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FROM DIESEL TO HYDROGEN

MAN Truck & Bus was integral to inventing the diesel engine a century ago. Now, the company is preparing for the next revolution in freight transport by investing in electrical vehicles and hydrogen.
Awave of electrification has hit private motoring, but the freight industry hasn’t yet been affected to the same extent. As customers call for greener transportation of their goods, the pressure for electric trucks is increasing, and more manufacturers are pushing new electric models to the market to meet this demand.

MAN Truck & Bus are among those manufacturers. The company supported Rudolf Diesel in inventing the self-ignition diesel engine at the beginning of the twentieth century, and now the company is preparing for the next revolution: they have confirmed both electrical and hydrogen models in the future to help the freight industry switch to zero emissions.


Andreas Bug, Engineering Powertrain Strategy, MAN Truck & Bus SE explains:

“The DNA of MAN is always looking for new solutions. Although the diesel engine was developed with support from MAN, we’re eager to go into new technologies. We already started hydrogen in the ’90s, and now we are looking ahead in that area on a larger scale.”

A shared campus for hydrogen research 

Back in the ’90s, MAN was pioneering hydrogen-poweed busses around Germany. The project showed that the technology worked and was quite reliable.


“We had hydrogen busses close to the airport of Munich and a demo-fleet in Berlin, and they did a really good job. In those days, the demand for hydrogen in public transportation was there, and some of the vehicles ran quite successfully until 2014. But they had to be subsidized by the public, and when the programs ran out of funding the high prices of hydrogen made it stop,” Bug shares.

With a global renewed ambition for zero-emission solutions, the company invests in hydrogen— among other things—by announcing their ‘Shared Hydrogen Campus’ alongside Nurnberg Universities Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) and Nuremberg Tech (THN). Bug explains:


“We are already quite experienced in hydrogen, and last year and this year we really jumped back onto that track. We have now launched the hydrogen campus, which is aimed at bringing all the knowledge in the area together in order to drive hydrogen forward.”

The campus is located at the MAN plant in Nurnberg where all parties collaborate on joint research. The idea is to eliminate distance between the partners du- ring research and development. So far, Covid has chal- lenged that vision, but the hope is that technological advances in hydrogen will allow the industry to begin pulling the big leaver for the technology: price.
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Andreas Tostmann (CEO of MAN Truck & Bus SE), Prof. Dr. Joachim Hornegger, President of the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Prof. Dr. Niels Oberbeck, President of the Nuremberg Tech, Dr. Markus Söder, Bavarian Prime Minister, and Saki Stimoniaris, Chairman of the MAN Group Works Council (from left to right) met at the MAN site in Nuremberg to sign the cooperation agreement. 
There is a wide demand for hydrogen, especially in the heavy industries in Germany. Higher demand will eventually make prices drop—and then it becomes interesting to use hydrogen for trucks
Andreas Bug Engineering Powertrain Strategy, MAN Truck & Bus SE

The future needs scale 

There is still research to be done before hydrogen vehicles are ready for mainstream adoption, which is what MAN and the collaborating universities is contributing to through ‘Shared Hydrogen Campus’. But in addition to more research, the success of the techno- logy also depends on scale, Bug explains:

“There is a wide demand for hydrogen, especially in the heavy industries in Germany. Higher demand will eventually make prices drop—and then it becomes interesting to use hydrogen for trucks.”


However, MAN isn’t just investing in hydrogen, but also battery-based electrical vehicles. They don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all future. Different technologies have different advantages, which fundamentally challenges the manufacturers to bring the specific product to the customer that best suits their specific demands.

“In the diesel-age, one vehicle fits everyone. There’s a big change in the industry in front of us. We need specific vehicles for specific demands, so we are betting on both technologies. There is no simple answer for the logistics of the future,” he says.
Prototypes of the hydrogen vehicles are planned to be built as early as next year, while the company’s all-electric heavy truck is set to hit the road by ’23–’24, with production-ready hydrogen models following in the latter half of this decade.

But that is just the first step. In order to succeed, infra- structure has to be implemented and the price of hydro- gen must drop. Development which requires immense investments from a wide range of stakeholders beyond MAN and ‘Shared Hydrogen Campus’ Bug explains:

“The tech is proven, and we know what to do. But the major challenge is on the infrastructure side. We require sufficient fueling stations, we need storage technology, we need standards. We are currently at a point which might be comparable to the late nineteenth century when they started to install fuel pumps. We really need to get into that process, and we can’t do it on our own.”

Shared Hydrogen Campus

  • Man Trucks & Bus, Friedrich- Alexander Universität Erlangen- Nürnberg (FAU) and Nuremberg Tech (THN) have signed a cooperation agreement on the research and development of hydrogen-based vehicle drive systems in what is called ‘Shared Hydrogen Campus’.

  • The Campus is located at the vehicle manufacturer’s plant in Nuremberg, where university academics and students are running a laboratory and test rig.

  • The work taking place at the Hydrogen Campus will span the entire value chain of this type of drive system: form eco-friendly hydrogen generation through distribution, infrastructure, and converting it back into electricity all the way to technology application in customer vehicles.