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With so many battery electric vans already coming to the market, the focus at this year’s Cenex-LCV event had moved to hydrogen, says Dan... A future for hydrogen beyond the fuel cell?

While giving many potential customers a first chance to see an early example of the electric E-Transit on the Ford stand at this year’s Cenex-LCV exhibition, those looking further into the future were already exploring alternatives to full battery power. In most cases, that meant using hydrogen as a potential fuel.

Traditionally, opting for hydrogen has meant the use of a fuel cell to convert the gas into electrical energy, with the only waste product being water. But many are now considering hydrogen as an actual fuel, that can be used in a converted diesel engine. There are a number of reasons for this move, not least that converting a current engine is considerably easier and faster than installing a fuel cell into an existing engine bay.

Punch Group

Punch Group, through its Italian arm Punch Hydrocells, has already shown a hydrogen internal combustion engine in marine applications. Its latest concept uses a Nissan Navara pick-up as the base vehicle. The engine’s individual cylinder glow plugs are replaced by spark plugs and the fuel injection system modified to deliver hydrogen. 

The pick-up had been equipped with two hydrogen tanks, holding 6kg of gas at 700 bar pressure. This is enough for a driving range of around 280km. At present the tanks are simply bolted into the pick-up bed, in a production vehicle they would need to be installed below the load area within the chassis. Punch claims that the engine produces a similar power output to the regular diesel, with comparable efficiency.

The Punch Flybrid division was also present, with an F-Boost flywheel storage device installed on a Ford Transit Custom PHEV. Designed both to capture wasted energy and to protect the vehicle’s drive battery from high charging inputs, the F-Boost unit absorbs and stores energy from brake regeneration, delivering it back when the vehicle accelerates. The unit weighs just 50kg, yet is capable of storing up to 1 Mega joule of energy, to assist the hybrid driveline.

Delta Cosworth

Another company using Ford’s PHEV Transit Custom as a base vehicle, was Cosworth, through its Delta Cosworth business. The company had removed the standard van’s three cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine and replaced it with a catalytic generator (Cat-Gen), to use as a range extender to the van’s traction battery.

The Cat-Gen unit compresses the incoming air charge by 4.5 bar, taking internal temperatures to 200°C, this then passes through a heat exchanger taking the temperature to 500°C. The fuel, which can be petrol or a range of biofuels, is sprayed in at an 8:1 air to fuel ratio. Catalytic combustion burns the fuel to spin a generator, at up to 110,000rpm, creating energy that is converted to electricity.

Delta Cosworth claims up to a 50% WLTP emissions improvement over the standard van’s petrol engine, while the Cat-Gen unit is 100kg lighter than the engine, slowing the company to fit a larger 32kWh battery. This in turn doubles the available electric only driving range, without increasing vehicle weight.

AVL

Ford is also working on alternatives to its existing and upcoming vans. One project, in cooperation with AVL, is looking at the possibility of a hydrogen fuel cell (FCEV) equipped Transit. Using the E-Transit as a base,  AVL has installed a Bosch hydrogen fuel cell in the standard engine bay. The underfloor space used by the E-Transit’s traction batteries is repurposed to accommodate hydrogen storage tanks, containing 6kg of gas at 700 bar, various control systems and a smaller drive battery. Unladen weight is similar to the BEV and there is no loss of load volume, as the load floor remains at the same height. The FCEV Transit should offer a similar driving range to a diesel van, but with a refill time of around four minutes.

Ford

For those that didn’t attend the CV Show recently, then Cenex would have provided a first chance to see Ford’s E-Transit in action. Though not available for sale until next year, the BEV van is already being tested by fleets. Powered by a 68kWh battery, the rear-wheel driven van will initially be offered in 25 different van and chassis cab variants, to suit as many operators as possible.

With weights of 3.5, 3.9 and 4.25-tonnes, the vans offer payloads of up to 1,758kg, while chassis cabs have a capacity of up to 2,090kg. Ford is claiming a WLTP range of up to 196 miles will be possible, with DC rapid charging of up to 115kW delivering a 15-80% charge in just 30 minutes. The 11.3kW onboard charger will allow standard AC charging in 8.2 hours.

Both the AC and DC charge points sit just below the Ford badge on the grille. However, the company has already found that some customers would like to have charging inputs at the rear, to allow for charging while being loaded overnight. Ford is looking at options for chassis cabs, to add a second AC input to suit these fleets.