Nicolas Crettenand has been part of the Hydrospider team since 2020, so almost from the very beginning. As Head of Operations, the EPFL civil engineer was instrumental in building the supply chain for the low-emission mobility ecosystem. Crettenand has been Managing Director of Hydrospider since 1 June 2022. He says: “Sustainable heavy goods transport needs green hydrogen. The principle of the ecosystem works, but it is still in a pioneering phase and also requires some improvements.” The primary goal for the next few months is to press ahead with the expansion of the production facilities.
Hyundai’s 46 fuel cell trucks powered by green hydrogen are covering ever longer distances – well over 10,000 kilometres per day on a regular basis. How do these figures make you feel as Managing Director of Hydrospider?
Nicolas Crettenand: These figures make me very hopeful. They underline that the ecosystem principle works and that there is a need for sustainable mobility in the heavy goods transport sector. The Hyundai fuel cell truck is proving itself in everyday use and the drivers and transporters are enjoying the vehicle and its features. This is all very encouraging. Because this also prevents more and more CO2 emissions.
The idea of the ecosystem was launched almost three years ago, and two years ago the first production facility for green hydrogen in Switzerland went into operation in Niedergösgen. What is the situation with the ecosystem today?
Crettenand: Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility, the members of the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association and Hydrospider have achieved a lot together in recent years. All those involved are doing pioneering work in various areas. They have created a new infrastructure, a new business model on a private-sector basis and brought it to life. We still haven’t achieved the ambitious goals we set ourselves two years ago with the ecosystem in all areas. It is still in a pioneering phase and also requires some improvements. For example, our production capacities have not expanded quite as planned.
You have been Managing Director of Hydrospider since 1 June 2022. What are your goals for the next few months?
Crettenand: Primarily, we need to push ahead with the expansion of production facilities for green hydrogen in Switzerland – be it at our own locations or with partners. There are problems here for various reasons. In a few weeks, Wasserstoffproduktion Ostschweiz AG in St. Gallen will put the Kubel production facility into operation. This offers a ray of hope, but it is not enough. Further and larger facilities need to follow. At the same time, we are further digitalising and automating the logistics sector. Today we have 24 swap bodies in use for transporting the green hydrogen to the filling stations, which is still manageable with reasonable effort. But as the ecosystem grows, we need scalable solutions here too.
What about economic efficiency?
Crettenand: This is indeed a big challenge for the whole ecosystem. As is well known, the energy markets have been going crazy for some months now; electricity prices are higher than ever before. The production of hydrogen is very electricity-intensive, which is currently leading to huge costs. There is no doubt that sustainable, low-emission heavy goods transport requires green hydrogen and all parties involved are behind the initiative. But ultimately, the business model can only work if the economic aspect is right for all partners.
You have been working for Hydrospider since the beginning of the ecosystem, have helped shape its development and have experienced it first-hand. What distinguishes the partnership?
Crettenand: The low-emission mobility ecosystem makes the much-described sector coupling a reality. As entrepreneurs and pioneers, each partner is prepared to invest with confidence in this joint project for the future. Here, competitors work together and exchange ideas. The common goal is to find a solution for the decarbonisation of heavy goods transport. This means that everyone is pulling in the same direction. And, in doing so, the ecosystem can be a source of inspiration for other energy transition initiatives.