World first: KBC Autolease and CMB hit the road with hydrogen

Shipping company CMB has started using a hydrogen filling station where both cars and ships can fill up, a world-first combination. As part of its efforts to highlight its sustainable and technology-driven business model, CMB made the unprecedented move of ordering two hydrogen lease cars from KBC Autolease. 

Shipping company CMB is an authority in the hydrogen mobility sector. The company built the 'Hydroville', the world's first hydrogen-powered passenger vessel, and is also building the first hydrogen-powered tugboat for the Port of Antwerp. In the meantime, a hydrogen filling station has sprung up at the Port House in Antwerp, offering both ships and cars a 'green' option for filling up. This sustainable and technology-driven business model has drawn further attention by placing an order for two hydrogen lease cars from KBC Autolease, the first order of its kind.


The delivery of these vehicles is a first for the leasing company. 'We are delighted to welcome the very first hydrogen lease vehicles into our fleet alongside a huge influx of hybrid and electric lease vehicles. In light of the new tax regime, we are expecting an even more substantial increase to the amount of electric cars in our fleet as from 2023. Nonetheless, hydrogen cars are also expected to play a significant role in the fleet market, with more models on the way.
Furthermore, it is quite possible that drivers who cannot recharge at home (such as people living in a flat) will choose a hydrogen car as an alternative to an electric vehicle,' says Filip Audenaert, Account Manager at KBC Autolease.

Considerable support

Hydrogen enjoys considerable support, according to CMB. 'This is because batteries aren't a sustainable alternative for sailing due to their limited charge. That's why we started developing hydrogen technology, which has great potential for both the ports where we operate and the mainland.
As such we think it's only natural that our management would be driving around in hydrogen cars', says Chief Technology Officer Roy Campe from CMB.TECH, a subsidiary of CMB.


A fuel cell in a hydrogen car is actually the same as in an electric car. 'The difference being that you replace part of the big, heavy battery with a hydrogen tank. This tank contains hydrogen gas which is used by a special fuel cell to produce electricity, powering the electric engine and moving the car. The big advantage of a hydrogen car is that you can fill up your car in five minutes and that full tank will let you drive more kilometres on average than an electric car', Roy Campe continues.


Hydrogen could well break through fastest in the vans and light goods vehicles market segment. 'If you're carrying a ton of goods, you want to free up as much of your permitted load weight as you can for the goods you're being paid to transport. In that sense, swapping out big, heavy batteries for lighter hydrogen tanks is an obvious move. You're wasting less energy while you work and you're saving a great deal of weight which can instead be freed up for your customers,' says Campe.

Safety and maintenance

It is sometimes said that hydrogen is a less safe energy source, but the same is true of any fuel, in Roy Campe's view. 'Whether you're using CNG, LPG or petrol, safety measures should always be in place. Of course hydrogen has its own safety requirements, but you can drive a hydrogen car into an underground garage, for example, which is not the case for a vehicle using LPG. When hydrogen is released, it moves at 20 m/sec, which means that it can more quickly escape rather than building up', Campe continues. In terms of maintenance, a hydrogen car costs slightly less than a car with a conventional combustion engine.

Filling stations

Besides CMB.TECH's hydrogen filling station next to the Port House in Antwerp, there is also a DATS (Colruyt) station in Halle, and another from Air Liquide in Zaventem. 'According to our information, DATS is due to install four more stations. One will be located in Wilrijk, another in Erpe-Mere. Further openings in Haasrode (Leuven) and Liège are also on the agenda,' he says. 'It's a chicken and egg situation. Given that there aren't enough drivers using hydrogen, there's a shortage of filling stations. We need to break the cycle. We think that having around 20 publicly available filling stations is a realistic long-term goal which would allow every driver using hydrogen to fill up comfortably.' Outside of Belgium, Germany is leading the way when it comes to hydrogen filling stations. 'I think there are around 90 of those stations in operation, and there's also activity in the Netherlands,' Roy adds.


A kilogram of hydrogen costs between 10 and 14 euros. On average, filling up requires five kilograms, which lets you drive 500 to 600 kilometres. Once improvements to infrastructure are made as expected, the price at the pump is likely to fall to six to eight euros per kilogram of hydrogen. If you run out of hydrogen while you're on the road, you can also continue driving with the electrical energy in your battery.

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