In applications such as refuse collection, battery powered vehicles have their draw backs. Working with Renova, Scania is looking to solve that with fuel cells.
Refuse trucks often operate in residential areas in the early hours of the morning. With reduced emissions and noise, electric vehicles are especially attractive in these areas.
Electrification, and various hybrid and alternative fuel solutions attract a lot of attention. However, one possibility that has been overshadowed in comparison is hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
Now however, working with fuel cell specialist PowerCell Sweden, truck manufacturer Scania is to deliver a hydrogen fuel cell powered refuse collection vehicle to Swedish waste management firm Renova in Göteborg.
“We are highly interested in gaining more experience of fuel cells in actual customer operations,” explains Project Manager Marita Nilsson, Electric Powertrain Technology at Scania. “Fuel cells constitute a promising technology in the needed decarbonisation of transports.”
Renova and other waste handling companies have previously carried out trials with electric refuse trucks but this will be the first with fuel cells. The project is being implemented in cooperation with the Swedish Energy Agency and Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology.
“Electrification using fuel cells fuelled by hydrogen is a highly appealing alternative for heavy commercial vehicles such as refuse trucks,” says Hans Zackrisson, Head of Development at Renova. “The trucks benefit from all the advantages of electrification while maintaining some of the best aspects of fossil-fuel operations, namely range, hours in service and payload.”
The truck will feature a fully electrified powertrain as well as an electrified compactor. While that can be achieved using battery technologies, a major strength of hydrogen fuel cell based solutions is the fact that it is a zero-emission technology. Only water is actually emitted locally by the truck itself – as long as the hydrogen is produced in a renewable fashion.
Another real positive for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, and a reason for the growing interest, is that they have attributes comparable to conventional vehicles, such as refuelling patterns and infrastructure build-up. That’s attractive to those who are wary of making the dramatic change some new technologies require.
However, as with all new technologies, there are also challenges. As Scania seeks to address those it has already worked on a project with Norwegian food wholesaler Asko, which has opened its own production plant for sustainable hydrogen fuel. Scania is delivering four distribution fuel cell trucks with a range of 500 km to Asko.
Those trucks, which are fully electric, also feature a battery for moments when extra power is needed, and when the vehicle needs to recuperate electric power from brake energy.
Hedvig Paradis is the Project Manager in charge of Scania’s collaboration with Asko. With a PhD in fuel-cell technology from Lund University, she has been studying and working in this rapidly-evolving area for several years. She is excited by its potential.
“Different customers in different regions around the world will need different solutions, and hydrogen fuel-cell technology can be one of those solutions. We can see for example in Japan, South Korea and California that they are pushing for hydrogen-based solutions, and building hydrogen gas stations,” she says.
As it seeks to commercialise fuel cell powered RCVs, the truck manufacturer has also teamed up with PowerCell Sweden and truck superstructure specialist JOABThe project has been granted funding by the Swedish Energy Agency.
The four companies have jointly applied for aand been granted a governmental subsidy from the Swedish Energy Agency within the framework, Strategic Vehicle Research and Innovation, FFI. FFI is a partnership between the Swedish Government and the automotive industry for the joint funding of research, innovation and development. FFI focuses on the areas of Climate, Environment and Safety. The Royal Institute of Technology, KTH, will also participate in the project which comprises development, construction and operation of the truck.
Pending a more comprehensive network of hydrogen filling stations, the CEO of PowerCell, Per Wassén, sees refuse trucks as an ideal first step in the electrification of heavy-duty commercial vehicles. “Refuse trucks operate on fixed routes and always return to the starting point at the end of the shift, which greatly reduce their dependency on external filling stations. As the network of hydrogen filling stations is expanding across Europe, propulsion using fuel cells will become a very attractive alternative and pave the way for the unavoidable transformation of the commercial vehicle industry.”
Added to this is the need for a lot of space on the truck or bus for the hydrogen tanks. The solution available today takes up a lot of volume to maintain a good range that could otherwise be used for transporting goods or people. There’s also the central issue of how and where the hydrogen fuel is produced.
“Hydrogen gas stations are not that developed yet, although there is more infrastructure emerging,” notes Paradis. ”Some, like Asko, are actually building their own refuelling stations so they are in control of their own ecosystem. There’s a need for sustainable solutions that have less environmental impact. I’m sure there will be different solutions for different regions, and one solution won’t necessarily fit all, but hydrogen fuel-cell technology will have its part to play.”
As the project looks to move forward Paradis is confident that fuel cell technology will play a key role in decarbonising transportation. “The technology is not so mature yet,” she says. “It needs us to take greater steps in a shorter time, such as trying to solve the issues of degradation and lifetime of the fuel cell.”
With Scania expecting to deliver its first fuel cell powered refuse collection vehicle to Renova around the end the year, the waste industry could be the ideal proving ground for a seachange in transportation. Per Wassén, CEO of PowerCell Sweden certainly sees refuse trucks as an ideal first step in the electrification of heavy-duty commercial vehicles.
“Refuse trucks operate on fixed routes and always return to the starting point at the end of the shift, which greatly reduce their dependency on external filling stations,” he exlpains. "As the network of hydrogen filling stations is expanding across Europe, propulsion using fuel cells will become a very attractive alternative and pave the way for the unavoidable transformation of the commercial vehicle industry.”
There may be many obstacles to the technology, but as the 2020s loom on the horizon there’s little question that those could be addressed.
“I believe there is a bright future for fuel cells,” concludes Paradis. “It will certainly be one of the options for the future. We can see around the world that things are happening – in passenger vehicles, with different companies, with pilot fleets.”