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Hydrogen Fuels usage in commercial vehicles

Hydrogen is seeing investment across the globe, with many governments seeing it as the ‘green replacement’ for natural gas. But hydrogen fuel isn’t just going to create greener homes and industries – it might become the best alternative to petrol and diesel available.

The push for governments to hit net-zero targets has meant that public transportation has made fairly significant leaps towards hydrogen power. London’s iconic red double-decker bus has gained a fleet of hydrogen-powered versions within the city and Germany has already adopted a hydrogen-powered train on one of its lines. The EU has supported research towards clean urban transport since 2001 and there’s no doubt that hydrogen will play a key part in moving towards zero-emission transportation and vehicles in cities.

The problem with electric

We’ve seen electric-powered buses, trains and trams across Europe and hydrogen-powered vehicles are slowly joining them. However, a challenge arises in electric HGVs. Due to their multiple large batteries, electric cars are some of the heaviest cars available on the market today. The Tesla Model X weighs nearly 2,500 kg – not far off the heaviest car ever made, the 1960 Lincoln Continental. A standard heavy goods vehicle needs to carry nearly 20 times that without factoring in the weight of a heavy battery in a BEV’s tractor. This hasn’t stopped smaller, last-mile trucks from taking steps towards utilising battery power, with several companies, including Volta Trucks, focusing on urban distribution with smaller ranges on single batteries, but in the US and similar countries, and in areas that are less densely populated, HGVs need to be able to go much larger ranges without needing to refuel.

BEV manufacturer, Tesla have created the Tesla Semi, capable of going an estimated 500 miles, and HGV manufacturer, Nikola Motor have developed the TRE BEV a fully-electric, battery-powered truck with a 330-mile range and a charge time of 90 minutes. But even Nikola are taking steps to create a hydrogen alternative to their battery electric HGV knowing that hydrogen FCEVs have beaten BEVs on range consistently.

Hydrogen injection

The logistics industry is looking to become greener, with the industry as a whole responsible for around a quarter of global CO2 emissions and, according to the European Environment Agency, that could be set to rise to 40% by 2050 unless significant action is taken.

Even if massive steps were taken in the development and manufacturing of hydrogen trucks, the largest hurdle to zero emission transportation is expense. Brand new HGV tractors can range from £90,000 all the way to £250,000, and many in the industry simply can’t afford to make the shift by buying new green tractors. This doesn’t mean that HGV tractors can’t benefit from an increase in hydrogen usage though. Hydrogen injection systems ‘inject’ hydrogen into the engine alongside the air intake. Not only are these systems much cheaper to install than buying an entirely new vehicle, but they lower the amount of fossil fuel consumed and can reportedly reduce emissions from diesel combustion engines by up to 70%.

Hydrogen adoption

With the wider adoption of emission-free public transport vehicles, once the infrastructure becomes more widely available, we will likely see hydrogen’s positives win out over battery electric. This infrastructure can also benefit last-mile logistics vehicles, which might already be one of the bigger adopters of battery-powered goods vehicles. Giving companies with less capital a chance to move towards lower emissions with hydrogen injection systems. As we move closer to the now 2035 deadline, it is likely that governments will be forced to support logistics business whether last mile, long distance or both.

Thanks to hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engines, hydrogen as a fuel shares similarities with fossil fuel in terms of use in vehicles. This means retrofitting hydrogen combustion engines into existing diesel engines can happen at a much lower cost, than retrofitting an electric battery power source. We could very well see hydrogen-powered HGVs surpass heavy goods BEVs in the next few decades.

Of course, the main thing holding both these fuel alternatives back is a severe lack of infrastructure. Refuelling with fossil fuels will be easier, cheaper, and more reliable for drivers well beyond the UK government’s 2035 deadline and only time will tell what governments do to support the logistics industries move to net-zero.

Here at FutureMotiv, we’re looking forward to seeing what advancements in fuel cell technology will do for hydrogen-powered HGVs. The emissions generated from transportation make up a huge part of global emissions and hydrogen that is generated through low or no-carbon emission processes like renewable energy or nuclear power will allow for public transport and logistics businesses alike to drastically reduce their carbon footprint.

If you’d like to know more about the current state of hydrogen as a fuel source for vehicles; from passenger cars to boats, to how it’s generated and much more.