Having announced last year that it would focus on battery-electric trucks, because hydrogen would be too inefficient and expensive for long-distance transport, Swedish truck maker Scania has now unveiled plans to build new fuel-cell trucks.

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In January 2021, Scania released a statement entitled: “Scania’s commitment to battery electric vehicles”, in which it said that the use of hydrogen for heavy-duty vehicles “will be limited since three times as much renewable electricity is needed to power a hydrogen truck compared to a battery electric truck”, before adding that repair and maintenance costs would be higher due to the more complex systems involved.

But on Friday, the Swedish company — which is owned by Germany’s Volkswagen — announced it would develop “an initial 20 fuel-cell electric trucks” with US-based fuel-cell and electrolyser manufacturer Cummins as part of the Air Liquide-led HyTrucks project, which aims to put 1,000 hydrogen trucks on the roads in Belgium, the Netherlands and western Germany by 2025, along with the required refuelling infrastructure.

“Whilst there are batteries in every fuel-cell electric truck, fully battery-powered trucks remain Scania’s main strategy as they provide a higher uptime and improved costs per km or hour of operations for our customers,” the company said in a statement.

Scania’s head of e-mobility, Frederik Allard, said: “We have been clear that battery electric is what we see as the main track for all applications. That said, we are open to what our customers want also with regards to other solutions, like hydrogen.

“In some operations and geographies where battery electric vehicles are not optimal, we see that fuel cell electric vehicle will be used. We keep a close dialogue with our customers on what is best both for their total operating economy and our planet.”

The new fuel-cell trucks will be based on Scania’s battery electric vehicle platform, and use Cummins’ fuel cell, refuelling and storage solutions.

“The HyTrucks project will enable Scania to learn even more about how to install fuel cell systems, the operations and what customers experience,” the statement added.

“Scania is interested to learn what role green hydrogen can play. It might not be the most efficient solution but it is free of carbon.”

The company already has fuel-cell trucks in operation in Norway and Sweden.

Scania also confused commentators in January, when it joined a green hydrogen consortium in Spain, with the local director of communication and marketing Sonie Garcia announcing at the time that “Scania sees green hydrogen as an important player in medium- to long-term electrification.”

The chief executive of hydrogen-powered truck maker Hyzon recently told Recharge that his company was backing fuel-cell lorries because electricity grids would not be able to cope with large numbers of battery trucks.

Yet the Fraunhofer Institute unveiled a report in February that claimed hydrogen was unlikely to play a major role in road transport, even for heavy trucks.