Fuel cell vehicles are getting a boost from trucking and subsidies

Fuel cell vehicles are getting a boost from trucking and subsidies

February 23, 2023 1 By Julie Campbell

The interest in hydrogen is rising due to its appeal for powering trucks and vans as well as government aid.

Interest in fuel cell vehicles is rapidly on the rise and trucks and government subsidies are receiving a great deal of credit for moving this trend along as quickly as it is going. In particular, the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has been seen as placing the spotlight on H2 as a practical alternative to battery electrics.

Though battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have become quite popular, hydrogen is also taking off.

Zero emission passenger cars are certainly seeing the most growth in the BEV category. That said, vans and trucks carry heavier loads and must often travel longer distances. Long-haul fleet operators often say that batteries for those types of applications are too heavy, require too much charging time, and could overload existing power grids.

Fuel cell vehicles - Truck on road

On the other hand, fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen are powerful, can refuel in minutes, and have a notably larger range than BEVs.

“The fact is we need both BEVs and hydrogen,” said Martin Daum, CEO at Daimler Truck in a recent Reuters report, expressing an increasingly common opinion about the future of zero-emission cars and trucks. “The amount of energy BEVs need is so enormous that I see a strain on our grid that ultimately it can’t fulfill.”

Auto and truck companies have been investing billions into developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Daimler Truck intends to invest as much as $16 billion into fuel cell vehicles across the next decade, said Daum.

Moreover, it isn’t just the automakers that have been pouring their money into the future of hydrogen cars and trucks. Fleet operators have also been taking the opportunity to test the technology and how it can be incorporated into their regular operations. This is particularly the case in Europe and Asia, though North America is starting to do the same now that government subsidies and other forms of aid are becoming available.

UK supermarket chain Asda made headlines when it announced that it would be testing H2. The company has a diesel fleet that is about 1,000 strong, as it is required to haul goods between hubs and stores all day and night. According to that company, it would need far more trucks and vans if it had to rely on BEVs, which is why it is currently focusing on hydrogen.

“I’m not closing the door on batteries, but the benefit of hydrogen is it doesn’t need that dwell time (for charging) and has better range,” said Sean Clifton, fleet manager at Asda.

Infrastructure is a critical component to the future of fuel cell vehicles and BEVs alike.

As is the case with BEVs and their recharging infrastructure, a top challenge to rolling out fleets of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is that a widespread refueling infrastructure is not yet in place. This has placed notable pressure to begin constructing hydrogen refueling stations even ahead of the mainstream use of H2 trucks and vans.

In the United States, the IRA offers subsidies for inexpensive H2 and refueling infrastructure that is receiving praise from industry executives that say this will help to accelerate the development of heavy-duty pickup trucks and semi-trucks.

“Thanks to the IRA, things will move faster in the U.S.,” said Symbio fuel cell maker CEO Philippe Rosier. Symbio is a French joint venture between Michelin and Faurecia.

Proponents of H2 believe that this type of support for the development of the trucks and the construction of refilling station networks will make a substantial difference in the adoption of the technology on a larger scale. Stellantis vans, which receives its fuel cells from Symbio, predicts that the sale of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles worldwide will reach 2 million units per year by 2030.

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