Ford is spearheading research into the potential for hydrogen as an on-board energy source for its acclaimed E-Transit.
The project will establish if hydrogen fuel cell technology can deliver more zero-emission range to heavy-use E-Transit customers travelling high mileages, with maximum loads, ancillary equipment such as chillers and with limited charging opportunities in the working shift.
Part funded by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), Ford’s consortium of six automotive technology leader and fleet operator partners will help to determine the supporting hydrogen refuelling infrastructure required.
Ford Pro, the company’s commercial vehicle (CV) and services division, will use the pilot to expand its conversion expertise, supported by engineers and E-Transit specialists from Dagenham and the company’s nearby Dunton Technical Centre, in Essex.
Tim Slatter, chair of Ford in Britain, said: “Ford believes that the primary application of fuel cells could be in its largest, heaviest CVs to ensure they are emission-free, while satisfying the high daily energy requirements our customers demand.
“Ford has an unmatched history in the commercial vehicle sector with the indomitable Transit, and we are excited to be exploring new ways to make clean deliveries an option for even our hardest working vans on the road.”
Integrating zero-emission auto tech
Ford’s hydrogen fuel cell E-Transit project with the APC will validate the vehicle’s business case by linking Ford expertise as 57-year UK van market leader with fuel cell powertrain experts and fleet operators including Ocado Retail. Other partners on the project are bp, capturing hydrogen usage and infrastructure requirements; Cambustion, testing the fuel cell system; Viritech, designing hydrogen storage systems; and Cygnet Texkimp, providing the pressure vessels’ carbon fibre tooling.
Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen from an onboard tank with oxygen, with resulting zero emissions, extended range and quicker refuelling. Ford has researched fuel cell technology since the 1990s, developing many prototypes and demonstrating the first-generation E-Transit fuel cell vehicle at the CENEX Low Carbon Vehicle Show in 2021.
A low-volume test fleet of eight fuel cell Ford E-Transits will run for six-month periods over the three-year project to 2025. Test fleet data will provide insights into the total cost of owning and operating a large van, with increased range and operating hours to match its diesel-powered equivalent and without the need to charge.
The prototype Ford E-Transits will be fitted with a high-power fuel cell stack, in conjunction with significant hydrogen storage capability, optimised for safety, capacity, cost, and weight. An important project element will evaluate efficient and viable recycling for end-of-life components.
Ford imports Transits, which are assembled in Turkey, via its own river jetty at Dagenham – part of the Thames Freeport zone which has received Government go ahead.
This E-Transit fuel cell project supports Ford’s strategic vision of creating low-volume assembly upfit capability for hydrogen vehicles, with upscaling potential, to add to workforce skills and to develop the hydrogen economy. Trial vehicles will test current and future needs for the alternative fuel in the Thames Estuary area.
Ford Dagenham’s location in the Freeport zone, also served by Ford’s own railhead and the adjacent A13 / M25 road connections, has already attracted partners onto the estate such as MS-RT.
Road to better
The hydrogen E-Transit project supports Ford’s ‘Road to Better’ sustainability commitment, evidencing how its European operations are to be its first region globally to become carbon neutral by 2035. Ford has reduced emissions from global manufacturing facilities by 40 per cent since 2017, including at Dagenham where last year’s energy efficiencies realized savings worth £11,500 a day.