technologically ahead.

The decisive factor is not the range at all, but from an economic point of view the fast refueling of the Vivaro-e.

(Picture: Opel)

Since the end of 2021, the Rüsselsheim-based company has been building the Vivaro-e not only as a purely battery-powered electric van, but also as a “hydrogen” variant with an additional fuel cell. The panel van has only a small battery, sufficient for a journey of around 50 kilometres. Three 700 bar hydrogen tanks in the underbody, which supply energy to a 45 kW fuel cell, ensure the remaining 350 kilometres. The bottom line is that the Vivaro-e is nearly 100 kilometers further than the purely battery-powered model.

Range is not an advantage

The slight increase in range isn’t the real benefit, it’s fast charging. “Filling up with hydrogen only takes three minutes,” explains Opel boss Uwe Hochschurtz. When it comes to commercial use of light-duty vehicles, short downtimes in day-to-day operations are cash. “Fuel cell electric cars offer an ideal solution for customers who want to travel long distances in their emission-free vans and at the same time refuel quickly.”

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Opel plans to build Vivaro-e by the end of 2000.

(Picture: Opel)

However, Opel’s hydrogen offensive is getting off to a slow start. By the end of 2023, 2,000 vehicles will initially be built and delivered to selected fleet customers. Miele is one of the already well-known customers, but hydrogen transporters should also be of interest to energy suppliers, parcel delivery companies and municipalities. But companies hoping to improve their image with local emissions-free drive technology could also benefit from a Vivaro-e.

H2 vans also at Citroën and Peugeot

Other brands Stellantis offer comparable vans, Peugeot has fitted its sister model e-Expert with identical technology on request, and Citroën also supplies an H2 variant of the e-Jumpy. Stellantis builds the fuel cells itself within the joint venture Symbio operated with the tire manufacturer Michelin and the equipment supplier Faurecia. Master as a hydrogen vehicle. Autonomy is announced at nearly 500 kilometers. Other construction variants will follow later, including a shuttle. The automaker also wants to provide the hydrogen filling stations needed for the depot.

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In France, the government also has strong expectations for all hydrogen technologies.

(Photo: Citroen)

The fact that the French in particular are so energetically committed to hydrogen may also have something to do with the politics of their home country. The government is investing massively in the development of a hydrogen economy. The aim is to become the world market leader in green hydrogen, which should not, however, be produced only from wind and solar energy, but also with the help of nuclear energy. One of the most important points is the conversion of goods and passenger transport to hydrogen vehicles, among other things up to 1000 filling stations for fuel cell vehicles are to be built by the end of 2028.

Germany wants to import green hydrogen

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The Citroën eJumpy Hydrogen uses the same technology as the Opel Vivaro-e.

(Photo: Citroen)

Germany also wants a hydrogen economy, but sees itself differently from France, a nuclear country, but less as a gas producer. Instead, green hydrogen should be mainly imported. Asked about the origin of the energy source, Opel boss Hochschurtz also answers the question of the origin of the energy source with foreign countries: “Soon large amounts of renewable energy will be produced on a large scale in a cost-effective and climate-neutral manner in remote locations around the world and then transported to consumers.Hydrogen will play an important role as transport is easier and cheaper than hydrogen. grid-tied electricity.

Despite these optimistic forecasts, the availability of green hydrogen is one of the major problems in fuel cell technology. Because so far the majority of the H2 stored in Germany and used elsewhere is the “grey” variant, which is mainly produced from natural gas. For the climate and the environment, nothing is gained by using them.

A large-scale import of green hydrogen has not yet been identified. As long as this is the case, the battery electric van will be the main opponent of the fuel cell delivery van. Also because the available green electricity can be used much better there. Because even with clean electricity, producing hydrogen is extremely energy-intensive – and much less efficient than using electricity directly in the battery car.

But that probably won’t bother Opel and its Stellantis siblings. For the German and French brands, the extension of the range of delivery vans to fuel cell vehicles is also interesting from other points of view. On the one hand, more experience is being gained with fuel cell technology, which will certainly also play an important role in freight transport in the future. On the other hand, large customers are served with a product that no other large manufacturer currently offers. This – so the math – should result in new opportunities to do business with each other. So maybe also with battery carriers.

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