The hydrogen dream from Augsburg

Vehicles with electric or hydrogen propulsion are made by Quantron. The USA client has placed a billion-euro order with the business.

The car enters the hallway. The diesel engine exits, making way for an electric motor. Additionally, the car can be adapted to run on hydrogen if desired. The startup Quantron wants Augsburg to demonstrate that achieving carbon neutrality is feasible and straightforward. According to 44-year-old Quantron founder Andreas Haller, “converting a vehicle is frequently easier than buying a new vehicle.” The Quantron team is currently a climate protector thanks to a garbage truck. It had a diesel engine and was in use in Darmstadt up until four weeks ago. However, the firm has generated a commotion because it not only modifies automobiles but also creates its own and just secured a billion-euro contract from the United States.

The Darmstadt garbage truck has been polished, the rubbish has no odor, the driver’s seat has been moved forward, and in place of the tank, cabinet-sized battery systems have been added. This enables the trash truck to go through the neighborhoods for a full day while emptying bins at no cost. The cost of the conversion, which is roughly 400,000 euros, is still higher than that of a brand-new diesel garbage truck. However, Haller notes that municipalities are under a lot of pressure from European rules to convert their fleets to climate-neutral motors.

About 150 years ago, it all started with a horse-drawn carriage journey. At the start, Andreas Haller quickly steps up to the guest. Reddish-blond hair, blue sneakers, and a suit. The brand-new company headquarters in the industrial region halfway between Augsburg and Gersthofen belies Quantron’s 150-year history as a traditional business. The long-running Haller Group from Gersthofen began as a horse-drawn carriage company in 1882. Andreas Haller quips, “We were climate-neutral when we were created.

The company later became Augsburg’s first cab service; now, Haller is in charge of bus maintenance and repairs. In 2001, Andreas Haller, a member of the fifth generation, joined the family business. He quickly started to enter the emerging market for mobility without emissions. He gave Osnabrück the first electric bus in Germany in 2011. The demand for electric trucks, therefore, shot up significantly. For the new company, Haller formed Quantron in 2019. Quantron is a made-up word derived from “quantum leap” and “electronics.” Currently, the spin-off employs about 120 people. Quantron employs about 400 employees when engineering offices, software developers, and contract manufacturers are counted. The goal for sales this year is 15 million euros, up from about 10 million euros in 2021.

Currently, the major business is electrifying regular vans, specifically the Iveco Daily. To accomplish this, the company purchases new cars, rebuilds the diesel engines, and then resells them after fitting them with electric motors and batteries. Austria presently has about 70 electric vans on the road. 50 of these are currently traveling for Ikea alone in Vienna. The larger batteries can store enough energy for almost 300 kilometers of driving when fully charged overnight, according to Haller. With this range, we are the market leader. This is plenty for the typical delivery traffic in the city. The vehicles return to the depot in the evening, where they are charged overnight and made ready for the next day.

Additionally, Quantron offers its own automobiles. A futuristic van can be seen a short distance away. The Qargo vehicle was created by the company itself, and the first one will be shipped to Saudi Arabia. However, the “Star” is a self-designed electric semitrailer tractor with a maximum weight capacity of 44 tonnes. The vehicle can travel up to 180 kilometers on battery power alone; the next version should be able to travel up to 350 kilometers.

A “brother” of the battery-powered vehicle has a longer range. It is based on a totally distinct technology concept for commercial cars that Quantron unveiled at the International Motor Show (IAA). The tractor unit in this instance has a fuel cell, a hydrogen tank, and an emergency battery. As a result, the vehicle’s range can reach 1000 kilometers. The “beast” is what employees at Quantron lovingly call one another. These two 44-ton trucks are made in Augsburg.

For many years, fuel cell and hydrogen-powered trucks have been a prominent factor in Quantron’s planning. Along with towns, more and more businesses are modifying their operations in order to, for instance, convey packages, apparel, and food to consumers CO2-free. There is a lot of strain on logistics companies. Battery-electric vehicles are the greatest option for city deliveries, particularly on the final mile to the front door. Andreas Haller, an automotive business economist who first studied automotive mechatronics engineering “so that I can understand how a truck works,” is confident that hydrogen will be employed as an energy carrier for greater distances of more than 400 kilometers.

But can a small business compete with established organizations that substantially invest in innovative driving systems, like MAN or Daimler? Employees work on the vehicles in the well-lit Quantron buildings, removing engines and installing mounts for the batteries. Instead of assembly line production, the company resembled a factory. Andreas Haller emphasized that “we work as a complement to the automobile manufacturers and do not regard ourselves as competitors.” Quantron has also had to deal with difficulties, such as the need to cancel a sizable order for electric buses because of the conflict in Ukraine. However, Quantron has long been more than just an automaker.

According to Quantron, service will be the major product in the future. The business aims to offer CO2-free logistics to other businesses. Climate-neutral vehicles are offered, together with fuel and maintenance, for this purpose. Customers are charged a price per mile. The Augsburg-based company termed its proposition “Quantron as a Service.”

A significant order from the US is a great accomplishment: by the end of 2024, Quantron plans to supply up to 500 hydrogen-powered trucks, including fuel and maintenance, to US logistics business TMP. The strength display can only be successful with allies. Quantron is collaborating with hydrogen expert Ballard Power Systems on fuel cell technology. The recently established subsidiary Quantron U.S. on the East Coast of the USA takes over the production of the vehicles. As early as 2023, the first 40 automobiles are anticipated to go on the road. It should be a car every day starting in 2024, he claims. In the end, though, not every vehicle would need to originate from Quantron. The online platform “Quantron as a Service” may also offer zero-emission vehicles from other manufacturers. According to Haller, “We are a solution provider to assist our customers towards zero emissions.” The agreement has an eight-year term. The total number of kilometers delivered during this period was equal to one billion euros. Hubert Aiwanger, the minister of economic affairs for Bavaria, was also present when the agreement was formally signed in Washington. The leader of the Free Voters genuinely loves hydrogen.

The potential development of the service can be observed in an office that has been transformed into a control center, where screens display the locations of Quantron trucks that are currently on European roads. Quantron can access the vehicles’ data from Augsburg. For instance, the data may reveal when to do maintenance or order a replacement item. Haller is confident that “the market for emission-free mobility will explode.” The business, which has its headquarters in Augsburg, wants to take part in this. “By 2030, our goal is to arrange 50,000 automobiles in the USA and Europe via our systems,” he says. How feasible are such strategies?

According to Andreas Haller, he occasionally felt “like an explanatory bear” in light of the uncertainties and inquiries. We are aware that we are all part of a global community and that protecting the environment is crucial. “Technology is available. With hydrogen, we can make a fleet emission-free and break our dependence on the oil sector and nations that export oil.”

He is now anticipating the expansion of his business, which focuses on environmental issues. According to Haller, “We hire five to 10 people each month.” You may be able to move more as a medium-sized business than certain giant organizations. You simply need people who have a strong sense of purpose.