BERLIN — The hydrogen-powered Mercedes-Benz GenH2 fuel cell semi returned to the German capital where it was introduced as a prototype three years ago. This is time it completed a record 650-mile (1,047-kilometer) overnight journey on a single fillup of liquid hydrogen.
Traveling the autobahns from Woerth am Rhein, the home of Daimler’s massive truck manufacturing complex that produces 500 primarily diesel trucks a day, to the German capital proved far easier than the final mile. A large red utility truck blocked the scheduled arrival at Ministergarten for 10 minutes after the GenH2 passed the famous Brandenburg Gate that separated communist East Germany from democratic West Germany during the Cold War.
Daimler’s video efforts, including a drone, tracked the 88,200-pound tractor-trailer loaded with 55,100 pounds of gravel as it inched along a busy Ebertstrassem, feeding the footage to a large video board erected for the event.
Andreas Gorbach, head of technology for the world’s largest truck maker, drove the final miles, deftly squeezing the truck through a narrow gate onto In den Ministergarten as global media video crews scrambled to find angles to capture the arrival.
“People weren’t scared the truck would make the 1,000 kilometers. They were scared that I would damage something while driving in,” Gorbach said with a laugh during a FreightWaves interview.
Matching a diesel truck’s performance — absent the emissions
The record-setting run showed a fuel cell truck could match the long-haul capability of a diesel while emitting only environmentally harmless water vapor. Where the fuel and hydrogen infrastructure will come from remains an open question. It is one that governments and industry in Europe are beginning to tackle.
“We do have some green [hydrogen] molecules available today, and we do supply them to mobility at about 30 tons a day here in Europe and more in the U.S.,” said Caroline Stancell, European general manager of hydrogen mobility for Air Products.
With more than 30 years of experience in fuel cells, mostly for passenger cars, Daimler has turned its focus to heavy-duty trucks with diesel-comparable refilling times and the ability to haul heavy loads absent planet-warming emissions. The fuel cell comes from Cellcentric, a joint venture with Volvo Group established in 2020.
Daimler proved it could field a reliably functional fuel cell truck. But lacking a fueling infrastructure, it is pointless to start series production until the second half of the decade.
“There will be green hydrogen available in large bulk quantities at the end of 2026 and the beginning of 2027, which is when these types of trucks really come onto the market,” Stancell said.
Sealed to avoid refueling
During the record run on Monday and Tuesday, a major goal was to avoid refilling the two 40-kilogram hydrogen tanks mounted on either side of the chassis. TUV Rhineland, a testing organization, affixed seals over the fuel inlet on Monday. The organization confirmed they had not been tampered with when the truck arrived in Berlin on Tuesday morning.
Daimler is developing both hydrogen fuel cells and battery-electric trucks. It is also experimenting with hydrogen fuel for the internal combustion engine on its famous Unimog severe-duty truck. Its goal of carbon neutrality in its major markets — Europe, the U.S. and Japan — by 2039 requires multiple efforts, Gorbach said.
Zero-emission technologies cost much more than diesel, especially in the beginning. Even with purchase incentives for the more expensive trucks and to help build infrastructure, the cost of trucking will rise compared with today.
“Customers don’t buy these trucks because they want them,” Gorbach said. “They buy them because they must. Both [fuel cells and battery-electric trucks] require two ingredients that go beyond the truck. The first is infrastructure. The second is a viable business case.
“It needs to be on eye level with diesel or better, such that we get a real pull from the market.”
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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.