Alexander Vlaskamp, CEO of German heavy truck maker MAN Truck & Bus, told reporters that it was, “impossible for hydrogen to effectively compete with battery electric trucks.” But if that’s true, why is MAN still working on hydrogen fuel cell technology?
Whether you find yourself among industry insiders or a group of keyboard warriors on Facebook, odds are you’ll have no trouble finding someone willing to argue that hydrogen, not batteries, will be powering the vehicles of tomorrow. But one place you won’t hear that argument is the c-suite at MAN Truck & Bus, where MAN CEO, Alexander Vlaskamp claims that his company doesn’t see hydrogen as a viable fuel for transportation.
The MAN, himself
“It’s one thing to have the technology and another thing for the technology to be viable,” Vlaskamp told the Spanish-language magazine Expansión (translated from Spanish). “Green hydrogen is not available for transportation and there is no point in switching from diesel to hydrogen if the energy source is not sustainable.”
Keep in mind that there are two ways to look at the concept of sustainability as it pertains to commercial trucking. The first is sustainability of the business (can we keep operating the way we have been), and the second is environmental sustainability. Vlaskamp makes an effort to point that hydrogen, at least for now, isn’t sustainable in either sense of the word.
Vlaskamp begins by pointing out that green hydrogen is much more expensive to produce than producing electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar. He goes on to explain that, in addition to the higher production cost per unit of usable energy, hydrogen must be distributed and stored using specialized, high-pressure containers that are prone to leaks. “Today you cannot buy hydrogen for less than 13 or 14 euros,” he says. “And it is not green. And when we have green hydrogen it will be needed for the heavy industry of steel, cement, or plastic.”
So — if all that’s true, why is MAN continuing to invest in hydrogen research? “Only to test our hypothesis,” claims Vlaskamp. “We may use hydrogen for transportation in 2035, but only if there is enough green hydrogen at the right price and the necessary infrastructure is in place.”
MAN has already received 800 order requests for its electric semi trucks, which can cover between 600 and 800 kilometers in a day, depending on order spec. MAN also says it’s working on improved batteries that will allow over 1,000 kilometers (600-ish miles) of daily driving per day.
Almost every major player in the industry — from Hyundai and Volvo to Bosch and Cummins — is investing in some form of hydrogen-fueled trucking. As such, it’s surprising to see the CEO of a major player in the space break ranks and come out against hydrogen as a viable fuel source. All of which makes this week’s news of a formal collaboration with ABB on megawatt charging seem much more important for the future of clean trucking than it did a few days ago!
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