Switching to hydrogen by retrofitting

April 12, 2023
Switching to hydrogen by retrofitting

Does switching to hydrogen mean completely renewing your fleet? No! Retrofitting is the answer. Vincent Lallemand, Business Development Director at GCK Mobility (Green Corp Konnection) and expert in the retrofit of heavy vehicles explains the solutions available to you.

Léa: If you want to buy a hydrogen vehicle, you have two options: new or retrofit. What’s a retrofit?

Vincent Lallemand: A retrofit  is when you convert the drive train of a combustion engine vehicle to electric. In other words, you install an electric engine (in place of a combustion one), which is then powered, either by electric batteries of by batteries and a fuel cell. So you have either, on the one hand, a 100% electric vehicle, or, on the other, a “hydrogen vehicle” (which is really an electric vehicle powered by hydrogen).

Can people contact you to retrofit any kind of vehicle?

Yes. From light duty vehicles and cars to heavy vehicles, we even recently had a snowplough approved! If it’s a vehicle we’ve done before,  the project can be done very quickly.   If it’s a new product, we create a prototype (with no need for the manufacturer’s approval since 2020). Once the prototype has been produced, it must then receive European approval. We submit a request to the CNRV which carries out normative tests and issues approval to the manufacturer  – that’s us in this case – for a type of vehicle, with a type approval number. We can then roll-out the retrofitting of this type of vehicle for all our clients.

Are there other rules with which you must comply when retrofitting a vehicle in France?

There are several rules:

  • the vehicle must be more than five years old,
  • the engine torque and basic power must be between 65% and 100% of the initial combustion engine torque
  • the weight of the vehicle must not exceed the weight of the initial combustion engine vehicle by more than 20%.

In other countries, retrofit is in fact allowed on new vehicles.

Choosing between an electric and a hydrogen vehicle is not so easy. What factors determine whether to power an engine with electric batteries or a hydrogen fuel cell?

The decision to retrofit a fleet is naturally guided by the objective of reducing CO2 emissions, which the electric engine allows. The choice of power supply is guided by the operational constraints of the carrier or mobility operator. The fuel cell gives vehicles greater autonomy and offers a much shorter charging time. For example, for a truck, 10 kg of hydrogen will allow it to travel 100 km and thus provide 150 kWh of electrical energy, which is equivalent to 1 tonne of electric batteries! In terms of charging time, again for a truck, refuelling with 40 kg of hydrogen will take around 30 minutes, whereas electric recharging would take over five hours.

So hydrogen has a rosy future ahead (we certainly think so at Lhyfe), but in which sectors particularly in your opinion?

In the short term, we are seeing a real interest in converting fleets of coaches, utility vehicles, refuse collection vehicles, concrete mixers, tractors, etc. The establishment of LEZs (low emission zones)  will have a major impact on the carriers that have to access them and they need to start decarbonising their fleets now!

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