Another week and another Transport/business “Think Tank” is questioning the place hydrogen might play in the future of road transport.
However the latest report from BloombergNEF (BNEF), seems to be a bit ambiguous and slightly contradictory, with the organisation saying that perhaps the brakes might have to be applied on optimistic visions of hydrogen’s role in zero emission trucks.
Hydrogen engine technology presents an exciting opportunity and we’ve been told to expect similar functionality to a diesel power plant but with essentially no harmful emissions. We preume in saying this that BNEF is referring to the idea of using hydrogen as a replacement for carbon based fuels in Internal Combustion Engines (ICE). However the reality is while some, including power train specialist Cummins and global automotive giant Toyota are talking about hydrogen fuelled ICE powerplants, most of the major truck makers are citing hydrogen fuel cells as the best and most impressive way to power heavy long distance trucks. This will mean using hydrogen in a fuel cell to create electricity to power an electric truck driveline.

Some of the biggest players in road transport and powertrain technology, including companies like Volvo, Daimler, Iveco, Paccar and Toyota have forecast a hydrogen future, to varying degrees, however, BNEF says the brakes need to be tapped just a little on huydrogen.

BNEF says it is concerned that manufacturers could be spreading themselves too thin by investing in hydrogen technology as well as hydrogen fuel cells and batteries. However when speaking with the lies of Daimler and Volvo, which have partnered in joint venture to develop hydrogen fuel cell power, jointly investing close to $AUD 2 billion in the operation called Cell Centric. Both companies are saying that the first of their fuel cell trucks will go on sale in 2028.
All agree that the only economically viable way to have zero emission power in heavy and long distance trucks is via hydrogen fuel cell. As they explain batteries won’t cut for long distance and heavy loads because of the weight needed to provide efficient battery power.

BNEF claims admits that in the next 10-15 years it is more likely that batteries and hydrogen fuel cells will account for a high share of sales for many of the companies.
That doesn’t rule out that the development of hydrogen combustion vehicles should be ruled out but rather BNEF claims it believes that hydrogen vehicles and their place in future technology portfolios, remains uncertain.
BNEF claims that the cost of providing hydrogen refuelling infrastructure to the heavy vehicle industry will be too cost-prohibitive. From what we understand and what we are told by many experts and truck makers, is that hydrogen refuelling infrastructure will be a relatively easy thing to put into place and will be the least of the challenges facing the industry
BNEF also claims that it believes fuel cells for trucks will still likely win out over hydrogen engines as they are more efficient — and therefore less expensive to operate based on fuel costs, which is exactly what the truck makers have been saying, so we are not to sure what new information the Bloomberg analysis actually reveals.

So, is there a future for hydrogen in heavy road transport applications?

BNEF believes there is, but most likely only as a niche in the market, for example in emerging economies where a lack of mature electricity grid infrastructure could limit the roll-out of battery-electric trucks.