New report finds hydrogen and battery electric will work in tandem for long haul trucking

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by Emily Atkins

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) and RMI have released a new Guidance Report, Hydrogen Trucks: Long Haul’s Future?

The report focuses on using hydrogen-based powertrains for heavy-duty Class 8 long-haul freight routes pulling van trailers. These powertrains include a range of fuel cell battery electric types and internal combustion engines (ICE) based on the diesel cycle.

Among its findings, the report suggests that hydrogen and battery electric are not an “either/or” but an “and” for the zero-emission freight future.

This report is based on two previous NACFE reports — Viable Class 7/8 Electric, Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Tractors and Making Sense of Heavy-Duty Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tractors — which compared a range of alternative fuel heavy-duty truck technologies including hydrogen.

The report looks at what NACFE got right in its original reports, as well as what it got wrong. The report also provides insight on what has changed since NACFE first reported on hydrogen in 2020. It explores changes in the molecular fuel industry as well as providing information on various agreements and regulations that are spurring the development of hydrogen as a fuel source in heavy-duty trucking.

“Think of hydrogen as a ‘gaseous battery.’ The key factor in going hydrogen fuel cell is a fleet’s need for availability of the vehicle for multi-shift, multi-route, operations,” said Mike Russell, P.E., senior project lead – zero emissions powertrain, PACCAR Inc.

The report also presents information on technology and infrastructure changes including the emergence of hydrogen internal combustion engines and explores the basics of hydrogen internal combustion engines.

There is also a section on the state of hydrogen today which looks at the cost realities of hydrogen for trucking applications.

The report found that hydrogen may be the harbinger of a new green industrial revolution, or just the progression from one fossil fuel-based energy carrier to another with greater emphasis on reducing emissions. Either way, hydrogen will be a factor in future long-distance freight hauling in combination with battery electric vehicles for shorter range operations.

“As we move to the zero-emissions freight future, in the long run, there are only two choices of power – battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell,” said Rick Mihelic, report author and director of emerging technologies, NACFE.

The study team determined that hydrogen is a complex topic and hydrogen for use in freight transportation is just in its infancy. The report contains four conclusions:

  • Hydrogen and battery electric are not an “either/or” but an “and” for the zero-emission freight future.

  • Hydrogen fuel cell tractors are the only zero-emission solution for many duty cycles for heavy-duty tractors.

  • Alternative fuels like RNG, renewable diesel, and hydrogen used in internal combustion engines 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.

  • Industry agreement is needed on whether hydrogen long-haul fuel cell tractors and the transport of the hydrogen fuel itself, will be based on gaseous or liquid hydrogen.