Hydrogen proponents have long stated that H2 will be required for long-distance, heavy-duty road freight, but a new report says it has identified two other use cases where hydrogen trucks would have advantages over battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

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The pro-hydrogen trucking group H2Accelerate — a collaboration between oil giants Shell and TotalEnergies, truck makers Daimler, Volvo and Iveco, refiner OMV and industrial gases firm Linde — consulted with more than 10 logistics operators and end-users, including Amazon and DHL, and wrote up its findings in a new “whitepaper”, Understanding and Meeting Customer Expectations for Hydrogen Trucking.

“While logistics operators are aligned with the H2Accelerate view that hydrogen trucking will be required for long-haul, heavy-duty applications due to the operational flexibility it offers, further use cases where hydrogen offers operations advantages over BEVs have been identified,” the eight-page document states. “These include trucks operating in areas with significant grid constraints which will present challenges for BEV charging, and for use cases where vehicles are double shifted, requiring fast refuelling.”

It describes “double shifted” as vehicles that are “driven for two consecutive shifts by two separate drivers”.

“For these applications, waiting for battery vehicles to recharge is not operationally viable, even for relatively short-haul applications,” says the study.

“Logistics operators stressed the importance of hydrogen vehicles in areas where deployment of battery electric vehicles to replace existing fleets would lead to significant grid constraints and would therefore require grid upgrade works. For example, in the Netherlands where zero-emission vehicles will be required in certain urban areas from 2025, it is expected that the current electricity grid will not be able to support demand from battery vehicles. Hydrogen vehicles will therefore be required even in short-range applications for logistics operators to be able to reliably serve these areas.”

Many observers would disagree with such conclusions. Multiple studies have shown that green hydrogen is a highly inefficient fuel for road transport, being far more expensive on a per-kilometre basis than a comparable BEV. Whereas a BEV would be able to utilise 77kW of every 100kW of renewable energy generated, a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle would only be able to make use of 30kW, according to Brussels-based clean transport campaign group Transport & Environment, meaning that two to three times more renewable energy would be required per kilometre.

And a study published in February by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) in Germany concluded that hydrogen was unlikely to play a major role in road transport due to high operating costs. It also pointed out that while long-haul trucking of more than 500km per day “poses a challenge” for battery-electric options, European regulations mean truck drivers are required to stop for a 45-minute break after driving for more than four-and-a-half hours.

“Within 4.5 hours, a heavy truck could travel up to around 400km and thus practical [battery] ranges of about 450km would suffice, if high-power fast charging for battery electric trucks was widely available,” said Fraunhofer’s Patrick Plötz, who wrote the peer-reviewed article in the journal Nature Electronics.

“Charging 400km in 45 min for a heavy truck means about 800kW average charging power. The current fast-charging standard... allows up to 350kW. But a new megawatt charging system standard is under development, which should allow over 2MW charging.”

But trying to charge multiple battery trucks simultaneously at the same location would prove very challenging for the grid, and require eight times as many charging points as a hydrogen refuelling network, Craig Knight, CEO of hydrogen truck maker Hyzon Motors, told Recharge in March.

“Organisations consulted during the workshops suggested that battery electric trucks could fulfil the requirements of about 80% of routes based only on range requirement,” said the H2Accelerate report. But it added: “Though it can be more cost effective for fleets to switch to a single technology type, logistics operators expect that most future fleets will be mixed, comprising both battery electric and hydrogen vehicles.”

Cost parity with diesel

The paper also revealed that “while both logistics end users and logistics operators are willing to invest at a premium to trial new technologies such as hydrogen, cost parity with diesel is needed to justify switching whole fleets to the technology”.

“Organisations are, at present, unwilling to explicitly pass on additional costs of zero emissions technologies to customers, eg, through a ‘green premium’.

“If [low-carbon trucking] technologies are not available at reasonable cost, some organisations confirmed that offsetting will be considered to meet targets.”

It suggests that while “hydrogen truck costs as well as the cost of low-carbon hydrogen production are expected to fall significantly over the coming decades… policy has a critical role to play in enabling and accelerating these cost reductions”.

H2Accelerate added that there was “strong support for existing German policies for zero emissions trucking to be adopted across Europe”. These include grant funding of up to 80% of the difference in costs between a diesel and a climate-friendly commercial vehicle, grant funding for up to 80% od the cost of refuelling/recharging infrastructure, and an exemption from road tolls for trucks with alternative propulsion.