The goal is ambitious: by five years, 1500 hydrogen trucks should be on Swiss roads. By the end of this year, there will be just under 50, and there are already nine filling stations throughout Switzerland. By the end of 2022, twice as many hydrogen filling stations should be available. What are the challenges for hydrogen to become established? Energeiaplus asked the players.
A new hydrogen filling station – that is still an event today. In Müntschemier in the Bernese Seeland, Switzerland’s ninth filling station was recently inaugurated.
The filling station belongs to one of Switzerland’s largest greengrocers, Schwab-Guillod. A hydrogen truck has been delivering vegetables to customers since December 2020. The truck has 80,000 km on the clock. So now it can also be refuelled at the company’s site in Müntschemier. Schwab-Guillod plans to convert half of its fleet of over 50 commercial vehicles to hydrogen by 2023. Passenger cars can also use the filling station during the day.
Reto Schwab is the third generation to run the vegetable processing company with its almost 600 employees. “We deliver green in green” is his slogan. In the video interview he explains what convinces him about hydrogen.
The driving force behind hydrogen mobility in Switzerland is the H2 Mobility Association. 21 companies are involved in the association – including the major filling station operators, retailers and companies from the transport sector. The aim is to bring hydrogen technology onto the roads and thus make a contribution to achieving the CO2 targets in road transport.
Jörg Ackermann, president of the H2 Mobility Association, says in a video interview that Switzerland is in a very good position internationally when it comes to hydrogen mobility. In Germany there are more filling stations than in Switzerland. The filling station in Zofingen, for example, sells more hydrogen than all the other stations in Germany put together. In Switzerland, moreover, only green hydrogen goes into the tank. That is a condition, says Jörg Ackermann.
If hydrogen is to become established as an alternative to fossil fuels, the interaction between production, distribution network and vehicles must be right. This is where Rolf Huber of H2 Energy sees the big challenge. Hydrogen is an important technology for achieving the energy transition, says Huber in the video interview.
In terms of range, hydrogen trucks cannot yet keep up with diesel trucks. One tank of hydrogen lorries lasts for about 600 km, diesel lorries for up to 1600 km. The 46 hydrogen trucks already on Swiss roads today are made by the South Korean vehicle manufacturer Hyundai. Together they have covered a good two million kilometres and saved over 1600 tonnes of CO2 in the process.
Hyundai plans to deliver 1500 vehicles to Switzerland by 2025, and the vehicle manufacturer is also focusing on hydrogen technology for passenger cars. And will there be enough hydrogen available? Yes, says Nicolas Crettenand, Head of Operations at Hydrospider, which produces hydrogen in Switzerland. Hydrospider currently operates a 2 megawatt (MW) plant in Niedergösgen.
An additional 10 MW should be added with the expansion in Niedergösgen and new projects, Crettenand says in the video interview. Other producers also have projects in the pipeline. In total, around 60 MW are needed to cover the demand for 1500 vehicles in 2025. One downer: the hydrogen is currently still being brought to filling stations by diesel vehicles. Hyundai is working on a solution, however.
Hydrogen in air traffic
Is hydrogen also an alternative for fossil aviation fuel? Absolutely, said Christian Hegner, director of the Federal Office for Civil Aviation at the national mobility conference in Bern. The large manufacturers already have projects in the quiver. The big challenge, however, is the storage of hydrogen. Hydrogen has four times the volume of kerosene and must be stored at much lower temperatures (-250 degrees) and under high pressure.
The use of hydrogen in air travel will also change the appearance of aircraft. This means less space for passengers and more space for fuel. Hydrogen is therefore more likely to be used in the short-haul sector, says Christian Hegner in the video interview.
Grey, blue, turquoise or green?
The production method of hydrogen is nowadays designated with different colors
Grey hydrogen is produced by converting fossil fuels into hydrogen and CO2, which is released into the atmosphere.
Blue hydrogen is grey hydrogen where the CO2 produced during the conversion is captured and stored underground (Carbon Capture and Storage CCS).
Turquoise hydrogen is produced by thermal cracking of methane in the absence of oxygen, producing solid carbon that is stored or used as a material.
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water using electricity from exclusively renewable sources.