Tesla And Kamaz: The Hydrogen Glove Is Thrown

Business

In my recent conversation with Gaussin management, Christophe Gaussin, CEO, was open to challenge Tesla
TSLA
to bring its electric truck to compete in 2023 Dakar Rally against his team with a hydrogen truck. Dakar Rally challenges its competitors beyond their limits and what we can say a hydrogen truck has made it all the way and Gaussin was the first in the world to do it. We are yet to see any other hydrogen or electric competitor to enter the Dakar stage. What is more amazing, the everyday business for the French industrial manufacturer is electric and hydrogen logistics vehicles for ports, airports, and warehouses. A heavy duty truck market is just something new that the company is just trying to explore. Of course, the main challenge is to any diesel truck in the competition, in order to demonstrate that hydrogen can bring about a viable powerplant for the most demanding conditions. Kamaz has dominated the diesel truck category for many years. While the article was prepared, Kamaz withdrew its application to Dakar Rally due to the conflict in Ukraine.

To learn more about how the 2022 Dakar competition went down for the Gaussin team I sat down for an extended interview with Simon Klein, the EVP of Vehicle Engineering, which can be found at Fuel Cell Works. The story is truly fascinating in how the team was able to arrive at this accomplishment under a tight timeline and Covid supply challenges.

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The concept of participating in the competition was born after attending the rally in 2021 with the final decision to move forward made in March 2021, just 8 months before the start date. Simon gathered an international team of engineers and technicians with some on loan from other companies. The other key to success was utilizing as many existing partners as possible and with market proven products. The heart of a hydrogen truck is its fuel cell system. The selection was made for Hyundai as a supplier as its dual fuel cell systems were already underpinning XCIENT line of trucks deployed in 2020 in Switzerland. XCIENT is powered by two 95 kW fuel cells for a combined power of 190 kW. Gaussin has selected to integrate two of the dual systems for a total of 4 fuel cells with a combined rated power of 380 kW. Each dual fuel cell system would power a matching electric motor. Both electric motors would connect to a single all-wheel drive differential. The system was designed for an ultimate redundancy that if one of the two parallel power plants were to fail the other would still provide propulsion.

To tackle the dunes, the truck was fitted with a two-speed gear box. While the first gear was sized for dune climbing and deep sand, the second gear would be deployed for fast driving and only limited by the competition to 140 kmh. The dust and heat did not present a problem as the filters were biffed up and the cooling was designed to handle the environment up to 45 deg C.

The major challenge for alternative fuel category is fueling and getting hydrogen in the desert was not that straightforward. The truck sports 14 tank, 350 bar storage that the team was able to fill only half-way as the hydrogen was provided by a tube trailer at 180 bar. This would allow for 40 kg of hydrogen on board with 150-250 km range depending on conditions.

The company recorded some of its experience at Dakar in 4-part 5 minute docuseries. For 2023, Gaussin is working on a second generation vehicle that will integrate improvements and enhance performance. Fingers crossed for hydrogen.

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