Scaling Cleaner Freight Movement

Hydrogen Trucks: Long-Haul’s Future?

Hydrogen is entering the marketplace as an energy source for zero-emission long-haul trucking. Two paths are emerging, fuel cell electric and new hydrogen internal combustion engines. Hydrogen is not optimum for all duty cycles. Hydrogen fuel cell tractors are, however, the only viable zero-emission solution currently proposed for one-for-one replacements for diesel in the future of long-haul heavy-duty trucks.

In December 2020, the North American Council For Freight Efficiency (NACFE) compared a range of alternative fuel heavy-duty truck technologies including hydrogen in a report and the following findings from that report are still valid.

NACFE forecasted trends in state and federal regulations that could hasten hydrogen adoption, however, the period 2021 to 2022 has seen significant acceleration of state and federal efforts.

Other issues that need to be considered for hydrogen to be a viable fuel option for commercial vehicles:

What People Are Saying

Most countries have committed to decarbonize and experts acknowledge and agree that hydrogen is necessary for decarbonizing the grid, so it is inevitable that low carbon hydrogen will be available.

Alan Mace, Product Applications Manager, Ballard Power Systems

As we move to the zero-emissions freight future, in the long run, there are only two choices of power – battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell.

Rick Mihelic, NACFE Director of Emerging Technologies

Hydrogen technology is coming faster than we expected. We will be testing a truck this year.

Rob Reich, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer, Schneider

Findings

Hydrogen will be a factor in future long-distance freight hauling in combination with battery electric vehicles for shorter range operations. Here are key findings from the report.

  1. Hydrogen powered freight is required for a zero-emission freight future.
  2. There is a significant amount of funding going toward establishing the basis for a hydrogen economy that includes long-haul freight transportation.
  3. The cost of hydrogen production, transportation storage and dispensing will not be cost competitive with diesel without significant assistance from tax credits and other subsidy mechanisms.
  4. Managing the actual retail cost of hydrogen is perhaps more important than continuing discussion of reducing the production cost at the hydrogen plant.
  5. Hydrogen is closely tied to electricity. You can’t have hydrogen without significant amounts of electricity.
  6. Hydrogen is a significant factor in federal, state and local planning and regulations for the zero-emission freight future.
  7. Purpose-built hydrogen trucks optimized for specific duty cycles may not be valued well in the secondary market, leading first owners to keep the vehicle until it is salvaged.
  8. Hydrogen costs decrease as the scale of the hydrogen plants increase. Large production requires multiple industries to increase demand for hydrogen. Trucking alone is insufficient to reach demand scale needed to justify large hydrogen plants.
  9. Hydrogen used for creating alternative fuels like renewable diesel will reduce net emissions but at the cost of delaying adoption of zero-emission alternatives.
  10. All the answers do not need to be known on day one of hydrogen. Production supply and market demand will evolve in lock step over time. Innovators will find market opportunities where there is an oversupply of hydrogen, creating new market demand.
  11. Hydrogen and electricity supply are inherently resilient as there are multiple methods of producing them, leading to competitive forces mitigating price and supply volatility.

Conclusions

Hydrogen for use in freight transportation is just in its infancy. NACFE developed four significant conclusions about hydrogen as a fuel source for commercial vehicles.

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