Last October, 10 XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks from Hyundai Motor Company, which succeeded in the mass production of the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell trucks, arrived in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was the first site where the vehicles arrived in Switzerland after Hyundai Motor Company announced that it would supply a total of 1,600 hydrogen fuel cell, heavy-duty trucks by 2025 to Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility, a joint venture established with the Swiss hydrogen energy company “H2 Energy.”
The world’s first hydrogen fuel cell trucks exported to Switzerland were delivered to seven supermarkets and logistics companies that were members of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association. Since then, the vehicles have been put into operation at various logistics sites to deliver daily necessities and fresh product throughout Switzerland. In recognition for leading the establishment of eco-friendly hydrogen energy ecosystem in the European commercial vehicle market, Hyundai Motor Company’s hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty truck project was awarded the “2020 Truck Innovation Award” in November of last year at SOLUTRANS, an international commercial vehicle exhibition.
Eight months have passed since XCIENT fuel cell trucks were exported to Switzerland. What do the actual users think about the truck in Europe, a market leader in eco-friendly products? We met Daniel Balmer, a member of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association and the Head of Transport Logistics from Migros Eastern Switzerland, Switzerland’s largest consumer cooperative and Jörg Ackermann, the Chairman of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association, to hear their experience of operating XCIENT fuel cell trucks.
Q. First, can you please give us a brief introduction of Migros?
Migros is a founding member of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association and Switzerland’s leading sales cooperative with about 600 supermarket stores nationwide. Our company’s strength is having introduced logistics automation to most processes by applying an advanced digital logistics system. We are currently converting multimodal transportation to eco-friendly energy vehicles in accordance with our goal of decarbonizing Switzerland.
The volume of logistics that Migros Eastern Switzerland handles per day is quite substantial. About 8,000 pallets of general goods, including fresh product that requires prompt delivery, are transported every day and the transport distance is close to 17,500 kilometers per day. In order to achieve the decarbonization goal while processing such a large logistical volume, Migros is promoting innovation in transportation. For example, it is trying to expand rail transport run 100% by hydroelectric energy and to replace freight trucks with eco-friendly vehicles. As part of this trend, we are introducing XCIENT fuel cell trucks from Hyundai, biogas trucks, and battery electric trucks to our transport system.
Migros introduced a hydrogen fuel cell truck for the first time in October last year. After XCIENT fuel cell trucks from Korea arrived in Lucerne, Migros received one of them and started operations for the first time. Currently, a total of three hydrogen fuel cell trucks are in operation at Migros Eastern Switzerland and several more in other parts of the Migros organization, and they are gaining operational experience in various conditions from the plains of central Switzerland to the Alps.
Q. The road environment in Switzerland consists of high-altitude mountainous areas. How is the actual driving experience of the hydrogen fuel cell truck?
Migros’s freight truck routes include some high hills and alpine areas. For example, the Gossau region, one of the delivery destinations, is an area with a high altitude of 622 meters above sea level and heavy snowfalls. We are also planning on making deliveries to the Alps region, which reaches an altitude of 1,720 meters.
The XCIENT fuel cell truck performs very well even in the mountainous terrain. Particularly, it has a maximum output of 350kW (approximately 476 horsepower), so it can easily climb steep hills even with a full load. Also, even in winter, when temperatures dip below zero, we have not experienced any degradation in performance of the hydrogen fuel cell system. In the case of electric vehicles, the biggest concern is the reduction in mileage with a single charge at low temperatures. The XCIENT fuel cell truck is suitable for situations where long distance transport is needed without degradation in performance.
A further performance evaluation will be conducted in summer driving conditions. In summer, I think the refrigeration performance of the cargo compartment will be an important evaluation factor. We will carefully look at how high temperatures affect heat generation of the hydrogen fuel cell system and look at changes in the performance of the electric motors and batteries. Moreover, hydrogen consumption, which would change when we increase refrigeration, will also be an important indicator to evaluate summer performance.
Q. What do you think are the advantages of the XCIENT fuel cell truck compared to the diesel trucks that operated in the past?
The biggest advantage compared to diesel trucks is that they are environmentally friendly and very quiet. It’s noiseless, perfect for driving in residential areas for early morning or night delivery, and it emits water vapor, not exhaust gas. It’s incredibly eco-friendly! Another advantage is the ease of use. If you charge 32 kilograms of hydrogen, you can drive for about 400 kilometers. Hydrogen charging can be done easily and conveniently by anyone with simple training. Long distance transport is possible with a short charging time of 8 to 20 minutes. (This varies depending on the external tank temperature.) The charging time is a little longer than diesel, but it’s not a major problem. Vehicle performance is also satisfactory. It produces high torque even with the maximum cargo load. XCIENT fuel cell truck maintains excellent acceleration on steep mountain roads and highways even with a trailer attached.
Q. What are the advantages of hydrogen fuel cell trucks compared to biogas trucks or battery electric trucks, which are also eco-friendly trucks introduced at the same time to Migros?
As each technology has distinct advantages, Migros is introducing a variety of eco-friendly transportation methods. For example, battery electric trucks are useful for transportation in densely populated areas such as cities. Biogas trucks and hydrogen fuel cell trucks can travel long distances, so they are suitable for mountain areas and long-distance transportation. The biggest advantage of hydrogen fuel cell trucks is the short charging time. Because the charging time is short, it can operate 24/7 without any restrictions, which I think is the most essential element for operation in East Switzerland.
Q. How well is the hydrogen fueling infrastructure established in Switzerland? If there is not enough infrastructure, how are you dealing with the charging problem?
There are currently seven hydrogen fueling stations in Switzerland. Of course, this is not sufficient, but since the mileage of a hydrogen fuel cell truck with a single charge is excellent, there have not yet been any problems with charging. Currently, by determining the travel time and the route of the vehicle in consideration of the number of vehicles, the locations of fueling stations, and hydrogen production, we are trying to improve the efficiency of the vehicle dispatch so that there are no inconveniences in operating the vehicle.
As it is still in the early stage, all transport companies are focusing on flexible vehicle operation, but hydrogen fueling stations will gradually increase in the future. Migros also plans to work in various fields with the member companies of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association to successfully build a hydrogen fuel cell truck operation system in Switzerland.
Q. Any last comments?
I am very proud that Migros introduced XCIENT fuel cell trucks to the logistics for the first time worldwide. Particularly, I would like to emphasize that drivers who directly operate the vehicles in the field are responding very positively to the driving characteristics, performance, and quietness of the XCIENT fuel cell trucks. It was also possible to confirm the possibility of development and expansion of hydrogen technology. I hope that a hydrogen ecosystem including hydrogen car technology, hydrogen production, and hydrogen fueling infrastructure for decarbonization will be established in the near future.
Q. Can you please tell us about the background regarding the creation of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association?
The H2 Mobility Switzerland Association was initiated by Coop, the largest distributor and energy company in Switzerland. As a leading distributor in Switzerland, Coop felt quite responsible for environmental pollution and was aware of the seriousness of carbon emissions in the transportation process. To solve this problem, we have set the goal of in-house decarbonization by 2023 and started paying attention to hydrogen technology, which has great potential in transportation and logistics. For example, we have built a small mobility system using closed hydrological cycle energy and participated as a partner in the prototype development of a hydrogen fuel cell truck by a Swiss company, ESORO.
Since then, the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association has been established with major Swiss energy and transportation companies to build a full-fledged hydrogen ecosystem. A total of 7 companies including Coop initially founded the association, and 14 additional companies joined the association for the purpose of expanding the nationwide hydrogen fueling station network. A total of 21 companies are currently participating.
Q. What is the purpose of the establishment of the association and what activities is it currently engaged in?
The purpose of the association is to build a hydrogen fueling infrastructure in Switzerland. And through this, the long-term goal is to reduce Switzerland’s CO2emissions. It is also concentrating on promoting the distribution of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles without any gas emissions and creating an environment for hydrogen energy development.
Currently, the member companies have the right to purchase Hyundai’s XCIENT fuel cell trucks on a preferential basis. The member companies that are already using the XCIENT fuel cell trucks have directly experienced the advantages of hydrogen fuel cell trucks in terms of their performance as well as eco-friendliness, and they are positively considering additional purchase. Since Switzerland is a relatively small country, it can quickly adapt to changes. Also, it does not have its own automobile industry, so I think active cooperation in the private sector is possible. If the member companies work together to increase the use of hydrogen energy, it will soon be possible to transition to a carbon-free hydrogen society.
Q. What policies does the Swiss government have in place to encourage eco-friendly freight transport?
In Switzerland, transition to eco-friendly freight transport is encouraged through policies such as road tax exemptions on eco-friendly vehicles. For example, a road tax is levied on trucks with a gross weight of 3.5 tons or more that use fossil fuels. However, eco-friendly commercial vehicles, such as hydrogen fuel cell trucks, are exempt from road tax and will continue to receive benefits.
Q. Can you please tell us about the current status of the XCIENT fuel cell trucks in operation throughout Switzerland?
Currently, a total of 46 XCIENT fuel cell trucks are in operation across Switzerland. The total mileage of these vehicles is over 750,000 kilometers so far. In some areas, the daily route is up to 650 kilometers. According to the statistics gathered so far, our analysis indicates that there was a reduction of CO2 emissions by more than about 585 tons.
Q. How many hydrogen fueling stations have been built in Europe?
Currently, the number of hydrogen fueling stations in Europe is rapidly increasing. According to H2.LIVE (https://h2.live/en), which provides the current status of hydrogen fueling infrastructure in Europe, a total of 145 hydrogen fueling stations are currently in operation in Europe, and 44 additional hydrogen fueling stations are scheduled to be built in the future. If about 200 hydrogen fueling stations are built in Europe in the future, hydrogen fueling infrastructure that can be conveniently used not only by commercial vehicles but also by passenger vehicles will be established.
Q. How do you see the future prospects for hydrogen fuel cell trucks in Switzerland
Switzerland has set high goals and enacted various laws to make the transition from fossil fuels to green energy possible. In addition, as electric motors gradually replaced internal combustion engines, the automobile industry has also faced major changes. The members of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association, which provide large-scale transportation services, are actively participating in this change more than anyone else. The member companies are constantly providing guidance as to what eco-friendly transportation methods are needed to secure future competitiveness and sustainability. In particular, hydrogen fuel cell trucks are fast-charging and have no gas emissions, so the member companies have very high expectations of the hydrogen fuel cell trucks.
Swiss transport and logistics companies are convinced that hydrogen fuel cell commercial vehicles have the greatest potential among various alternative energy vehicles. The member companies do not stop at simply introducing hydrogen fuel cell trucks. They have high expectations for the hydrogen energy source that holds great potential for the future and believe that hydrogen will be the key for transitioning to eco-friendly energy. Specifically, the biggest advantage of hydrogen energy is its excellent storability. This suggests that hydrogen will play an important role in the era of eco-friendly energy. Many distribution companies are already experiencing the benefits directly by using the XCIENT fuel cell trucks, and I think that if summer operation is completed successfully, the demand for the XCIENT fuel cell trucks will increase even more.