Volvo invests in fuel cell technology to solve environmental problems linked to idling engines

News AB Volvo June 17, 2005
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If trucks were equipped with a power unit driven by fuel cells, the carbon dioxide emissions from a single truck could be reduced by an estimated 20 to 30 tons per year. As a result, trucks would not have to run at idle to have an electrical supply when they are parked. In an effort to solve this problem, Volvo is now starting a joint-venture company for the development of power units based on fuel cell technology. The power unit features a newly patented technology and is so compact that they can be installed in standard trucks.

The new company, Powercell, is owned jointly by Volvo Technology (VTEC) and Statoil. Powercell holds the patent on an improved fuel cell technology that makes it possible to produce such small and effective power units that they can be mounted in trucks and other vehicles to replace the current that is normally generated through operating the engine at idle. The fuel cell is powered by hydrogen gas that is produced from diesel onboard.

Particularly in North America, many truck drivers are forced to run at idle to provide the electrical power for air-conditioning and other equipment that is needed for the driver to live onboard. However, running at idle involves unnecessary emissions and is a major environmental problem. According to calculations carried out by the US Department of Energy, a power unit with fuel cell technology could reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide from a single truck by between 20 to 30 tons annually. In the same manner, the emissions of nitrogen oxides could also be reduced significantly.

According to the Truck Manufactures Association (TMA), there are about 500,000 heavy trucks in North America in which the driver lives onboard. If the emissions from these trucks could be reduced by 30 tons per truck a year, this would represent a reduction of 15 million tons – more than one fourth of the total annual emissions for all of Sweden.

“Through use of fuel cell technology in the power unit, you can reduce emissions sharply, while at the same time the unit can be made substantially smaller,” says Manager Goran Wirmark, Energy Conversion & Physics at VTEC. “Long term power units driven by fuel cells will also be used in boats, aircraft and other mobile units in which there is a need for a compact, environmentally sound and efficient power supply.”

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