hydrogen fuel cell trucks

How is the Fleet Industry Driving Interest in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Trucks?

March 22, 2023 - Emily Newton

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Hydrogen fuel cell trucks are leading the way in a market that is crucial to the future of clean transportation. Fuel cell technology is uniquely well suited to electrifying large vehicles like trucks, buses and trains. Growing adoption of hydrogen trucks in the fleet industry is helping to raise awareness of the benefits of fuel cells, giving the whole industry a boost. 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Trucks: A Unique Solution

Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around since the mid-1800s, but only recently has it begun to explode in popularity. The fleet industry plays a major role in this growth. In fact, the hydrogen fuel cell market has a CAGR of 60% and analysts expect it will be worth over $130 billion by 2030. 

Consumers, businesses and governments are all expressing more interest in electric vehicle technologies today. What makes hydrogen fuel cells unique is the particular niche they serve. Fuel cells are ideal for electrifying large vehicles, which face unique challenges in the electric vehicle transition. 

Batteries are well-suited for consumer vehicles, but pose a few important challenges with larger vehicles. For example, something like a tractor trailer, delivery truck or construction vehicle needs much more power than a consumer sedan. More powerful, expensive batteries would be needed to power these types of vehicles. 

The larger the battery is, the longer it will need to charge, which creates logistical difficulties. For instance, truck drivers might need to trade off vehicles or wait for a full day at truck stops while their vehicle charges. This is not conducive to efficiency and productivity. 

Hydrogen fuel cells provide an alternative mode of electrification that gets around these challenges. Fuel cells don’t need to be plugged in to recharge. Instead, drivers could simply refill their fuel cell with hydrogen just like a stop at the gas station. Fuel cell electric powertrains are also more modular than battery electric powertrains. This can make fuel cell trucks more cost-effective for fleets to own and maintain over time. 

How Hydrogen Fuel Cells Fill a Critical Gap

Hydrogen fuel cell trucks are just one example of the critical niche of vehicles that fuel cells are perfectly suited for. The fleet industry’s growing interest in this technology is driven by the global need to electrify transportation in an effort to minimize emissions. Fuel cells are much more sustainable, both financially and environmentally, for large vehicles than batteries are. As a result, many more industries are following the fleet industry in adopting this technology. 

For example, in 2022 Germany launched its first hydrogen electric passenger trains. The project started with a fleet of 14 trains with a range of 1,000 kilometers or about 621 miles. The clean public transport system is even partnering with a hydrogen provider that plans to manufacture the hydrogen for the trains using renewable energy. The hydrogen powered trains also generate zero emissions and operate more quietly than diesel trains. 

Public transportation is a perfect example of the advantages hydrogen fuel cells have in their daily use. A fleet of battery electric city buses would not only require complicated charging schedules but also massive amounts of electricity. On a large scale, the charging necessary for millions of large vehicles could become a serious strain on power grids. Even on a small scale, it leads to high electricity costs for fleet operators. 

In contrast, hydrogen fuel cells use simple chemistry to create electricity within the powertrain of each individual vehicle. Hydrogen fuel cells are also more cost-effective, especially on a large scale. For example, hydrogen powered trains use 29% less energy than their diesel counterparts, resulting in fuel savings. 

Growing the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Supply Chain

These advantages are important to note since they play a big role in growing the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells. One of the main challenges the fuel cell industry faces is a lack of existing infrastructure to manufacture and maintain hydrogen-powered vehicles. This is making it difficult for the current cost of hydrogen-powered vehicles to drop. 

Supply chain and infrastructure growth is a big part of why the cost of battery electric vehicles has dropped in recent years. As interest in electric vehicles grows, the industry is experiencing an influx in investment. This leads to the creation of more charging stations and more streamlined manufacturing processes. Demand for BEVs is leading to development that makes the technology more affordable. 

Greater demand is the key to reducing the cost of hydrogen-powered vehicles over time, until they are as affordable, if not more, than diesel vehicles. So, the growing adoption of hydrogen fuel cells in the fleet industry is a crucial step in the right direction. 

Why Not Stick With Diesel? 

Given the fact that battery electric vehicles already have a growing supply chain and infrastructure, they may seem like a good fit for large vehicles as well. Why is this not the case? Similarly, why not simply continue using diesel? There are a few key factors to keep in mind. 

Reducing carbon emissions in transportation is critical to the health of the planet. This is particularly true for fleets, which typically include dozens or hundreds of large vehicles. Hydrogen is becoming an increasingly competitive option for fleets today. Not only is it emissions-free, it can also keep up with diesel thanks to recent technological advances. 

For example, in 2022 a Canadian hydrogen fuel cell developer announced they invented a fuel cell that is more energy efficient than diesel engines. While the advantage works out to only a few miles’ difference per $100 of fuel, it hints at long term change. In the next few years, hydrogen fuel cells could become significantly more energy efficient than diesel engines. 

This would make them far more cost-effective for fleets, construction, public transportation and other energy-intensive transportation needs. Hydrogen has similar advantages over battery electric vehicles as well. The EV battery supply chain struggles with sourcing and supply shortages that can cause price volatility. For example, in mid-2022 the industry was hit with a graphite shortage that caused price surges. 

Hydrogen doesn’t rely on expensive resources like lithium and graphite to the high degree that battery electric vehicles do. This could make hydrogen electric vehicles more affordable in the long run, after further development and market growth. 

Hydrogen Trucks: Leading the Future

Rising adoption of hydrogen trucks is not just good for the environment, it is also quietly giving the whole transportation industry a boost. As demand for hydrogen fuel cell trucks increases, fuel cell technology development will benefit from increased investment. With more hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road, the technology will become more widely available and affordable in the years ahead, allowing more industries to reap its unique benefits.

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Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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