Air Liquide and Faurecia are bringing liquid hydrogen to heavy-duty vehicles

Published on September 14, 2022

9 mins

With a range of 1,000 km, optimized storage capacity and a tested technology ready within five years, liquid hydrogen tanks offer an attractive solution for decarbonized, high-performance heavy mobility. Discover the challenges facing the teams of Air Liquide and Faurecia as they develop this technology.

Air Liquide is combining its expertise with that of global automotive supplier Faurecia, a company of FORVIA Group, to accelerate the development of liquid hydrogen in the heavy mobility sector. The goal: to decarbonize heavy vehicle fleets while maintaining their range thanks to liquid hydrogen tanks, a highly adapted technological choice.

Read our article to learn more about this partnership

Liquid hydrogen, a solution for long-distance transport

For Guillaume Petitpas, Senior Research & Development engineer and LH2 specialist at Air Liquide, "Liquid hydrogen is twice as dense as gaseous hydrogen, so it offers twice the mileage without taking up any more space." A truck powered by liquid hydrogen therefore has a greater range than its gaseous equivalent, making liquid hydrogen as convenient to use as current fossil fuel solutions. "This solution is feasible because the extra cost of cryogenics is offset by savings in upstream service station logistics costs," adds Petitpas.

Main features of a truck running on liquid hydrogen

Designing a new generation of hydrogen tanks

Faurecia considers that current cryogenic tank technology for liquid hydrogen can indeed be expanded to the automotive world. "We know the requirements of this sector and are well placed to meet them," explains Julien Hergott, R&D Engineer and Thermodynamic Systems Expert at Faurecia. "I would emphasize the need for extremely efficient tank insulation and a tank design allowing for cost-efficient mass production."

Drawing on its in-depth experience with automotive manufacturers, Faurecia can develop a technical solution most adapted to their needs. For Air Liquide, the main challenge is to set up a complete liquid hydrogen supply chain. "This requires setting up an interface between the stations and the vehicles to enable fast and secure hydrogen recharging," says Guillaume Petitpas. “And in parallel, we must continue  our tank development." Currently at the prototype stage, this distribution supply chain is already being tested. It will be developed as early as 2025 and deployed in 2027, when the tanks will be marketed.

Detailed view of a liquid hydrogen tank

Why the Air Liquide / Faurecia partnership works

"At Air Liquide, we are naturally more involved in the functional demonstration of the technological solution,” points out Guillaume Petitpas, "whereas Faurecia is already anticipating the product development and application, on a shorter time scale. But for this project, we have a common objective that structures our five-year agenda." Air Liquide's employees are working to deliver and deploy the solution as quickly as possible.

"We fell into step by designing the project roadmap together," adds Julien Hergott, "and this enabled us to identify system priorities, such as the design of the suspension between the two tanks1, for which the prototype will be ready in early 2023." A success facilitated by the extensive experience of both groups in this kind of projects, which involves considerable R&D expertise, a product-oriented innovation approach and the mobilization of resources across multiple sites..

Experts with complementary strengths

Helping customers decarbonize their fleets is a priority for both Air Liquide and Faurecia, who are mobilizing a wide range of resources to develop the cutting-edge liquid hydrogen tanks as quickly as possible. Faurecia's engineers are specializesin automotive standards and regulation, the optimization of complex systems, product design and manufacturing
processes to ensure this technology can be exploited for the mobility sector. Their 3D simulation teams visualize all the mechanical, thermal and fluid aspects involved. In parallel, Air Liquide's experts bring their in-depth knowledge of hydrogen liquefaction, including their mastery of the codes and standards specific to this molecule and its value chain (production, storage, distribution, etc.), a major challenge for the successful deployment of a liquid hydrogen supply chain for heavy vehicles. Their expertise in insulation, developed as part of the Ariane program for rocket tanks, is also a real asset.

sLH2 or CcH2?

Storing hydrogen in cryogenic form causes a density increase compared with storage at ambient temperature, permitting a greater storage capacity. The main challenge of the technology lies in the thermal insulation of the tank to maintain the temperature of the liquid at -253°. An increase in its temperature would lead to an increase in pressure and a consequent loss of molecules if the vehicle is parked for a long period. In addition to better thermal insulation, one way to reduce these losses is to increase the storage pressure. Solutions for this include sLH2 (subcooled hydrogen with a maximum pressure of about 20 bar), which is currently the preferred solution, and CcH2 (cryo-compressed hydrogen with a pressure of up to 350 or 400 bar). While the second solution does significantly reduce molecule loss by ensuring extremely high pressure, it is more expensive and takes longer to develop. The sLH2, on the other hand, offers a good compromise in terms of performance-use balance, user cost and time to market.

1. Suspensions are the parts that connect the external tank (in contact with the ambient air at 300 K or 27°C) to the internal tank (in contact with the liquid hydrogen at 20 K or - 253° C). This component has the onerous task of absorbing the mechanical constraints of the tank while guaranteeing proper thermal insulation. This is one of the keys to the success of this technological solution: being robust enough to not break while sufficiently insulating the tank to avoid rapid heating of the hydrogen.