The economic consideration of hydrogen technology must include all factors

Oliver Jelsch describes the role akquinet port consulting GmbH plays in the “H2Cool Prelude” research project and what the company expects from its collaboration.

How can hydrogen and fuel cell technology be used in truck refrigerated transport on the road? This question is currently being answered by researchers from the Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL), Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences, the association “H2BX – Hydrogen for the Bremerhaven Region” and our akquinet port consulting as part of the “H2Cool Prelude” project, funded by Bremerhavener Gesellschaft für Investitionsförderung und Stadtentwicklung mbH (BIS). The project’s practical partners are the freight forwarders Brüssel & Maass Logistik and the Frosta frozen food group, as well as the technology company Clean Logistics, which converts existing trucks to the climate-friendly hydrogen hybrid drive.

I am often asked why, as a company that advises and supports the port and terminal industry, we are now looking at overland truck transport as part of this research project. The reason is simple: the terminal industry will also have to or want to work in a more environmentally friendly and resource-saving way in the infra- and superstructure in the coming years. It is still open whether the drivers for this will be new legal requirements or primarily economic aspects, such as increasingly expensive diesel. But there is a good chance that hydrogen and fuel cell technology will also lead to improvements at ports and terminals. Particular focus here is on the rather large vehicles, such as the straddle carriers or the container trucks, which were previously powered by diesel and still are in most facilities. Container trucks are being used more and more at the terminal, as they relieve or even replace the expensive straddle carriers on certain routes. Hydrogen and fuel cell technology is easier to install in such larger and heavier vehicles than in a passenger car. Many manufacturers of terminal machinery and vehicles are already themselves considering what sort of new energies could be used at the container terminal in the future. Hybrid and battery systems for these vehicles are being researched. And we also want to expand our knowledge in this area at an early stage through our involvement in the H2Cool project. After all, the economic analysis of transport that we are now undertaking in the project can certainly be transferred to terminal trucks, which have a similarly high energy requirement and also weigh a lot.

Our task in the project is to provide a comparative economic analysis between conventional diesel-powered truck refrigerated transport to transport powered by hydrogen. It is particularly important to us that we base our analysis on real field tests. It would fall short if we only compared the transport modes based on theoretical data on calculated energy consumption. In our overall economic analysis, we also consider the following questions, for example: Where, how long and how often does the truck have to be charged? What happens if a fuel cell fails? Where can the truck be repaired and how long does that normally take? Do drivers need new qualifications to drive and refuel the trucks? All of these factors, beyond energy use alone, play a role in determining the economics of transportation.

After completion of the H2Cool project, we want to build up sufficient expertise to be able to advise transport companies and terminals on their plans to use hydrogen technology. With our knowledge, we can then also assess other scenarios: At what point does hydrogen technology become worthwhile? Is it ensured that the vehicles will cover the planned range and reach their destination without any loss of time? What economic obstacles or restrictions can we currently expect? After all, it is not worthwhile for us as consultants to advocate this modern technology in general only because it is “greener”. It has to make sense in day-to-day business and be economically successful. Otherwise, even new laws are of little help. We all know that we are at a turning point and that clean energies such as the climate-friendly hydrogen hybrid drive must come. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile not to decide blindly in favour of these technologies, but to examine in advance exactly in which areas we can start successfully and what we need to accomplish in order for the deployment to actually succeed.

This project is funded by Bremerhavener Gesellschaft für Investitionsförderung und Stadtentwicklung mbH (BIS).

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