Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be all but shut out of the future road freight mass market as they cannot compete on cost with their directly-electrified counterparts, according to new analysis from the OECD’s intergovernmental transport think tank, the International Transport Forum (ITF).

Higher lifetime costs for FCEVs compared to other electric vehicles are almost exclusively due to higher fuel costs, which in turn are due to energy losses associated with electrolysis, the ITF said in its Decarbonising Europe’s Trucks report, noting that in 90% of the scenarios it explored, FCEVs don’t carve out a market share of more than 10% by 2050.

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The report pitched the cost of buying and owning an FCEV for seven years versus battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and electric road systems vehicles (ERSVs), which utilise an electricity supply on the road, for example overhead cables. Nine different ownership groups — including heavy goods vehicles and tractors — were analysed.

The report did not come up with a final lifetime cost for each type, but it admitted that there is a high degree of uncertainty on a number of variables for all vehicles, including hydrogen fuel costs.

A best case scenario would see the price of hydrogen fuel fall dramatically from €9.50 per kg at the pump today to just €1.5 per kg in 2050. In fact, a price point of €2.5 per kg would give FCEVs a chance of competing with BEVs and ERSVs. However, this price would depend on a high level of subsidy and market take-up, and would only see success for FCEVs if corresponding costs rose for fully electric equivalents.

A worst case scenario would see hydrogen fuel costs fall only marginally to €8.50 per kg in 2050.


FCEVs would be further hit by a lack of refuelling infrastructure that would also prevent the sector from scaling up to reduce costs, the ITF said, noting that any infrastructure build-out would be heavily dependent on financial support from the public purse “at significant costs”.

And governments considering throwing cash at a hydrogen refuelling network run the risk of being left with stranded assets if hydrogen trucking does not scale up sufficiently.

There may be niche applications in particularly “challenging” corners of the market that FCEVs would be well placed to address, including heavy duty 70-tonne trucking, longer range transport or vehicles used in construction, ITF added, calling for further studies into these areas.

“FCEVs would only be cost competitive in a small number of edge cases, with highly ambitious hydrogen fuel costs below €2.5 per kg (at the pump) and conservative scenarios for other technologies,” the report said.

“This lack of cost-competitiveness across the majority of the European market means that achieving the necessary economies of scale in vehicle production to bring down vehicle purchase prices and ensure high utilisation of refuelling infrastructure is likely to remain a challenge for FCEVs.”