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Hydrogen and electromobility

Article about DEVINN in Hospodářské noviny: Hydrogen Tatra. A revolutionary truck is being built in the Czech Republic, it should be running within three years.

As the title of the article suggests, our development team has been working for over a year on the project of a Tatra truck that will be fully powered by hydrogen. We are in charge of the hydrogen agenda here, so we are very happy that the project is finally being heard about.

Today's front page of Hospodářské noviny is adorned with an article Hydrogen Tatra. A revolutionary truck is being built in the Czech Republic, it should be running in three yearsdescribing the details of our cooperation with ÚJV Řež and Tatra. As the article's headline suggests, our development team has been working for over a year on a Tatra truck project that will be fully powered by hydrogen. We are in charge of the hydrogen agenda here, so we are very happy that the project is finally being heard about. The article can be read by subscribers of Hospodářské noviny on their website, but by permission of the editors, we are attaching the full article right here on the blog. Enjoy reading! Green is the colour of the world, and in the global campaign against climate change, the Czech Republic could now claim one small first place. Five domestic companies have teamed up with Tatra in Kopřivnice to develop a hydrogen-powered truck. If they succeed, it will be one of the world's first hydrogen vehicles of this type.

"We started negotiations on the project last year. This year the documentation was prepared and funding was obtained. Tatra's contribution to the project is the development and production of the prototype vehicle, supplying the chassis and cab and ensuring the integration of all components," says Andrej Čírtek, spokesman for the automaker, which is controlled by the Czechoslovak Group and businessman René Matera.

The entire project called H2Tatra, which aims to develop a new type of propulsion unit, is led by the research organisation ÚJV Řež. It belongs to the group of the state-controlled energy company ČEZ. However, a spokeswoman for ÚJV did not want to give any detailed information about the project, saying that it would be presented in a few weeks.In addition to ÚJV Řež, the project also involves the Jablonec-based company Devinn, which developed the H2BASE hydrogen mobile electricity source last year and tested it at the Rock for People festival this year, where it powered a music stage. Now it is developing a unit for trucks. "Tatra has been used to diesel only, and this is a big step for them. Within three years, Tatra will be running on hydrogen," promises Devinn boss Luboš Hajský.

The new Tatra should run on an electric motor based on the Tatra Force chassis. The prototype is scheduled to be ready for testing next year. It is not yet clear when and if the new car will go into larger-scale production.

However, it will be unique. Other commercial vehicles are already running on hydrogen; for example, the ÚJV itself has already developed a power unit for a bus that ran for several years in Neratovice. But the H2Tatra is designed to withstand the toughest conditions. "The vehicle will be primarily intended for customers in the civilian sector, for example mining companies," says Čírtek.

Hydrogen engine from 1804

In general, the use of hydrogen in transport is nothing new; the world's first internal combustion engine was based on the combustion of a mixture of hydrogen gas and air. It was built in 1804 by Francois Isaac de Rivaz. Since then, hydrogen propulsion has appeared several times, including during the Second World War. When the Germans ran out of petrol during the siege of Leningrad, they converted 200 trucks to burn hydrogen.

But modern hydrogen cars actually run on electricity. The difference with a conventional electric car is that it generates its own energy using a hydrogen fuel cell. To do this, they need a battery that is several times smaller and therefore much lighter. The problem with conventional electric cars is precisely the size of the batteries and the subsequent range. This is significantly longer with hydrogen.

And that's why it attracts truck manufacturers. Perhaps the most attention has been attracted by the project of the American car company Nikola, which last year was the subject of an investment mania and its shares soared from 10 to 80 dollars apiece. Last September, however, it turned out that it was partly a scam. The Nikola One truck that appeared in the company's promotional videos never actually worked properly. To get it to move at all in the clip, the company had it run down a gradual hill.

But others haven't given up and all the big truck manufacturers are starting to test this environmentally friendly way of transport. MAN is thus preparing two prototypes with different fuel cells. These should be on the road later this year and the first test vehicles could go into production in 2024. The biggest truck manufacturer, Germany's Daimler, wants a fuel cell truck by 2027.

In the Czech Republic, public transport in some cities, such as Ostrava and Ústí nad Labem, is still preparing for the switch to hydrogen. In June this year, the North Bohemian metropolis announced a tender for the purchase of 20 hydrogen buses for CZK 390 million.

Challenging production and storage

But hydrogen also has its drawbacks. The first is its storage. Its low density makes it bulky, and developers have so far failed to compress a kilogram of hydrogen into a container smaller than a ten-kilogram bottle of propane-butane. The rule of thumb is that the more cylinders, the longer the range. This is one of the reasons why these engines are particularly practical for large vehicles where there is more space for them.

Moreover, due to the small spread among people, hydrogen drives are still expensive, for example Devinn offers its mobile electricity source H2BASE for about five million crowns. However, experts expect that as hydrogen becomes more widespread in the market, production costs will come down and the price of cells will drop dramatically.

The necessary infrastructure is also lacking. There are only a few hydrogen filling stations in the Czech Republic. And the biggest problem today is the price of hydrogen itself. So far, hydrogen is mainly produced in an environmentally unfriendly way by splitting natural gas to produce CO2. In the future, it is envisaged that it will be produced using surplus electricity from renewable sources. However, this is also a very inefficient and, for the time being, relatively expensive method.

"If hydrogen were to replace diesel-powered cars, Czech nuclear power plants would have to produce energy only for hydrogen production by electrolysis and for nothing else," said Vladimír Matolín of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague during a debate at the Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics this June.

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