A hot debate is raging over fuel cells and batteries among those who study the matter. That hasn’t stopped some automakers from making moves in both fields. Proceed with caution seems to be the word, though. One good example is the UK electric truck startup Tevva. The company is promising a battery-electric truck with a fuel cell range extender, but its first launch to market is an all-battery truck. Now, who does that sound like?
Tevva Banks On Batteries With Fuel Cells, Eventually
Tevva came across the CleanTechnica radar in 2016 with the idea of blending a diesel-powered range extender with batteries for lower-emission mobility. Then fuel cells came along and knocked diesel out of the picture with the prospect of zero emissions. By last summer, Tevva was talking up a 7.5-tonne electric truck for the European market powered primarily by batteries, with a fuel cell on board to function as a range extender.
Last fall Tevva upped the ante with the unveiling of a 19-tonne hydrogen fuel cell electric truck.
“As with the 7.5t hydrogen-electric model, the 19t variant benefits from the company’s revolutionary dual energy system, combining lithium-ion batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell range extender,” Tevva explained. “The truck is expected to have a range of up to 500km depending on the number of hydrogen cylinders specified, which can be refilled in 10 minutes.”
“By adding a hydrogen fuel cell range extender that replenishes the battery throughout the day, Tevva has created zero-emission urban trucks that eliminate range anxiety and can replace diesel trucks on all routes,” they added.
Step 1: The Batteries
The battery-powered truck with fuel cells has yet to emerge, but it will soon if all goes according to plan, and the plan is to launch a 7.5 tonne all-battery electric truck first. Last week, Tevva jumped closer to that goal. The company announced that it received European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval. The truck has received approval from the Swedish Transport Agency as well.
The process involved 30 different tests for safety and other systems, including compatibility with the latest electromagnetic standards.
“It means that Tevva can start producing and selling in volume across the UK and Europe and represents the key regulatory step in the development and commercialisation of all vehicles, including electric trucks,” Tevva explained.
“With this Tevva becomes the first British company to receive EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval for a 7.5t electric truck and has moved quickly to get its first vehicles out to customers.”
The sales target for 2023 comes in at a modest 1,000 units, but Tevva states that it has already lined up Expect Distribution, Travis Perkins, and Royal Mail among other customers.
Here Come The Zero Emission Trucks, With Fuel Cells
In this day and age of supply chain backups perhaps it is best not to set expectations for production volume too high, and the Brexit thing doesn’t help much. Nevertheless, Tevva also confirmed its fuel cell plans in the approval announcement. The company stated that a version of the 7.5 tonne truck with fuel cells will follow later this year.
Tevva claims a range of up to 227 kilometers (140 miles) on a single charge for the batteries-only truck, making it suitable for urban use and other short haul deliveries. With the new fuel cell range extender, the company anticipates up to 570 kilometers.
Further cementing the prospects for a fuel cell truck from Tevva is the company Loop Energy. Loop signed on to a $12 million+ deal to provide its fuel cells to Tevva this year and into 2024. The new agreement builds on a previous commitment from Tevva to place initial orders for last year.
“The contract with Tevva is indicative of the surge in interest we see in Europe for hydrogen-electric vehicles and the fuel cells that power them,” said Loop Energy President and CEO Ben Nyland, who clearly has not been listening to the fuel cell skeptics.
Competing with battery-only EVs on cost has been a stretch for fuel cell manufacturers, but the range extender market appears to be providing some breathing space. This year, Loop is also trialing its range-extending fuel cells with the Columbian company Opex/Hevolucion and the Spanish company Avia Ingeniería.
Opex is looking at a fuel cells for a logistics truck. Avia InIngeniería has its eyes farther up the scale, on a tractor-trailer transport truck as part of Spain’s ShineFleet hydrogen mobility demonstration project.
“The aim of the pilot is to demonstrate the feasibility of hydrogen technology and educate fleet operators on how to scale a fleet. A logistics fleet operator is expected to integrate the truck into its service routes once it is operational in 2023,” Loop explains.
So, We’re Having Fuel Cells After All
One main argument in favor of fuel cells is their quick recharging time compared to batteries. That may become a moot point if EV battery fast-charging technology keeps improving.
Natural gas is the primary sticking point for fuel cells as a decarbonization tool, because the bulk of the global hydrogen supply comes from natural gas along with other fossil sources. However, that is also becoming a moot point, as the market for green hydrogen from renewable resources heats up.
Aside from the battery charging and hydrogen sourcing factors, it seems that the big US automakers — Ford, Stellantis, and GM — are leaning towards both batteries and fuel cells as a means of balancing other factors like total cost-of-ownership, end-of-life considerations, supply chain reliability and diversity, resiliency in case of power outages or transportation disruptions, and the availability of necessary infrastructure.
The efficient allocation of renewable energy resources is another consideration, particularly as applied to producing green hydrogen with electricity from wind turbines. Green hydrogen can serve as a transportable energy storage medium for excess wind power generated at night, when demand is low. The stored energy can be used to help smooth out demand peaks during the day, potentially freeing up more electricity for EV battery charging.
Here in the US, the 800-pound gorilla in the fuel cell room is the startup Nikola. The company got off to a rocky start when it launched in 2014 with plans for a fuel cell semi truck. In an echo of Tevva’s fuel cell journey, Nikola has finally gotten a battery-powered version of the truck to the European market, and plans are still in the works for an FCEV version.
Activity in the heavy duty area has also begun trickling down to the field of passenger vehicles. Notably, last year Honda announced that it will produce a BEV version of its popular CR-V compact crossover SUV, featuring a fuel cell range extender, in the US, beginning in 2024.
The raging debate over fuel cells and batteries shows no sign of settling down any time soon, but the people that make the vehicles are not waiting around for the settling-down. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Photo: New electric truck with batteries and fuel cells (courtesy of Tevva).
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