Daimler Truck and the Volvo Group have presented the strategy for their fuel cell joint venture Cellcentric, which was founded on 1 March 2021. For this purpose, the company plans to establish one of the largest series productions of fuel cell systems in Europe.
The core of the strategy is to build Cellcentric into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of fuel cell systems. Large-scale production is scheduled to start in 2025. Martin Lundstedt, CEO of the Volvo Group, spoke of a “gigafactory for fuel cells on the continent” at the online strategy presentation broadcast. The decision concerning the location of the gigafactory is to be made by 2022.
On the way to large-scale production, pre-series production is being prepared in Esslingen, Germany. At present, the fuel cell systems are still in the prototype stage, but Daimler says production will also be ramped up here. In about three years, customer trials of fuel cell trucks are to begin with pre-series systems. In the second half of the decade, after the start of fuel cell production planned for 2025, it should be possible to put fuel cell trucks into series production.
Within the framework of Cellcentric, the fuel cells will be developed, but no joint vehicle development or even production will take place. “We want to let the customer decide which trucks are better – Mercedes and Freightliner or Volvo and Renault,” says Daimler Truck CEO Martin Daum. “We are only working together on the heart of the powertrain.” With a smile, he added: “The question of which trucks are better is one of the few points on which I disagree with Martin Lundstedt.”
Earlier, Daum had stressed that Daimler and Volvo Group would share the same core assumptions on powertrain technology. “That’s why things quickly became concrete when Martin Lundstedt and I first exchanged visions about a year and a half ago,” Daum said.
Daimler and Volvo will focus on battery and fuel cell simultaneously
Unlike the VW commercial vehicle subsidiary Traton, which also wants to rely on batteries for long-distance trucks, Daimler and Volvo see the parallel development of battery and fuel cell in the commercial vehicle sector. Battery-electric vehicles on the short-haul, fuel cells for the long-haul. “Which drive is suitable depends on the application,” says Lundstedt. “Of course there are areas where the technologies overlap. But the direction is clear.”
Daimler Truck CEO Daum went on to explain that trucks are often used flexibly. “You can’t always plan,” says Daum, obviously alluding to the charging processes. For this, he sees too much uncertainty in the future electricity grid. “If we are to run everything on green electricity – our houses, factories, cars and trucks – it will lead to a heavy load on the grids. To relieve the strain on the power grids, we need a second source of energy for our drives.”
With the joint development and production of fuel cells, Daimler and Volvo want to tackle one of the main issues: costs. According to Daum, it should also be possible to equip city buses with fuel cells in the future, whose electrified versions today rely overwhelmingly on batteries.
There remains the issue of infrastructure: both Cellcentric shareholders are calling for a uniform regulatory framework in the EU to speed up the introduction of hydrogen-based fuel cells. Specifically, 300 “high-performance hydrogen filling stations” for heavy-duty vehicles are to be built by 2025, and a total of 1,000 filling stations by 2030.
With these 1,000 filling stations, which are subsidised by the government, Daum wants to solve the chicken-and-egg problem for hydrogen trucks. Or as Lundstedt puts it: “We need the vehicles, the infrastructure and the cost parity. It’s a simple multiplication: if one factor is zero, the result is also zero.”
Gas or liquid hydrogen?
At the filling stations, however, one question remains: is the hydrogen stored in liquid form (i.e. at -253 degrees Celsius) or in gaseous form at high pressure? “The fuel cell can process both liquid and gaseous hydrogen, there is no difference,” says Daum. “Filling stations will only be able to support one technology – gaseous or liquid. So the industry has to make a choice.”
While Lundstedt does not comment on this point at the online conference, Daimler Truck CEO Daum has a clear preference: “My opinion on this is that we are better positioned socially with liquid hydrogen.” Among other things, he points to the transport routes, which are easier with hydrogen production in distant countries than with gaseous hydrogen. Since Daum – despite the prototype GenH2 truck relying on liquid hydrogen – attributes the decision to “the industry”, it seems possible that Daimler will switch back to gaseous storage after all if there is no majority in the industry.
As part of the regulatory framework, the two groups are in favour of “incentives for CO2-neutral technologies as well as a taxation system based on CO2 and energy content; an emissions trading system could be another option”, according to the statement.
CEO found at Mercedes plant
Dr. Matthias Jurytko, currently Plant Manager and Head of Production at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Wörth, will move to Cellcentric starting on 1 June 2021, to take over the role of Managing Director and CEO. The choice for Jurytko apparently fell due to his success as a manager during the Covid pandemic. At least as much is hinted by Martin Daum:
“With his many years of management experience, he possesses important skills for this task: extensive expertise in the truck business, coupled with experience in the management and further development of our plants. As a competent manager and esteemed personality, Matthias Jurytko has led the Wörth site safely through the Covid-19 pandemic in recent months. Under his leadership, the truck plant became a pioneer in the implementation of Daimler’s testing and vaccination strategy.”
With reporting by Sebastian Schaal, Germany.