As the nation strives to reduce its carbon footprint, the rush is on to find alternative fuel vehicles and the infrastructure necessary to support them. As such, new announcements about hydrogen and fuel cell electric trucks appear almost daily. The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) released a new report to help make sense of hydrogen for commercial freight movement.
Hydrogen is the fuel of choice for fuel cells, although there are other alternatives that can operate in fuel cells such as ammonia. Hydrogen is energy-dense and abundant but unfortunately, it does not occur naturally, so it must be coaxed out of other materials to be useful. The good news is that there are many ways to produce hydrogen
Key findings from the NACFE report include:
- Hydrogen fuel cells trucks are just starting to see real-world use and their adoption is being driven by regional or national considerations that are much bigger than what exists for trucking fleets
- Battery electric trucks should be the baseline for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (HFCEV) comparisons, rather than any internal combustion engine alternative
- As for all alternatives, fleets should optimize the specifications of HFCEV for the job they should perform while expecting that the trade cycles will lengthen
- The future acceleration of HFCEVs is likely not about the vehicles or the fueling but more about the creation and distribution of the hydrogen itself
- The potential for autonomous fuel cell trucks to operate 24 hours a day adds significant opportunity for making sense of capital and operational investment in hydrogen
Recommendations from the NACFE report include:
- Fleet investment in new fuel cell electric and battery electric vehicles requires vehicles. The debate on infrastructure is irrelevant if there is no demand
- Hydrogen is a regional solution, cheap hydrogen even more so. The ability to scale truck demand will be limited by the nature of truck production volumes and market forces.
- Purists pushing green hydrogen as a goal should accept that some compromise is needed to allow alternatives in the “how” of getting to net zero-emissions
- Stop comparisons of fill times. Fill times are moving targets for both fuel cell and battery electric vehicles. In a zero-emission future world, as in California’s plans, diesel does not exist. What is the value of a comparison on fill times?
- Incentives, grants, credits, tax breaks will be around for a while. Truck production volumes versus zero-emission target dates will require zero-emission transport financial help for some years