Hydrogen: Clean Logistics retrofits diesel trucks and buses

Clean Logistics’ ambitions are aspirational – to operate a fleet without CO2 emissions: “We want to revolutionize the transport sector,” explains co-founder and CEO Dirk Graszt. The most important aspect in this is decarbonizing freight transport.

Clean Logistics’ ambitions are aspirational – to operate a fleet without CO2 emissions: “We want to revolutionize the transport sector,” explains co-founder and CEO Dirk Graszt. The most important aspect in this is decarbonizing freight transport.

Back in 2017, the 57-year-old began thinking about how he could make an emission-free fleet a reality in the wake of the diesel scandal. At that time, he was still CEO of the freight forwarder Harry AG, with around 500 trucks in its fleet. When he addressed his question about zero-emission trucks to various manufacturers, it fell on deaf ears. He decided to implement his approach himself. No sooner said, than done. He founded Clean Logistics with Dirk Lehmann, now Chairman of the Board of Directors of the company. Markus Körner joined the company later and is now responsible for Sales and Services. Meanwhile, the company is listed on the German stock exchange in the over-the-counter market, where its shares are also traded.

Clean Logistics has its vehicles converted by E-Cap-Mobility

The vehicles are actually converted in the town of Winsen, in Lower Saxony. This is where Dirk Lehmann’s Clean Logistics SE has its headquarters. It acts as a development and production partner. The production plant located in an industrial park currently has five retrofitting bays for trucks and buses. It is here that employees fit the modular design of drive system into the vehicles. To do so, they remove all combustion engine-related components and install a combination of a fuel cell, non-combustible batteries, hydrogen tanks, and an in-house developed and wear-free electric rear axle with wheel hub motor. The whole process takes about three months.

The first prototype of their Hydrogen Battery Truck, or Hybatt truck for short, has begun its tests in 2021. Four more prototypes are being built at the same time. These are 40-ton semi-trailer tractors built by DAF, Mercedes-Benz and MAN. The first Hybatt trucks are designed to have a range of 400 to 500 kilometers, based on their own hydrogen tanks with a total capacity of 45 kilograms per truck using H35 technology (H2 gas at 350 bar pressure). According to Graszt, the series production vehicles will later achieve a significantly higher range depending on the configuration, customer requirements, and the maturity of other technologies. Every Hybatt truck initially has a reserve in the form of a powerful battery system, which guarantees a range of more than 100 kilometers alone.

After the conversion, the tractor still has these components on board. Photo: Clean Logistics

Further conversion workshops are to follow

The first Hybatt trucks are set to be converted into customer orders by the end of the second quarter of 2022. This is also why the company is planning to expand its operations to eleven retrofitting workshops for the start of 2022. From 2023, there will be another production building on a 1.8-hectare site with a production capacity of about 300 vehicles per year very close to the current production site.

Clean Logistics hopes to gradually increase its capacities over the next few years by establishing a network of partners. “The demand is huge. All our retrofitting capacity is already booked up. We also have definite inquiries in the high three-digit range,” reports Graszt. That also explains why the company is constantly looking for new employees.

And what does the conversion cost? Graszt calculates as follows: “Depending on the mileage, the asset value of a three to four-year-old 40-ton diesel truck is around €50,000. The conversion of a diesel truck costs about €500,000. 80 percent of the additional expenditure of an H2 truck compared to a diesel truck is subsidized by the state. The freight carrier needs to make up the difference themselves.” But does it pay off when the margins in the industry are already so narrow? “An H2 truck lasts longer than a diesel truck, and maintenance costs are also significantly lower,” explains Graszt. “What is more, the toll exemption for H2 trucks, and then the constantly rising diesel price mean that the H2 truck pays for itself when you consider the freight carrier’s total cost of ownership.”

Buses can also be converted

Another cornerstone of Clean Logistics’ business is bus conversion. Back in July 29, 2021, the company delivered the first public transport bus that had been converted to run on hydrogen to the Uckermärkische Verkehrsgesellschaft (UVG) transport company in Schwedt. According to the company, the Hybatt bus is the first bus to have been converted for use with a fuel cell hydrogen drive to be used in public transport in Europe. The upgraded Mercedes-Benz Citaro vehicle has an emission-free energy system with a range of over 300 kilometers. The second Hybatt bus is due to be handed over to UVG in the fourth quarter of 2021.