Coach and bus ‘turnkey’ hydrogen driveline progressing

ZF and Freudenberg working on hydrogen driveline that includes coach and bus

ZF Commercial Vehicle Solutions and Freudenberg e-Power Systems have expanded their collaboration to a “turnkey” hydrogen fuel cell-electric driveline that will capture the coach and bus sector.

It complements the two companies’ existing work on coach through the HyFleet project. HyFleet also involves FlixBus and it will ultimately provide a hydrogen-powered coach to that business. The newly announced arrangement will see the delivery of “a highly integrated fuel cell electric drive solution” to vehicle OEMs across that board that can act as a “turnkey” solution, the suppliers say.

Freudenberg will supply the fuel cell and battery systems for the package and ZF will provide the associated electric driveline, including its CeTrax 2 central drive axle. The work captures HGVs in addition to coach and bus, with first prototypes expected to debut in 2023.

FlixBus has previously stated that the HyFleet work involving Freudenberg and ZF will see a hydrogen fuel cell-electric coach carry passengers on its network in 2024, although the location of that trial has not yet been disclosed.

In a presentation on the extension of the partnership, Freudenberg has reiterated the intention for the fuel cell stack to have a life of 35,000hrs, adding that the combination of it and ZF’s respective equipment will deliver good efficiency.

In a suggestion that the collaboration could deliver potential for hydrogen power in the wider coach sector sooner than later, the two parties say that the work is intended to offer vehicle OEMs a product that is optimised for total cost of ownership and operational costs and which can be placed into service “quickly.”

While a fully integrated hydrogen driveline is the centrepiece, individual components can be supplied if a coach or bus manufacturer wishes to carry out integration itself. Retrofit of the package to existing vehicles is not part of the model, however. The suppliers acknowledge that it could be possible from an engineering perspective, but sufficient volumes to justify exploration are believed to be unlikely.

The parties recognise that currently, hydrogen is not always ‘green’, and that it is expensive. They also note the interest in hydrogen combustion in some sectors, adding that it is not a new concept, but are of the belief that such use of the element will act as a ‘bridge’ between diesel and fuel cells in some cases.

The Department for Transport in April said that hydrogen combustion will not be regarded as zero-emission for the purposes of grant and incentive funding streams.