Volvo Creates First Hydrogen Articulated Hauler

·3 min read
Photo credit: Volvo Construction Equipment
Photo credit: Volvo Construction Equipment
  • Volvo Construction Equipment partners with PowerCell Sweden and a number of research organizations to build a prototype hydrogen fuel-cell articulated hauler.

  • The 35-ton construction dump truck has an operating time of about four hours, carrying 12.5 kilograms of hydrogen.

  • Hydrogen is a promising zero-emission fuel for vehicles that would otherwise need large and expensive EV batteries, with a number of automakers working on this tech for large trucks.

Despite a decade's worth of efforts by Toyota and a number of other automakers to popularize hydrogen fuel-cell cars, the technology remains a niche concept that is overshadowed by electric cars with each passing year, even if EV adoption is not exactly rocketing ahead. But if there is one segment where hydrogen fuel-cell technology appears to be gaining momentum, it's in heavy cargo trucks. A number of producers are now eyeing the creation of hydrogen corridors between large European port cities and inland manufacturing centers as a viable step forward, with efforts under way to build more hydrogen stations in Europe and the US.

But until now we haven't seen hydrogen fuel cells applied to some other types of heavy trucks.

Volvo Construction Equipment is seeking to change that, with the debut of the HX04 articulated hauler used in mining and construction. The prototype results from a collaboration between Volvo and PowerCell Sweden as part of a project launched in 2018 with funding from the Swedish Energy Agency, Swedish Innovation Agency VINNOVA, and Swedish Transport Administration.

The 35-ton, six-wheeled articulated hauler was built in Braås, Sweden, where the first articulated hauler was created back in 1966. The fuel cell itself has a capacity of 12.5 kilograms (27.5 pounds), which gives the truck about four hours of operation, and can be refilled in just seven and a half minutes.

As with other hydrogen efforts, infrastructure is key, and as a part of this project Shell installed a hydrogen refueling station at the Volvo CE test facility in Braås.

"While an early prototype, this innovation will give valuable insights into the opportunities of hydrogen in the energy transformation alongside battery-electric solutions," said Carolina Diez Ferrer, head of advanced engineering programs at Volvo CE. "We believe that by exploring multiple technologies and working in partnership, we can create the best path forward to decarbonize the construction industry."

Electric mining trucks of different types have been around for decades, of course, but with this project Volvo is testing the technology's suitability for heavy construction equipment, which in Europe and the US is mostly powered by diesel fuel.

Despite having an industry-leading lineup of electric trucks on sale at the moment, Volvo seeks to explore hydrogen in this particular application for reasons that include battery weight. In a 35-ton hauler a battery that would allow it to operate for four hours could be prohibitively heavy and expensive, but a hydrogen tank combined with Volvo's own electric motors could be a far more realistic solution, especially when it comes to owner expenses.

"Vehicles with fuel-cell electric powertrains have an uptime, range, and fueling time similar to that of combustion-engine powered vehicles," the truck maker points out.

It's also worth noting that construction trucks of this type, if they were battery-electric, would not be able to use public charging stations, necessitating their own infrastructure in either case.

At the moment Volvo has most of the necessary tech to build more examples of the HX04, but expects wider commercialization of hydrogen-powered trucks to occur in the second half of this decade. As with EV cargo trucks, quite a bit still depends on infrastructure, especially the creation of regional hydrogen networks that are still in their infancy.

Ultimately, it will take closer cooperation and investment between truck makers and hydrogen station builders like Shell to make hydrogen trucks of various types more realistic for owner companies.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned