La Poste Tests Renault Electric Truck With Fuel Cell Range Extender

APR 12 2015 BY MARK KANE 15

Renault Maxity Electric with 20 kW  hydrogen-powered range extender

Renault Maxity Electric with 20 kW hydrogen-powered range extender

French Post Office “La Poste”, which owns the world’s largest fleet of electric cars (several thousand Renault Kangoo Z.E.s) together with Renault Trucks launched tests of the first electric truck with a hydrogen fuel cell range extender – probably one of the better examples of where this technology ultimately can find a home.

The choice fell on Renault’s 4.5-ton Maxity Electric truck, equipped with a 42 kWh battery pack and 20 kW hydrogen-powered range extender from Symbio FCell.  The vehicle will be used in the city of Dole (France’s Jura Department).

Standard range of about 100 km (62 miles) was doubled to 200 km (104 miles), although there is added weight of 300 kg (661 lbs) for the REx kit to the 400 kg (882 lbs) of batteries.

“Renault Trucks is for the first time ever demonstrating in partnership with La Poste a Maxity Electric model in Europe designed with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, developed by Symbio FCell, that serves to double the vehicle’s autonomy. This field test, scheduled to last a year, will enable Renault Trucks to explore all potential avenues of hydrogen technology under actual operating conditions.”

“Renault Trucks has configured its 4.5-ton Maxity Electric vehicle to accommodate a fuel cell, with the development and vehicle integration steps being carried out in partnership with the firm Symbio FCell. As a result, Maxity Electric’s average autonomy of approx. 100 kilometers has been bumped up another 100 kilometers thanks to energy supplied by the fuel cell. “When the vehicle is running, the electric motor is fed by two complementary energy sources; the fuel cell is capable of delivering a maximum power of 20 kW and, once that threshold has been reached, the batteries kick in to supply whatever power is still required. When idle, the fuel cell is available to recharge the battery as needed”, points out Christophe Vacquier, supervising the project. The heat released by the cell is then reused to warm the passenger compartment, which avoids having to consume any energy stored in the batteries, thus helping ensure longer autonomy. Mr. Vacquier further highlights the cell’s mode of operation: “The formation of water from oxygen in the air and hydrogen stored in the tanks triggers the production of electricity and heat, in accordance with the reverse principle of water electrolysis.”

Renault Maxity Electric with 20 kW  hydrogen-powered range extender

Renault Maxity Electric with 20 kW hydrogen-powered range extender

Karine Forien, Director of Energy Efficiency Strategy with Renault Trucks said:

“This vehicle generates no noise impacts and only releases water vapor; 200 kilometers of autonomy make it the ideal choice for a daily schedule of urban and suburban routes. Our purpose behind this project is to support European metropolitan areas in their goal of limiting air and noise pollution emissions, through testing innovative vehicles that produce zero emissions and that in the near term should become economically viable for our customers.”

Here is technical data:

Technical characteristics:

– Vehicle registered under the N2 category.
– Authorized gross weight: 4.5 tons, certified in France at 3.5 tons + 1 ton, by virtue of special regulations favoring “clean-burning vehicles” (operated with a “B” driver’s license): the extra 1,000 kg has been authorized as a declared additional rated weight, owing to the deployment of a “clean” alternative technology.
– Payload: 1 ton.
– Heating of the cab: heat released by the fuel cell or a CTP type electrical resistance when the cell is idle.

Performance ratings:

– Average autonomy: up to 200 km (100 km contributed by the batteries + 100 km by the cell)
– Maximum speed: 90 km/h
– Robotized transmission
– Asynchronous electric motor: 400 V / 47 kW
– Maximum torque at startup: 270 Nm

– Harvested energy: 42 kWh
– Lithium-ion / iron phosphate technology (Valence Technology)
– 4 battery packs, weighing a total of 400 kg
– Complete recharging time, including battery balancing phase: 7 hours
– Charger embedded in the vehicle, to allow charging on a simple three-phase power socket.
Hydrogen kit:

– Harvested energy: 45 kWh
– Hydrogen cell: 20 kW
– 2 hydrogen tanks, with a 75-liter capacity each, making it possible to store 4 kg of H2 at 350 bar
– Total weight of this kit: 300 kg
– Kit user’s guide included.
Scope of this experiment:

– The Maxity H2 truck will be delivered to the Dole platform around mid-February. The test is scheduled to last one year so that the vehicle’s capacities can be fully assessed during all seasons and in order to generate pertinent feedback.
– The vehicle will be used on a mail and package collection route.
– This route is mainly rural and covers a distance of approx. 70 km.
– A postal employee and her substitute have both been trained to drive this vehicle.”

Categories: Renault, Trucks

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15 Comments on "La Poste Tests Renault Electric Truck With Fuel Cell Range Extender"

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Hydrogen fuel isn’t a good idea from any perspective. From a cost basis, hydrogen fuel will never be able to compete with either gasoline/diesel or with battery power. From the “green” perspective, it’s worse than gasoline/diesel because a generation-to-wheel analysis (the equivalent of a well-to-wheel analysis) will always show that it generates more carbon than using gasoline/diesel. This is true even if the origin of the hydrogen is electrolysis, not reforming natural gas.

And contrary to the hopes of “hydrogen economy” proponents, those hard realities are never going go change. You’d have to change the laws of physics; it would be as easy to build a practical perpetual motion machine as to make hydrogen fuel cost-effective or for it to make sense on a EROI basis.

So a hydrogen-fueled PHEV is just a form of greenwashing. Something which -appears- to be environmentally responsible, but actually is the opposite; it’s -worse- than a gas/diesel powered PHEV.

Fuel cell’s are absolutely less efficient than batteries but there is no fundamental reason they can’t be co2 neutral, none, if you have an on site electrolyser connected to pv it is as co2 neutral as charging the car or truck using the pv. The solar array would have to be twice as big for the el/FC combination but you could make h2 when the vehicle is on the road.

As for why they don’t use a massive battery pack it is probably due to weight, if you don’t want to have to train all your drivers to be heavy goods drivers you have to keep the weight of the vehicle below a certain limit. I suspect if there is a final product the battery would be smaller and the h2 tank bigger or higher pressure to reduce the weight and hold the range so you can carry a heavier load.

I don’t think you have any idea how big a solar array you’d need to actually generate enough hydrogen via electrolysis to make a practical H2 refueling station. Plus, you’d need a lot more energy to compress the H2 enough to make it a practical fuel for a car, and that means even more energy needed.

One of my friends estimates you’d need a solar array as big as a football field to power just one Supercharger stall. For a H2 fueled vehicle, it would have to be something like 2-3 times that size.

Good luck finding that much cheap land for your solar array near any location appropriate for a fueling station. There is a reason that 95% of hydrogen fuel is made by reforming natural gas; making it by electrolysis isn’t practical.

And even worse: Something like that solar-powered H2 fueling station could fuel perhaps a dozen H2 powered cars per day; note that the average gas station services 1100 cars per day! So that’s another un-solvable problem with hydrogen fuel: The fueling stations cost far too much per car.

I think we may be vigorously arguing over an unknown here so here are some numbers. La Poste currently has around 30,000 m2 of solar installed on the roof tops of its various facilities (about 6 MW – this is about 6 football fields). Using regular solar panels you could potentially average around 18,000 kWh per day from these solar array’s. Assuming 60% efficient electrolysis (this is pretty low, you could get to 80% but we’ll leave it pessimistic) you would get about 11,000 kWh worth of H2. You would need about a third of this energy to compress the hydrogen to 350 bar which would leave you with 7,200 kWh of energy. Each truck needs 52,500 l (2 x 75 x 350) of hydrogen per day (probably less as you wouldn’t run completely dry every day but let’s just assume you do) that works out as about 158 kWh of energy per truck (of interest this is a FC efficiency of 25% which is quite shocking, most fuel cells are around 40-50% efficient). This would mean La Poste could fill around 45 trucks a day with their current solar array (or 90 if they sorted out their FC). If… Read more »

Great data. Thanks.

Is it really true that it makes sense if you are weight sensitive? The truck has 400 kg of batteries for 100 km of range. The REx-kit weights 300 kg for another 100 km. So FC is not that much lighter per 100 km range.

You’re ignoring the fact that hydrogen fuel is massively more expensive than charging batteries with electricity. This is more than doubly true if you’re getting H2 from electrolysis instead of reforming natural gas. H2 made from natural gas sells for something like $5-6 per kg (roughly the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline), but from prototype stations producing it from electrolysis, it’s about $15-16. Of course we can expect the latter cost to come down some as more hydrogen fuel filling stations are built, but obviously it will always be considerably more expensive than H2 from reforming natural gas, because the EROI is so much worse.

Lensman said:
“From the “green” perspective, [hydrogen fuel is] worse than gasoline/diesel because a generation-to-wheel analysis (the equivalent of a well-to-wheel analysis) will always show that it generates more carbon than using gasoline/diesel. This is true even if the origin of the hydrogen is electrolysis, not reforming natural gas.”

The scientists at Argonne National Laboratory disagree with you. Steam methane reformed hydrogen generates about 40% less CO2 well-to-wheels than gas ICE vehicles, and about 30% less than diesel ICE vehicles. If landfill gas or biomass is used to create Hydrogen, the C02 emissions from a FCV are less than half the CO2 emissions of a BEV driven US mix grid electricity. California is requiring 33% of the hydrogen sold at state-funded Hydrogen stations to be created from renewable sources, and the renewable percentage requirement increases in subsequent years.

Where are you getting your CO2 figures for steam reformed methane? There are arguably plenty of reasons to oppose hydrogen fuel cells, but I don’t think CO2 emissions from steam reformed methane is one of them.

Methane? Nobody is talking about methane except you. The article clearly says “a hydrogen fuel cell range extender”. The word “methane” appears nowhere in the article.

If you want detailed articles explaining exactly why it is physically impossible (not merely hard) for hydrogen fuel to ever be competitive with either gasoline/diesel or batteries charged with electricity, for reasons involving both physics (laws of thermodynamics) and economics (Energy Return On Investment, or EROI), some good links are below. If you want figures for how much energy from natural gas (which is mostly methane) is wasted in producing, compressing, and dispensing hydrogen fuel, you’ll find them in those linked articles.

There was a typo in my question. It should have read: “Where are you getting your CO2 figures for hydrogen made from steam reformed methane (natural gas)?” Sorry for the misunderstanding.

I just wanted to know if you had a link/source for wheel-to-well CO2 emissions for various fuel sources. I haven’t been able to find a good chart other than the one buried in the Argonne National Lab link in my comment above. Here is a better link directly to that CO2 emissions chart for various fuels.

Couldn’t you just use two battery packs instead? I’m guessing the fuel cell isn’t cheap either and then comes the cost of the hydrogen itself, and it almost weighs as much as the battery.
I guess this is what they want to test

Larger battery packs have many advantages over smaller ones. Not just longer range, but faster charging rates, more power, and better longevity. Dividing a Plug-in EV’s battery pack into two separate packs makes no sense.

No, I meant instead of the fuel cell they should double the amount of batteries. It would essentially give them the same thing but probably cheaper in the long run, assuming they will actually need that range.
I didn’t notice at first that there were 4 battery packs already.

“Someone out there” said:

“I didn’t notice at first that there were 4 battery packs already.”

I didn’t notice that either, but I suspect that actually means the battery pack is distributed in four modules, all connected to a single inverter, charger, and BMS.

Though I still prefer battery vehicles over fuel cell ones, I think ultimately this would be a much better way to introduce fuel cell vehicles if you’re going to have them at all.

Build fleet buses and trucks first that can fuel up in a centralized location for short/medium range duty. Then expand the hydrogen stations outward from those cities they’re located in gradually, so that long distance trucks can then have a fueling station at multiple points.

This way you can build a “nationwide hydrogen network” much faster than building a few stations at a time at taxpayer expense with an extremely limited numbers of cars that few will want due to their even more limited range compared to an EV due to lack of filling stations.