Categories: Environment

Heavy goods vehicles: hydrogen already left behind by electric?

Hydrogen technology, which for a time seemed to be the alternative to electric in the world of trucks, has taken a turn for the worse.

As in the automobile industry, the promise of decarbonization of road transport has captured people’s minds, but hydrogen heavy goods vehicles could well be confined to market niches in Europe, left behind by their electric competitors.

The first customers are not necessarily satisfied and readily admit that they expected a little more from these trucks which are supposed to offer generally the same services as the diesel models, at least in terms of autonomy.

First experiments with hydrogen unconvincing

In western Norway, near Trondheim, the food wholesaler Asko has been testing four hydrogen fuel cell trucks supplied by the Swedish group Scania since 2020. Results so far have been mixed, with integration difficulties, faulty components, and even a forced shutdown after the explosion at a charging station near Oslo. The vehicle availability rate fluctuates between only 30 and 40%.

“They are not on the road as much as we would like, to say the least”, admits project manager Roger Saether. However, despite the obstacles, Asko remains convinced that this technology will eventually prevail.

The hydrogen trucks have a range of up to 500 km and supply supermarkets scattered across a large region. For shorter deliveries, the group uses electric vehiclesthus highlighting a distribution of roles that was long accepted as intangible by professionals in the sector.

However, the road transport landscape is changing. “What we see today is that, unlike a few years ago, electric trucks and buses play an ever more important role in decarbonization”underlines Fedor Unterlohner of the NGO Transport & Environment.

Heavy road transport currently accounts for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Brussels proposes to reduce emissions from the sector by 45% by 2030 and by 90% by 2040 compared to their 2019 level. A German study predicts that 63% of new trucks sold in Europe in 2030 will be “zero-emission”, with electric vehicles leading the way at 85%.

Electric trucks are now going further

The preference for electric is explained by the resolution of past obstacles. Battery life is improving, and most heavy goods vehicles travel less than 800 km per daya distance within battery range.

Advances in energy storage capacity are reducing the weight of batteries, and “megawatt charging systems” in development will soon offer ten times more power than current stations.

There remains the crucial question of costs in a sector where margins are narrow. The electric truck benefits from increasing competitiveness thanks to purchase prices reduced by the economies of scale of batteries for cars and moderate operating costs.

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