The use of hydrogen as a fuel for public service vehicles provides decisive benefits. This is why the FAUN Group is building dustbin lorries with carbon-neutral engines in its new plant in Bremen.
Light-sleeping inhabitants of Bremen's Ostertor district are sometimes rudely awoken by the dustbin lorry growling its way through the neighbourhood's narrow streets at seven in the morning. But the loud rattling of its big diesel engine might soon be a thing of the past: hydrogen-powered dustbin lorries can roll through residential areas with scarcely a sound.
And vehicles like this will soon be leaving FAUN's new Bremen vehicle production site. The company, which specialises in public service vehicles, and has its headquarters at Osterholz-Scharmbeck, calls its hydrogen division BLUEPOWER. Externally, it's hard to detect any differences between these dustbin lorries and their fossil fuel-drive predecessors. The real difference becomes evident when the 27-tonne vehicles quietly set off.
Less noise generation is only one argument for the new vehicles. The environmental aspect is of course much more important: only water vapour comes out of the exhaust pipe. Running the vehicle on green hydrogen is carbon-neutral. Green hydrogen is obtained by electrolysis, using renewable energies. "Our objective is climate-neutral road freight transport and to achieve that, we must stop using fossil fuels. The move towards finding alternative fuels for transportation must gather momentum, and this includes ramping up the hydrogen economy", Patrick Hermanspann, Managing Director at the specialist vehicle manufacturer, explains.
If you want to have a really close look at modern hydrogen technology, you have to be there as the vehicles are being built. The 4,000 square metre hall at Bremen's motorway intersection houses half a dozen lorries in different stages of construction. This is where all the components a hydrogen-powered vehicle needs are installed: the high-pressure tanks which can hold up to 16 kilogrammes of compressed gas, the fuel cells that generate electricity from hydrogen and oxygen, a buffer battery to temporarily store the generated electricity and all kinds of intelligent control equipment.
It takes four weeks to transform a chassis into a hydrogen-powered truck. The truck is then taken to the construction plant in Osterholz-Scharmbeck or to other manufacturers. "The Weserpark shopping centre, with its own hydrogen filling station, is just a few hundred metres away. This is very practical for us, for filling the trucks for the first time and was a plus point for our decision to come to Bremen", Hermanspann says.
50 people are already employed at the new plant. In addition to technical specialists who can install the new technical equipment, there are also engineers who are working on developing the technology even further. Hermanspann believes that production and development are closely intertwined. In this respect, Bremen could lead the field as a high-tech location. "We feel very much at home in this region. Attracting new specialist staff is increasingly becoming a challenge for many companies. Being in Bremen and its surroundings makes us attractive when it comes to engaging new technical staff", the Managing Director continues.
For this reason, he is set on growing the business in the North. The company aims to have 900 people working in the "Alternative Drives" division by 2027. "We are always on the lookout for new colleagues, including those who need to be trained up to the job. We have a ten percent quota for staff who require training up, which is very important for our ability to succeed in future", he adds.
The positive points of the new Bremen site include its proximity to the motorway and to major automotive component suppliers in, for example, Bremen Hansalinie Industrial Estate, a location which has a number of complementary benefits. An excellent working relationship with Bremeninvest is also a decisive factor.
When FAUN was setting up in Bremen, Bremeninvest supported the company by providing services to help with every aspect of the relocation process. “Our contacts with Bremeninvest were very professional and the entire experience of working together was extremely successful”, Hermanspann sums up. Bremeninvest and FAUN can easily imagine working together in future to further develop the site.
Around 100 vehicles will be manufactured in the first year of production. They will join the 20 FAUN hydrogen-powered trucks that are currently being used by a number of municipal waste management companies in Germany. They will undergo rigorous testing, because many waste management providers will be using this new drive technology for the first time. One of these lorries has already been tested in Bremen and the electric version is being used successfully in Bremerhaven since 2019. The vehicles have shown how well they can handle everyday challenges, and the combination of a hydrogen tank and electrical battery means they can easily cover daily routes of up to 400 kilometres.
But what made the people of the Osterholz-Scharmbeck district decide on hydrogen technology in the first place? This technology is currently very expensive. On average, a series vehicle costs three times more than a vehicle powered by fossil fuel, and the hydrogen fuel itself is currently the same price as diesel.
There are many factors at work in the answer. On one hand, a hydrogen-powered lorry weighs a great deal less than one driven exclusively by a battery, if the two vehicles are designed to have the same range. This is because hydrogen can store much more energy per kilogramme than a lithium ion battery. And the greater a vehicle's unladen weight, the less the load it is permitted to carry when operating. Choosing exclusively battery-powered vehicles would require more vehicles and manpower to perform the same amount of daily tasks.
On the other hand, Hermanspann is confident that the costs associated with hydrogen drives will fall as more vehicles are manufactured in greater numbers: "At the moment, we're still in the initial stages. Conditions and prices will be adjusted as more players get involved. Added to this are the grants and tax incentives that already make these vehicles an attractive option today. The German Government has launched projects such as exempting hydrogen-powered trucks from motorway tolls and implementing Europe-wide CO2 charging."
The following economies of scale, which have already been seen in battery production, will apply: Between 2011 and 2020, the price of battery packs sank by around 85 percent per kilowatt hour. This effect will be repeated in the case of hydrogen as soon as the necessary infrastructure is put in place for it.
The state of Bremen is also strongly involved in this development. One example is the Hyways For Future project and another is the Clean Hydrogen Coastline project. The Clean Hydrogen Coastline project is working towards providing a comprehensive hydrogen supply network in the north of Germany and testing it by using hydrogen-powered utility vehicles such as those supplied by FAUN. The vehicle manufacturer is a partner in the project, which is also being supported as part of the European Union's "Important Projects of Common European Interest" (IPCEI).
Hermanspann is also of the opinion that it is not only the H2 price at the filling station that will drop in the future. "We see the closing of raw material processing loops as another key way to achieve sustainable economic activity and contribute towards meeting climate goals. Waste incineration plant operators can use electrolysis to generate electricity there, and that electricity can then be used to run waste-handling vehicles. That would be the perfect loop." And FAUN will supply suitable vehicles for that purpose – from Bremen.
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