Ford Trucks has signed a deal with Canadian hydrogen technology company Ballard Power to partner on the development of a fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) version of its F-Max 44-tonne long-haul tractor trucks.

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While Ford has previously announced it would develop fuel cell versions of its E-Transit van and its Super Duty pick-up truck, the F-Max — first launched in 2018 — would be the largest Ford-branded FCEV yet announced.

In June, Ford Trucks, the global brand of Ford Otosan — Ford’s 50-50 joint venture with Turkey’s Koç Holding — announced it would investigate retrofitting F-Maxes with dual-fuel diesel engines capable of running on a blend of H2 with Belgian technology firm CMB.Tech, with the first trucks to be delivered this year.

However, the latest deal with Ballard sets the stage for Ford’s participation in the Horizon Europe-funded ZEFES trial, which will test nine different zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles — four FCEV and five battery-electric — across the planned Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) of roads in 2025.

This trial requires vehicles to carry more than 40 tonnes over a million kilometers across different EU corridors, with daily distances expected to average 500km and potentially reach up to 750km.

Beyond the ZEFES trial, Europe’s heavy-duty transport is increasingly under pressure to decarbonise, since lorries, buses and coaches represent 6% of total EU emissions.

The EU has recently agreed binding targets for transport in its updated Renewable Energy Directive (although these are still subject to a final vote), including:

  • Either a minimum 29% share of renewables within the final consumption of energy or a 14.5% reduction in greenhouse gas intensity in the transport sector by 2030
  • At least 1% of all fuel supplied to transport to be biofuels or Renewable Fuels of Non-Biological Origin (RFNBOs) — ie, green hydrogen or its derivatives, such as ammonia, methanol or e-fuels — by 2025, with at least 1% RFNBOs by 2030.

The European Commission has also proposed an update to the current CO2 emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles, which would require a 45% cut in emissions by 2030 and a 90% decrease by 2040.

A lack of electric charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure has often been raised as a challenge for long-haul truck firms to invest in new zero-emission fleets.

However, the new Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation mandating a rollout of chargepoints and H2 filling stations in every major urban area and every 200km along the TEN-T by 2030 is expected to be signed into law after the summer.

Ballard shares on uptick

The deal also includes a firm purchase order for Ballard to deliver two 120kW fuel-cell engines to Ford Trucks this year.

After the trucks are developed and subject to other, undisclosed conditions, the automaker is expected to name Ballard as its preferred fuel-cell supplier for serial production of the FCEV F-Max, which would be built in Turkey.

This news led to a jump of nearly 10% in Ballard’s share price yesterday, to an intraday high of $4.97, although the stock has generally been steadily declining since closing at $40.99 in August 2021.