Switzerland Opens New Chapter in H2 Development

Coop
Truck with fuel cell system, © COOP

As early as last November, Switzerland saw the opening of its first public hydrogen station. But soon, it will create a whole new chapter with a fleet of hydrogen trucks to be brought into operation. A prototype has already been in use in the Zurich area.

In the beginning, the endeavor seemed to go on and off track. Shortly after Axpo, a big Swiss-based renewable energy producer, and the Coop retail chain launched a joint project on hydrogen transportation, the former announced its exit (see H2 Filling Stations for Switzerland and Coop Sticks Around – Axpo Quits). H2 Energy, a Swiss-based project management business in which Coop has a minority interest, was there to fill the void.

The initial objective was to produce hydrogen through a 2-megawatt system at Axpo’s Eglisau-Glattfelden power plant near Zweidlen at the German-Swiss border and transport it to a Coop station in the Zurich area. This station’s yearly demand from a planned commercial fleet of fuel cell vehicles was projected to be 200 tons.

Twenty tons of H2 for 170 passenger cars

Now, plans have changed. The electricity will come from IBAarau’s hydropower plant instead. The Proton OnSite C30 PEM electrolyzer installed on the premises includes one of Diamond Lite’s pressure swing adsorption dryers and will be run by H2 Energy if there is surplus power available, meaning when it can’t be used for other purposes. Overall, the unit consumes 2 percent of the electricity generated on-site – 20 tons at 30 bars or 435 psi of outlet pressure – a share that is enough to supply 170 passenger cars or four trucks a year.

The gaseous hydrogen will be directed through a Sera-brand compressor to end up at 200 bars or 2,900 psi and will be transported in ten steel tanks holding 338 kilograms each to Switzerland’s first public H2 refueling station, which had likewise been set up as part of this project. Once the hydrogen arrives, it will be pumped into a stationary tank at 50 bars or 725 psi, and an ionic compressor by Linde will ensure supply ranging up to 950 bars or nearly 14,000 psi for the quick refueling of trucks and buses at 350 (5,000 psi) and passenger cars at 700 (10,000 psi).

The primary objective of building the public Coop Pronto gas station in Hunzenschwil was to supply the fuel cell truck prototype and twelve Hyundai fuel cell cars, type ix35 Fuel Cell, all of which are in use by the retail chain’s distribution center in Schafisheim. However, as Hansjörg Vock, vice president of H2 Energy’s board of directors and managing director of Diamond Lite, stressed when talking to H2-international: “Passenger cars aren’t the target market; the truck industry is.”

Switzerland’s first non-public H2 station is located at the Empa material research facility in Dübendorf and the supply pressure was upgraded from 350 to 700 bars last October.

Fuel cell truck in 18-ton category

This puts the MAN-brand truck squarely at the heart of the project. The refrigeration vehicle is an automatic equipped with a high-power electric engine and a fuel cell unit developed by Swiss Hydrogen and installed by Esoro. The latter has 455 individual cells and features an integrated 100-kilowatt S3 PEM stack manufactured by PowerCell in Sweden. A CALB lithium-ion battery (2 x 60 kilowatt-hours) is used as temporary storage to recover braking energy and supply power at peak demand.

The hydrogen is stored directly behind the driver’s cab in seven 350-bar high-pressure tanks. These composite pressure vessels hold up to 35 kilograms, enough to get as far as 400 kilometers or 249 miles. The fuel cell system is additionally used to supply power to peripheral systems (cooling).

The 18-wheeler, the first fuel cell vehicle in the 35-ton category – 19 tons plus 16-ton trailer, with renewable-powered trucks being permitted to weigh a ton above the limit – has been part of Coop’s logistics chain since May 31, 2017. From Schafisheim, it supplies stores across Switzerland’s entire northwest region. Initially, after the public gas station opening on Nov. 4, 2016, it had been used only during test drives and received a new stack before being integrated in day-to-day operations. Rolf Huber, chair of H2 Energy’s management board, told H2-international: “It was important to all stakeholders to avoid any risk of downtime. The critical routes were first completed with artificial weights in the back. This has led to enhanced waste heat management, water separation, and retarder, gear and fuel cell fine-tuning.” Max Senn, the Coop employee driving the vehicle throughout the test stage, was satisfied with the outcomes and recommended the truck for regular use. It was said that even thirty percent inclination at 32 tons proved to be easily overcome. After 3,500 kilometers or 2,175 miles with a company license plate, the truck finally received its official road permit in early June.

Huber said that Coop would like to add more of those trucks over the coming months. But that would require negotiations with OEMs. If the test truck has a successful run, the retail chain would be willing to replace most of its fleet vehicles with fuel cell versions by 2023 and help grow the gas station infrastructure. In that case, the target would be ten trucks per station. Several Swiss-based forwarders and production companies had already shown interest in the technology. But Huber added: “Unfortunately, European truck manufacturers haven’t been as involved as the ones in Asia.”

Chicken and egg

Joos Sutter, CEO of Coop, said during an interview with the Blick newspaper: “In 2008, we created a vision for our company, namely to have carbon-neutral operations by 2023. To reach our objective, one half of our efforts has been put into reducing carbon dioxide emissions; the other half has been directed into external projects. The operating range we need for the use of trucks and light commercial vehicles is up to 90 kilometers or 56 miles around a site. We’ve already put five battery-electric trucks into operation – and hydrogen versions are admittedly an intriguing proposition.” Asked about the expansion of the H2 grid in Switzerland, he replied: “Fortunately for us, we provided both the chicken and the egg, as the new hydrogen station is in direct vicinity of our large distribution center in Schafisheim. […] If we succeed in getting the permit, we could bring another two stations online early next year.”

The Hunzenschwil station also offers customers to pay by credit card (see also H2 Refueling, the German Way).

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