Renault Looks to Commercial Vehicles to Lead Hydrogen Charge

Commercial vehicles are the most likely champions of future hydrogen fueled powertrains where the BEV’s range and charging issues are too challenging.

That’s the view of Guido Haak, Renault’s executive vice-president of its Advanced Product and Planning Group. TU-Automotive caught up with Haak at the Paris Motor Show 2022 to hear that Renault is not placing all its zero-emission eggs in the BEV basket. He told us: “Well, we’ve started to look at hydrogen. First of all, for the LVCs and heavy commercial vehicles because there the use case is very clear. Right away, you have a business case that when you’re driving with a lorry more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) per day, you have to recharge and that’s really much quicker with a with a hydrogen. The same is true whenever you are driving longer distances.”

Haak admitted that hydrogen fuel has its own challenges with infrastructure and storage where extra cooling facilities have to be in place to keep the gas in its compact liquified form. He added: “Of course, right now, there is the issue of adequate infrastructure, this depends very much on what proprietary infrastructure you have as a customer. So, I mean with LCVs, that’s less of a problem because usually they have some place where they are parking the vehicles or, in between on a longer route, they have a station in between. However, in terms of passenger cars this will place a much heavier load on infrastructure. The actual the storage of hydrogen is a nightmare. Also, the topic of the way that the fueling works is more capital intensive than what you have currently with electricity charging. That is the biggest issue right now when we want to roll out hydrogen for passenger car.”

Would the approach by several Japanese automakers suggesting that burning the gas in ICE powertrains could help accelerate the infrastructure considering that combustion engines can be easily and cheaply converted to run on hydrogen? Haak commented: “Then the question is, okay, do you do it as an internal combustion engine? Or do you do it as a fuel cell? So, that the Alpine AlpenGlow Concept car uses a combustion engine, while others at the show have hydrogen fuel cell powertrains. Our reasoning is to do what the customer needs. So, right now, we are using it for those cases where we clearly can identify that this is a use case for the customer.”

However, Haak does not see converting existing ICE powertrains to hydrogen a viable concern with all the complexities involved with various different power plants. He said: “That is, of course, hard to do in the field now, because you never know what is the status of the car before refurbishing? Yet, more like Cummings [heavy duty engines offering hydrogen ICE as an option], so you could be looking at replacing a new engine”

Haak pointed out that Renault has experience of providing powerplants using alternative fuels in various parts of the world. He illustrated this by saying: “This is done for other types of fuels, you know. When you’re looking in Brazil, we are offering as many consumers the potential to just fuel the gasoline engine with ethanol. So up to 100% ethanol. If you just design that into the engine, that’s no problem. You’re completely flexible.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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