Hexagon Purus manufactures high-pressure Type 4 cylinders and hydrogen infrastructure, which are used to transport and store hydrogen for customers in the industrial and mobility sectors. It also manufactures battery energy storage systems and does full vehicle integration for battery and hydrogen electric vehicles.

Morten Holum, Hexagon Purus’ CEO, tells Just Auto about the role for hydrogen in the global challenge to decarbonise the transport sector.

What role can hydrogen and battery electric vehicles can play as lower-emissions alternatives to diesel in the transport sector?

The global transport sector currently accounts for roughly one-quarter of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions – the science is clear that we won’t reach net-zero unless we decarbonise the global mobility sector.

Hydrogen and battery electric technologies are key for transitioning away from heavily polluting fossil fuels like diesel. These technologies are already available today, but we need more investment in the ecosystem to get them rolled out across every part of the sector.

What are the advantages of hydrogen solution (e.g., FCEV) over current BEVs?

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There is no ‘silver bullet’ that will solve the decarbonisation challenge; different sectors need different technologies to help them transition away from fossil fuels and towards lower- and zero-emissions alternatives. We see hydrogen and battery electric technology as complementary solutions.

We believe the logic for hydrogen is much stronger in the heavy-duty space. Battery electrification currently isn’t a viable option for most heavy-duty vehicles because the battery packs needed to power them would be too large and would need to be charged too frequently to make financial sense for fleet owners. If you’re carrying heavy loads, drive long distances and can’t charge for two hours several times during a day shift, then hydrogen is more practical and economical. 

Several fleet owners have bought battery electric trucks and realised it does not fit their duty cycle. This is part of the complexity of implementing new technologies.

BEVs make sense when you drive shorter distances, have light loads and the possibility to slow-charge overnight. Storing energy in a battery on a vehicle is a more efficient way of storing the energy. A passenger vehicle can give you a 400-500km range, which works for most people as their daily driving distances are typically far less than that. You can also charge the vehicle overnight, so you wake up with a fully charged car in the morning. Battery technology also works well for the kinds of trucks used for regional or local deliveries, or utility vehicles like boom trucks, refuse trucks and street sweepers.

Another factor is that it’s not feasible to achieve 100% electrification any time soon due to limited grid capacity, and we already see restrictions in availability at charging stations for passenger vehicles. It will be even more of an issue to get enough power for heavy-duty trucks.

Unless BEV technology improves and grid capacity significantly expands, we need hydrogen. And if we want zero-emission heavy-duty transport, we need hydrogen.

What are the challenges the global transport industry is facing in decarbonising, particularly with regards to heavy-duty vehicles?

There’s been some progress, but the global transport sector relies on oil products for around 90% of its final energy. So we need to go faster, particularly in the heavy transport sector which includes larger vehicles like buses, trucks, or utility vehicles. These vehicles are still heavily reliant on diesel, which not only contributes to greenhouse gas emissions but also to poor air quality.

Regulation is now going in the right direction for clean mobility. In California, the Advanced Clean Truck and the Advanced Clean Fleet regulations will result in significant growth for zero emission vehicles in the coming years. Together these two pieces of regulation are effectively addressing both the supply and demand side of the equation. This will result in significant growth for zero emission vehicles in California and the 13 other states adopting similar regulations as California on zero-emissions vehicles. In Europe, REPowerEU is also driving policy in a positive direction with many countries now adopting hydrogen strategies. 

Having said that, the energy transition appears to be going slower than most people expected a few years ago.

If you look back to 2020, I think we expected that 2023/2024 would be the inflection point for several parts of the mobility sector’s transition to net-zero – we thought our own growth would be faster in mobility and the driver in hydrogen demand. What we see now is that hydrogen infrastructure is driving the growth in our business.

We still see growth in the mobility space, but the ecosystem has to be developed further before a much larger volume of trucks can be deployed. For someone to operate a truck you need molecules available at a refueling station – so you have this chicken and egg situation where there aren’t enough molecules available yet, as green hydrogen production is lagging. Who wants to buy a hydrogen truck when there’s nowhere to fuel – and who wants to build a hydrogen storage system when there aren’t enough trucks on the road?

It’s clear that our industry was over-optimistic in 2019/2020 about how far and how fast it would develop. With higher inflation and interest rates hitting, in addition to technical challenges in scaling up large green hydrogen projects, zero emission mobility is somewhat delayed.

The world’s big subsidy programs like the US Clean Hydrogen Production Credit, the EU’s green H2 auctions, the German-led H2Global scheme, and the UK’s Contracts for Difference tenders, have all been taking longer to come to fruition than expected.

I’m still optimistic about the future of the energy transition. The technology for mobility is already here. Once we start to see more subsidies making more large-scale projects financially viable, the final investment decisions (FIDs) will follow. When that happens, we expect to benefit both from the growth in the number of hydrogen projects and new rafts of regulation. 

Where in the world do you see hydrogen breaking into the market first in a meaningful way in the transport sector?

We see strong commercial momentum in the transit bus area. We were recently selected by New Flyer, the largest transit bus manufacturer in North America, for the fourth consecutive year, to deliver hydrogen storage cylinders for their fuel-cell powered bus platform. This is a good demonstration of the quality and competitiveness of our technology. 

The heavy-duty truck segment is a bit further away from mass adoption, but as I said before, the logic for hydrogen in this segment is strong. Nikola is the first company to serially produce hydrogen trucks, the first of which are now on the road. We signed a long-term agreement with them in 2021 to supply our Type 4 composite cylinders.

Several OEMs are preparing their platforms for deployment in the second half of the decade. One of those is Ford, who has awarded us a contract to develop the fuel storage system for their F-MAX hydrogen-electric heavy-duty truck. Ford is part of a larger European project to decarbonise long-haul heavy-duty trucking, and this development contract positions us well for more business in the heavy-duty space in the future.

Hexagon Puris hydrogen fuel storage system made up of Type 4 cylinders

About Hexagon Purus:

Hexagon Purus is a manufacturer of zero emissions mobility and infrastructure solutions. The company manufactures high-pressure Type 4 cylinders and hydrogen infrastructure, which are used to transport and store hydrogen for customers in the industrial and mobility sectors. It also manufactures battery energy storage systems and does full vehicle integration for battery and hydrogen electric vehicles.

Hexagon Purus’ purpose is to be a driving force for a sustainable planet. The company is positioned to meet the rising global demand for zero-emission fuels and technologies, with a particular focus on the transport sector. It is rapidly expanding its capacity and global presence to meet anticipated demand.

The company now has more than 650 employees working in eight strategically important locations across three continents (Europe, North America and Asia). It has opened five brand new manufacturing facilities in the last twelve months in Westminster (Maryland, US), Kelowna (BC, Canada), Kassel (Germany), Weeze (Germany) and Ålesund (Norway). Hexagon Purus will also open a new facility in Shijiazhuang (China) and a new site in Dallas (Texas, USA) in mid-2024.

This year, the company is focussing on ramping up capacity at these new facilities as it prepares for serial production and executing on its strong order backlog.