Daimler and Shell Team up on Hydrogen Trucks

Daimler Trucks AG is teaming up with Shell New Energies NL B.V. to make hydrogen fuel-cell trucks happen in Europe, via the production of some 5,000 Mercedes-Benz heavy-duty fuel cell trucks by 2030, and through the expansion of hydrogen refueling infrastructure, including the construction of 150 stations. The goal is to strengthen a hydrogen-powered freight corridor in northern Europe that is expected to stretch out over 745 miles by 2025.

On the station side of the plan is an effort by Shell to join three green hydrogen production hubs in Cologne and Hamburg, Germany, and Rotterdam in Holland. Starting in 2024 the company plans to build heavy-duty refueling stations between these three locations ahead of the arrival of the first hydrogen fuel-cell Mercedes-Benz trucks the following year.

The two companies plan to act in concert, and to deliver stations and trucks according to customer usage patterns and needs, so this will be very tailored to individual trucking companies’ routes in between the three industrial cities in northern Europe. This will include establishing an open refueling standard between the trucks and the stations to make refueling easier and faster for truck drivers.

“Shell and Daimler Truck are convinced that hydrogen-powered fuel-cell trucks will be key for enabling CO2-neutral transportation in the future,” said Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck AG, Martin Daum. “With this unparalleled collaboration between two major players of the industry, we are pioneers in tackling the question of what should come first: infrastructure or vehicles. The answer is that both have to go hand in hand and we are both excited by this important step.”

Daimler Truck AG along with Volvo Trucks have recently launched a new joint venture dubbed cellcentric to manufacture fuel-cell systems, with the first intended to go into production in 2025. Cellcentric plans to develop, produce, and commercialize hydrogen fuel-cell systems for large trucks, but also envisions a future where hydrogen-based fuel-cell trucks and battery-electric trucks will complement each other based on customer use cases. The two companies expect that battery-electric trucks will be used on shorter routes with lower cargo weights, while hydrogen fuel-cell trucks will be more suited to longer distances and heavier cargo weights. This is why Daimler and Shell are focusing on a hydrogen corridor between the three industrial cities.

“We want to help our customers lower their emissions by accelerating the speed at which hydrogen trucks become a commercially viable alternative to diesel equivalents,” said Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch Shell plc, Ben van Beurden. “Shell and Daimler Truck intend to work together to support policies that will help to realize this key moment for fuel-cell trucks, and we invite other interested OEMs and industry partners to join us.”

Daimler and Shell’s announcement comes just days after Chairman of the Management Board of Volkswagen Group Herbert Diess poured some cold water on the technology’s potential as a fuel source for the next decade in Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper.

“Such fuels as a universal climate solution are a bit of a false promise,” Diess told the paper. “While they are wonderfully versatile, they cannot be expected to replace fossil fuels on a large scale. This can only be achieved with direct electrification. Hydrogen-based fuels are likely to be very scarce and uncompetitive for at least another decade.”

Diess’ comments, of course, should be viewed in light of Volkswagen Group’s investment into battery-electric cars, and perhaps as a subtle sideswipe at Toyota, Hyundai, and BMW, all three of which are still clinging to plans of making hydrogen happen in private passenger cars. Daimler and Shell’s plans, envisioning it as an alternative fuel for long-range trucks, is perhaps the middle road approach—allowing for some hydrogen infrastructure and development in narrow-use cases and applications.

For the moment, Daimler and Shell’s modest plans seem feasible, at least before a major breakthrough in solid-state battery tech.

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