Hydrogen will be the 'only viable economic choice for zero-emission long-haul trucking' US freight body
Both battery electric and hydrogen trucks for zero-emission road freight in North America, with the latter required for long distances, according to a new report by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).
“Hydrogen and battery electric are not an “either/or” but an “and” for the zero-emission freight future,” says the study, entitled Hydrogen Trucks: Long Haul’s Future? H2-Exec-Summary-FINAL.pdf
“Battery electric vehicles will inherently be the most economical and efficient choice for shorter distance zero-emission duty cycles, and hydrogen will be the only viable economic choice for long-haul zero-emission duty cycles.”
“Duty cycle” is an industry phrase describing how much a vehicle is used, including the frequency and length of journeys and the weight of the payloads.
A chart entitled Optimum Duty Cycle Sweet Spot suggests that battery electric trucks are ideal for payloads of up to 43,000 lbs (19,500kg) and 250 miles (400km), while hydrogen vehicles (powered by fuel cells or H2 engines) would be suitable for journeys of more than miles and payloads of more than 24,000 lbs.
“There really are no viable alternatives to hydrogen for hauling freight 600+ miles per day with zero emissions,” the report explains. “While it is technically viable for a battery electric truck to go 800+ miles in a day with en-route charging and carrying equivalent freight weight to a diesel, the situations where this is feasible are limited.”
However, as the numbers above suggest, there is some overlap between the two drivetrains for mid-range and mid-weight journeys. “Ultimately, fleets in the market will make decision on which technology succeeds for which duty cycles.”
The study does, however, point out that “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”.
“Significant cost reduction across all cost elements is needed” for fuel-cell trucks to be cost effective, it adds.
“Supply chain companies from shippers, to carriers, to fuel suppliers and others along with government assistance, must share in higher costs for the benefits of zero emissions.”
It adds that the future acceleration of hydrogen fuel-cell trucks “is likely not about the vehicles or the fueling, but more about the creation and distribution of the hydrogen itself” — despite pointing out that they will be more expensive to buy and run than battery electric equivalents.
Industry agreement is also needed on whether hydrogen trucks and infrastructure will be based on gaseous or liquid hydrogen, the report says.
A single road tanker filled with liquefied hydrogen (LH2) can store 7,711kg of H2, while a truck trailer carrying compressed hydrogen at a pressure of 300 bar can only hold 900kg, according to NACFE.
However, LH2 needs to be stored at temperatures below minus 253°C, requires around 30% of hydrogen’s energy content for liquefaction and suffers from a “boil-off rate” of 0.3-0.6% per day. The latter term refers to the amount of LH2 stored in insulated tanks that warms up enough to return to a gas.
The report also says that internal combustion engines burning hydrogen and bio-based natural gas and “renewable diesel” (produced from green hydrogen and biofeedstocks) “will be required to support the transition in the next two decades to help make progress toward zero-emission goals, while in parallel ramping up the hydrogen and battery electric infrastructure and manufacturing base”.
In January this year, the Biden administration unveiled the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization — a roadmap for achieving net-zero transport by 2050 — which showed that hydrogen was the “greatest long-term opportunity” for long-haul heavy trucks, but had only a “limited long-term opportunity” for medium, short-haul heavy trucks and buses. It also stated that hydrogen would play no role in light-duty vehicles (ie, cars and vans).
NACFE describes itself as “an unbiased and fuel-agnostic organization… [that] “works to drive the development and adoption of efficiency enhancing, environmentally beneficial, and cost-effective technologies, services and methodologies in the North American freight industry”.