“In the future, all trucks and buses will run on hydrogen. This is what we believe,” said Volvo Group Technical Director Thierry Hours in a recent meeting with senior officials from the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and Transport of the European Commission.
That statement is remarkable because a director of another Volvo division said earlier this year that he did not believe in hydrogen as a source of energy for electric passenger cars.
The European Commission had invited Hours to share his vision on the future of transport during the European Commission’s Research & Innovation Days. Hours said that it is important that hydrogen is produced using green energy. If CO2 is released during the production of hydrogen that is converted into energy after electrolysis, the use of hydrogen is of little use, according to him. Volvo is collaborating with Daimler in a joint venture on the large-scale development of fuel cells for hydrogen trucks.
Only green hydrogen
Unlike last year, the participants in the discussion about transport did not explicitly discuss which research they wanted to fund with money from the Horizon fund for research and innovation. However, it is clear that the production and use of green hydrogen for energy needs attention.
Just like last year, the technical director of aircraft manufacturer Airbus, Grazia Vittadini, attended the session on transport. And just like back then, she spoke passionately about the future of the earth. Our goal of protecting the climate has not been changed by the outbreak of the pandemic,” said Vittadini. “How did we manage to do that? We just accelerated the pace at which we aim to achieve our goals. Our first electric planes should be available in 2035,” she added.
Aircraft should also be hydrogen-powered
She, too, sees a future in this only if the engines of the aircraft are powered by hydrogen. “To this end, we recently presented three models. We are not there yet. The research will have to show what the best solution will be for this.”
If the pandemic has shown one thing, it is that huge changes are needed to meet the Paris climate targets, said the third participant in the discussion, Alan McKinnon, professor of logistics at the University of Kuehne and former chairman of the European Commission’s Advisory Committee on Transport on the use of Horizon funds. During the lockdown, a large part of industry was shut down. As a result, CO2 emissions decreased by 30 percent. Transport is responsible for 23 percent of CO2 emissions. And if nothing changes, emissions from transport will double by 2030.
“The solution also lies in people’s behavior”
Given the slow development of the technology and the costs it will incur in the initial phase, it is important to realize that part of the solution lies in people’s behavior. During the pandemic, we saw that people were less likely to go out shopping because they didn’t want to get infected,” said Hours. Products then arrive at their home address through online shopping. Transportation flows in connection with this change, Hours stated.
People are already shopping online, but that trend has now intensified. They also work much more often at home, so they can leave their car in the garage. “It’s important to realize that the solution to the climate problem is not just to improve technology. We can also change our behavior,” said McKinnon, who was originally a social scientist. If you were to continue along that line it would mean consuming, driving and flying less.
A multibillion-euro European Commission research fund
The extent to which research will be done on this remains to be seen. Industrial companies such as Airbus and Volvo have an interest in developing a technology that makes CO2-free driving and flying possible. This can be done by developing hydrogen technology. There is therefore a good chance that they will submit research proposals for subsidies from the Horizon Fund, which will contain almost €100 billion for the next seven years.