Hydrogen is viewed as a sure bet by the world’s biggest truckmakers, such as Daimler unit Daimler Truck, Volvo Trucks and Hyundai, because batteries are too heavy for long-distance commercial vehicles.
Yet fuel cell technology – where hydrogen passes through a catalyst, producing electricity – is for now too costly for mass-market consumer cars. Cells are complex and contain expensive materials, and although refueling is quicker than battery recharging, infrastructure is scarcer.
The fact that hydrogen is so far behind in the race to the affordable market also means even some champions of the technology, like Germany’s Greens, favor prioritizing battery-powered passenger cars because they see them as the fastest way to reach their main goal of decarbonizing transport. The Greens do, however, back the use of hydrogen fuel for ships and planes and want to invest heavily in “green” hydrogen produced solely from renewable sources.
“Hydrogen will play a highly important role in the transport industry,” said Stefan Gelbhaar, the party’s transport policy spokesperson in the Bundestag.
Politics can be unpredictable though – diesel went from saint to sinner following VW’s diesel emissions-cheating scandal, which came to light in 2015.
Some automakers view hydrogen technology as an insurance policy as the EU targets an effective ban on fossil-fuel cars from 2035.
Last year Daimler said it would wind down production of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL, a fuel cell SUV, but a source familiar with company plans said the project could easily be revived if the European Commission or a German government with Green participation decide to promote hydrogen cars.
“We are focusing on [battery] electric first, but we are in close cooperation with our truck guys,” said Jörg Burzer, Daimler’s head of production, when asked about that approach. “The technology is always available.”