CommercialFleet

Hydrogen trucks: the path to zero emission?

Phil Lloyd, head of engineering policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA)

As the road transport sector works towards its goal of zero emissions by 2050, the buzz around hydrogen trucks continues to grow.

This month, Air Liquide and the Port of Rotterdam Authority launched an initiative to get 1,000 hydrogen-powered, zero-emission trucks on the roads connecting the Netherlands, Belgium, and West Germany by 2025. And the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell heavy-duty truck, developed by Hyundai Motor Company, is now operational.

In this month’s column, I will explore whether the hype around hydrogen is justified and examine the fuel’s place in the decarbonisation of road transport.

Hydrogen trucks, also known as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), use hydrogen as the power source to generate electricity for a vehicle’s battery pack; this, in turn, this powers the motor.

With FCEVs zero emission at the tailpipe, these vehicles are an attractive potential solution to the challenge of decarbonising road transport.

Air Liquide and the Port of Rotterdam Authority claim their project – to develop 1,000 hydrogen trucks – will save more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

According to the European Commission, increased use of hydrogen will be key to achieving the European Green Deal and, ultimately, transition Europe into a climate neutral economy by 2050; analysts from BloombergNEF predict that ‘clean’ hydrogen could meet 24% of demand for energy worldwide by this date.

However, hydrogen is not a perfect fuel; while it has strong environmental credentials in one sense – its only waste product is water –  around 96% of hydrogen is currently made from fossil fuels.

For FCEVs to be truly zero carbon, the hydrogen must be produced renewably. In the document, A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neural economy, the European Commission recognises that ‘clean’ hydrogen is not cost competitive compared to fossil-based hydrogen and has made it a priority to tackle this issue, pledging to ensure renewably-sourced hydrogen will be readily available and affordable by 2050.

In the UK, government and industry seems focused on full electrification as the solution to decarbonisation; there are now approximately 18,700 public charging points installed in the UK for electric vehicles compared with around 17 points for FCEVs.

But as electric HGVs are only slowly coming onto the market, businesses are looking towards alternative gasses – methane, biomethane, in addition to hydrogen – to fuel their fleets in a more sustainable fashion in the short-term, at least.

Currently, the biggest barrier to the development of electric HGVs is the weight of the batteries; these vehicles require large, heavy batteries, and as there are legal restrictions as to how much weight HGVs can carry, this significantly compromises the payload.

And given the limitations with range, electric vehicles are well suited to lighter vehicles making shorter, more urban journeys; it will be many years before we will see them being the main users of the strategic road network.

With increased mileage, lighter weights, and speedier charging, FCEVs are more naturally suited to HGVs. In my view, FCEVs present a practical, interim option while a longer-term solution to electric HGV battery technology is developed.

FTA is one of the UK’s leading business groups, representing logistics businesses which are vital to keeping the UK trading, and more than seven million people directly employed in the making, selling and moving of goods.

With Covid-19, Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc.

FTA supports, shapes and stands up for safe and efficient logistics, and is the only business group which represents the whole industry, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers whose businesses depend on the efficient movement of goods.

For more information about the organisation and its work, including its ground-breaking research into the impacts of Covid-19 on the whole supply chain, please visit www.fta.co.uk.


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