Green hydrogen, i.e., hydrogen produced from renewable resources, is attracting increasing attention as an alternative fuel for the future for especially long-haul transportation. Studies and forecasts show that if the current amount of diesel-based heavy transport continues, the global climate change budget will be significantly exceeded.
The European transport industry currently accounts for approximately 20 percent of the world’s harmful CO2 emissions, of which heavy trucks and vans account for approximately one third of the total emissions within the sector. An ambitious and dedicated effort is needed to make transportation fossil-free, and the development of a supportive infrastructure is imperative.
The road transportation industry, like other areas of traffic, is under pressure to decarbonize rapidly. Regulatory changes, as well as demands from B2B and B2C customers for greener transportation value chains, are prompting the industry to adapt new technologies and green fuels.
On the regulatory scenes, we see countries pushing industries to reduce CO2 emissions at different paces and by different means. Pushing for change via regulations on one side and posing taxes on CO2 emissions on the other are among the supportive instruments currently being used by governments. In Denmark, for instance, as of 2025 we will see a CO2-differentiated and kilometer-based road tax where trucks will be subject to road taxes according to how much CO2 they emit.
In short-haul freight, battery electric vehicles, trucks, and vans are reaching Total Cost of Ownership parity in the first use cases, a fact which will can facilitate the transition of fleets. This is made possible by rapidly declining battery costs as well as the launch of new vehicles, including purpose-built battery electric delivery vans.
For long-haul trucking, however, the picture is quite different. Long distances, unpredictable routes, high uptime requirements, strict driving-time regulations, and the importance of high payloads have made this sector particularly complicated to decarbonize. With the current energy densities, batteries are too heavy, charging speeds are too slow, and the infrastructure is not yet in place to directly electrify trucks – particularly on challenging routes.
In the search for alternatives, in recent years long-haul trucking has focused on hydrogen-powered fuels and hydrogen combustion. This is a highly viable solution, because faster refueling and greater range can increase the uptime potential for trucks, and due to lower weight compared with batteries, the payload capacity can be increased. Altogether, these factors improve the Total Cost of Ownership of hydrogen trucks, which is key to the highly competitive transportation industry.
As the sector of transportation and logistics decide on the most suitable technology and types of fuel for their (future) vehicles for the green transition, they look into both range and energy consumption. Whilst battery-driven small vans make sense for short distances, fuel cell-driven and hydrogen-powered trucks are more suitable technologies for regional hauls. Specifically for long-haul transport, advanced hydrogen such as e- or bio methanol becomes more relevant.
The transition in terms of which solution will be most suitable in which context will vary depending on OEM, type of transport and region target for the transport. The above illustration is simply meant to exemplify that as a rule, the higher energy consumption and driving range that are needed, the more hydrogen and its families within green fuels become relevant. Looking at future scenarios and considering technological advances likely to happened within batteries as well as an expected lowering of costs (and thus ready availability of advanced hydrogens), we may even see future options employing hydrogen in its pure form.
Hydrogen Opportunities and Challenges
In perspective, hydrogen is also considered the required link and a leading opportunity for decarbonizing other hard-to-abate sectors. This could be the case for, for example, industrial sectors (such as steel, cement, or refineries) that are hard to abate directly with electricity due to practical technological reasons, as well as other industries (such as marine, aviation, and rail) that consume energy in quantities that exceed the levels of what batteries can currently provide. Where solar, wind and biowaste as green energy sources and batteries as a technology for providing electricity all come up short in these contexts, hydrogen and fuel cells complementarily offer both storage and paths to efficient energy use. These are all factors that will drive a general adoption of hydrogen while facilitating ready accessibility of clean hydrogen.
As for timing, it is worth noticing that hydrogen will be available in the near future for use cases, such as for fleets with their own depots or, to offer a current example, a project in Switzerland, where fuel cell trucks have already been successfully deployed. Likewise, leading OEMs such as Volvo, Daimler, and Hyzon are accelerating their productions of fuel cell hydrogen-powered vehicles. In fact, forecasts by McKinsey suggest that by 2035, we will see as many as 850,000 hydrogen-fueled medium- and heavy-duty trucks on the road in Europe. Between them, they will consume 6,900 metric kilotons of hydrogen per year and require up to 4,800 hydrogen refueling stations.
Once available and on the roads, supported by a supportive infrastructure giving access to hydrogen and methanol, hydrogen-fueled medium- and heavy-duty trucks can become a decisive factor in reaching our climate goals. make the difference.