Volvo Group of Sweden said on Monday it has sold 1,000 battery electric trucks to Holcim of Switzerland, while also announcing progress on its way to commercializing hydrogen-powered fuel cell versions.
Volvo’s fuel-cell trucks have been tested on public roads. The next step is operational testing with hauliers. Sales should start before the end of the decade. Big issues to overcome include the supply of green hydrogen and the lack of a refueling infrastructure.
The deal with Holcim, which makes and sells building materials such as cement and ready-mixed concrete, calls for delivery of the trucks between now and 2030. Holcim operates in 60 countries and has about 60,000 employees.
Volvo declined to reveal financial details.
“The deal is the largest commercial order to date for Volvo electric trucks, and the first 130 vehicles will be delivered in 2023 and 2024,” the company said in a statement.
According to the Financial Times Lex column, the Swedish truck and heavy equipment maker marginally leads peers with 2,700 medium and heavy fully electric truck orders last year, having delivered more electric trucks than Daimler Truck or Volkswagen spinoff Traton. Volvo also sells trucks under the Mack, Renault and UD brands.
Volvo recently presented a progress report on its hydrogen fuel-cell plans.
“Now, the vehicles have passed an important milestone – namely, being test-driven on public roads. Last year, Volvo Trucks showcased its fuel-cell electric trucks for the first time. These zero exhaust emission trucks use hydrogen to produce their own electricity onboard, can travel long distances, making them suitable for longer transport assignments,” Volvo said.
Volvo said fuel-cell electric trucks will be commercially available in the 2nd half of this decade and tests with customers will start a “few” years before the commercial launch.
In theory, hydrogen-powered trucks have advantages over battery-electric ones. The batteries required to power trucks need to be massive and can take many hours to charge. Hydrogen fuel cells can be charged in minutes and are much smaller and lighter than electric batteries. Both require carbon-neutral regimes to be considered truly green.
Environmental NGOs argue that the hydrogen option only makes sense if the production process can be cleaned up, and there’s not much evidence of that currently.
Volvo Trucks senior vice president Global Product Management Jessica Sandström was asked about the prospects for producing a steady supply of green hydrogen.
“We expect the supply of green hydrogen to increase during the next couple of years, since many industries will depend on it to reduce CO2. It is likely to start in areas with access to affordable and renewable electricity. One advantage of hydrogen is the possibility to use it as storage of intermittent renewable energy sources,” Sandström said in a reply to email questions.
Sandström said in 2025 some customers will start to test the trucks in northern Europe. The hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is not up to the job, yet.
“The hydrogen refueling infrastructure for heavy vehicles is still largely lacking and will take years to build. We foresee that hydrogen refueling will happen mostly at public stations, with brief refueling stops in line with today’s diesel fueling operations,” Sandström said.
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