It was in May 2023 that Ford announced that it has started a research project that examines hydrogen as a possible energy source for its E-Transit commercial vehicles. It will be tested in the United Kingdom, at this stage, over the next 3-years as a trial assignment to work out if Ford can deliver zero-emissions for their E-Transit customers with long distance requirements.
The message coming from Ford tends to suggest that this test will focus on adding hydrogen as a range extender to an EV transit. Confirmation on the final configuration to the layout of the vehicle has not been fully clarified just yet.
According to Ford, a test fleet of eight hydrogen fuel-cell E-Transit vans will run for a six-month period. Then the data will then be collected and looked at with regard to the cost, the enhanced range and extended operation to compare with that of the cost and range of a conventional diesel commercial Transit.
This research with is partly funded and supported by the UK’s Advanced Propulsion Centre.
The role of the APC according to their website - is to help accelerate the transition to a net-zero automotive industry. APC collaborate with the UK government, the automotive industry and academia to accelerate the industrialisation of technologies, supporting the transition to deliver net-zero emission vehicles.
Ford will essentially see if this technology makes sense in its most heavy use commercial vehicles. While battery electric vehicles might make fine sense for short-run urban delivery, Ford says that fuel-cell technology could be useful for the long-distance transportation sector, heavier loads and for cargo-chilling. Especially as the infrastructure for easy access fast charging is still lacking in many locations across the UK currently.
The Ford E-Transit that is currently operating on American roads and streets has a 68KWH battery pack and has an estimated EPA-cycle range of just over 200K’s, that also assumes the Transit is moderately loaded and the weather is not too cold.
Ford does have some recent research history with fuel-cell technology as it goes back to the 1990’s. Ford U.S. was one of the first automotive companies to effectively abandon its hydrogen fuel-cell program in the mid 2000’s. They played around with a hydrogen fuel-cell powered Ford Explorer prototype in 2006. This was during the hydrogen boom period that kept many automotive companies very bullish on the technology up until 2009. Another such boom, pushed by policy or ideology may be underway again.
Although many automakers have essentially said that the hydrogen fuel-cell technology window of opportunity has passed by for light vehicles, a number of automakers see a future for it in heavier commercial vehicles. Toyota and Honda, for instance, have recently broadened their fuel-cell semi plans for the U.S.
In Europe, Ford says that it’s still involved in a number of hydrogen projects, including the use of hydrogen in internal combustion engine vehicles. We always thought it was far too expensive and so much energy was needed to extract the hydrogen away from the oxygen to make it all worthwhile. However, if it can be done successfully, then why not?