Fuel cells and hydrogen way forward for heavy duty trucking


Fuel cell and hydrogen technologies could prove critical in ensuring a carbon neutral future for the heavy duty trucking and logistics industry, according to research.

On 15 December, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking published the results of an independent study it had commissioned on fuel cell and hydrogen trucks, carried out by Roland Berger. With the EU Green Deal and its target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, Europe must decarbonise its transport and mobility industry. The road freight sector, while the “backbone of the European economy”, is also responsible for a significant amount of CO2 emissions which must be addressed to achieve the EU’s climate goals.

Transitioning to zero and low emission vehicles is based on alternative powertrain solutions, such as fuel cell and hydrogen applications which present a “very promising” zero emission option. This is due to their high operational flexibility, along with a relatively short refuelling time, making them ideal for long-haul operations. Subject to certain conditions, the study found that by 2030, there could be 110,000 fuel cell hydrogen (FCH) trucks on European roads, avoiding up to 11mn tonnes of CO2.

This would begin with FCH heavy duty trucks becoming cost competitive by 2027, should there be a scaled-up production of FCH trucks and hydrogen is offered below €6/kg. According to the study, at this scale, FCH trucks were forecast to have annual sales shares ranging between 16-51% in 2030, across different scenarios. FCH trucks were also found to be providing the operational performance most comparable to diesel trucks with regards to daily range, refuelling time and payload capacity at a better total cost of ownership than the incumbent technology from 2027 onwards.

If this development can be realised, then FCH heavy duty trucks can become a “cornerstone” for achieving Europe’s CO2 emissions reduction targets by 2050. Achieving this will require industrial scale production, affordable green hydrogen and the build-up of associated hydrogen refuelling structure – all considered key to FCH technology uptake – along with high sales shares of zero emission solutions in the early 2030s. This will be crucial to phasing out the majority of diesel powered trucks over their lifetime by 2050.

A number of technical and non-technical barriers will still have to be overcome to realise the full commercial potential of hydrogen trucks, with the report stressing the need for a financial and regulatory ecosystem that equally supports all stakeholders and the need for efficient CO2 pricing – a key lever to cost competitiveness of zero emission technologies.

It made a series of recommendations, including four tailored research and innovation (R&I) projects, with an estimated budget of €470mn, focused on improving technical and economic performance to allow for commercial application, supporting overcoming barriers in the short to medium term. They include the technology development and optimisation for standardised refuelling processes and the development of further truck and powertrain prototypes with higher levels of standardisation of fuel cell system integration.