LAS VEGAS — Daimler, the world's largest truck manufacturer, could commercialize a hydrogen-powered city bus in the next two to three years, r&d boss Markus Schäfer told reporters at CES last week.
While electrification is sweeping the passenger-car side of the industry, fuel cells are a more promising option for larger vehicles because they have better energy density than battery-electric vehicles.
Lithium ion battery chemistry currently struggles to deliver the range long-haul trucks require, Schäfer said.
"Fuel cells work great," Schäfer said. "It's just a cost issue, and it's all about scaling. We need volume."
Daimler began deliveries of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell crossover in Europe in 2018. It combines hydrogen fuel cell and battery technologies in the form of a plug-in hybrid getting most of its range from the fuel cell side.
"Not many other companies have a fuel cell car that works day to day just like any other car and performs greatly," Schäfer said.
In 2003, Daimler began testing fuel cell buses. Starting next year, a German public-transportation company is to begin field-testing a new Mercedes-Benz electric bus, equipped with a fuel cell range extender.
But fuel cell technology has struggled to gain traction because of high costs, complex storage of hydrogen and a lack of infrastructure.
In Germany, Daimler formed a joint venture with Linde, Royal Dutch Shell and Total to develop a network of hydrogen fueling stations. Toyota, the main proponent for hydrogen cars, and Hyundai both offer such vehicles commercially. Japan is investing heavily in building hydrogen-fueling infrastructure as it prepares to showcase the technology at the 2020 Olympic Games.
Daimler has long expressed a desire to delve into the technology — particularly for buses. Daimler CEO Ola Källenius previously referred to fuel cells as an "interesting technology for the future."
"It's conceivable that the next generation of fuel cells could go into a bus instead," Källenius said in 2018.