The zero-emission truck segment has been dominated so far by battery-electric vehicles, but many companies are betting that hydrogen fuel cell technology will emerge as a major consideration.
Hydrogen-powered trucks are a rarity for now, and the public charging infrastructure to support them is in its infancy. Most of the country’s hydrogen fueling stations are located in California, where there were 52 as of June 2021, according to Gladstein, Neandross & Associates. But most of those were designed for passenger vehicle use, not heavy-duty trucks.
Still, truckmakers are investing in hydrogen fuel cell development. Nikola, for instance, plans to introduce a hydrogen-powered Tre truck in late 2023, with range of up to 500 miles compared with about 350 miles on the BEV model. The hydrogen model will be geared toward long-haul trucking uses, Nikola’s Lohscheller said.
“There will be customers who prefer the electric version because, in some uses, you know you’ll come back to certain charging points,” Lohscheller said. “You can go back and charge overnight. If you look at the distance of a lot of trucks in the U.S. and Europe, it’s not so long. They come back to the same hub or station. But some customers need longer range.”
Volvo Trucks, meanwhile, sees hydrogen-powered trucks playing a major role alongside battery-electric trucks and those with internal combustion engines. Volvo’s VNR Electric truck is already on the market and will primarily serve urban markets, said Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America. Hydrogen-powered trucks will start to serve long-haul freight by the end of the decade, he said, while a market for internal combustion trucks powered by renewable fuel sources will remain even beyond 2040.
“You’ll still have internal combustion engines, but with renewable fuels,” Voorhoeve said. “Are they powered by renewable diesel or renewable natural gas? There are many options that we’re investigating right now.”