Volvo CE starts testing hydrogen fuel cell articulated hauler prototype
Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) has continued acting on its commitment to driving change towards a net-zero future. Following the completion of a multi-stakeholder research project aimed at hydrogen technology, the company has started testing a hydrogen fuel cell articulated hauler prototype, the Volvo HX04. The results of the project will provide important insights into the possibilities provided by hydrogen and fuel cells as Volvo CE continues research for its future product development programs.
Acting on its Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) commitment to net-zero value chain greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, and driving toward carbon neutrality, Volvo CE has increased its work on sustainable power sources.
Besides battery-electric solutions, where Volvo CE is already offering a large range of products, the company's efforts also include exploring the potential of electrification through hydrogen fuel cell technology. A milestone has been reached with the testing of an emission-free hydrogen fuel cell articulated hauler prototype, the Volvo HX04.
Utilizing research projects to develop the Volvo HX04
The Volvo HX04 is the result of a research project running between 2018 and 2022, with funding from FFI, a national collaboration between the Swedish Innovation Agency VINNOVA, Swedish Energy Agency, and Swedish Transport Administration, to support sustainable vehicle strategic research, innovation, and development. Partners include Volvo CE, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, and PowerCell Sweden, a developer of fuel cell-based hydrogen-electric power solutions.
The development and building of the six-wheel prototype has largely been carried out at Volvo CE's facility in Braås, Sweden – the same location where Gravel Charlie, the articulated hauler, was created back in 1966, giving the Volvo HX04 the nickname "Electric Charlie". Engineers at the Technology Center in Eskilstuna, Sweden, have contributed with software development and knowledge gathered through its fuel cell test lab. While not commercially available, valuable insights from the concept will inevitably inform future production.
The hydrogen refuelling station
Infrastructure for hydrogen is still in development, which means refuelling the Volvo HX04 is an important aspect to solve in the project. Shell installed a hydrogen refuelling station at the Volvo CE test track in Braås. Both Shell and the Volvo Group are founding members of H2Accelerate, a collaboration of companies working to foster conditions for the mass market roll-out of hydrogen trucks in Europe.
"Providing the fueling infrastructure for this innovative project gave Shell the opportunity to demonstrate our technical capabilities in hydrogen and enabled us to support one of our key global collaboration partners in taking another step forward in their decarbonization journey, which goes to the heart and intent of Shell's Powering Progress strategy," says Oliver Bishop, Shell's general manager for hydrogen mobility.
The hydrogen refuelling process
The fueling process for hydrogen vehicles is fast – the Volvo HX04 is charged with 12 kilograms of hydrogen in 7.5 minutes, enabling it to operate for approximately four hours. Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen with oxygen and the resulting chemical reaction produces electricity which powers the machine. In the process, fuel cells also produce heat that can be used for heating the cab. Fuel cells only emit one thing – water vapour.
In principle, a fuel cell works much like a battery except that it generates its own electricity from the hydrogen onboard as needed rather than being charged from an external source. Vehicles with fuel cell electric powertrains have an uptime, range, and fueling time similar to that of combustion engine-powered vehicles.
While battery-electric vehicles and biofuels are commercially available today – as more sustainable alternatives to diesel – commercialization of hydrogen-powered machines is expected during the second half of this decade.