With battery-electric vehicles dominating OEM product
plans, hydrogen seeks a foothold in regional trucking
In kicking off the CERAweek panel regarding hydrogen
applications for motor vehicles, Edouard Tavernier, president of
S&P Global Mobility, noted that, “There are compelling
applications for hydrogen to take root.” However, the technology
has considerable catching up to do compared to the industry push
toward battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).
Hydrogen’s main advantage is a near-seamless experience in terms
of refueling, while struggles with the EV battery-charging network
have been well documented. That said, hydrogen fuel cells and
internal combustion are still being proven out in limited
quantities and carry an imposing price premium. The hydrogen
infrastructure is still in nascent stages, which limits potential
retail market acceptance.
Those constraints are pushing hydrogen more into the world of
regional-delivery trucks where access to fuel can be controlled and
long-term maintenance savings can defray the initial up-front hit.
This can apply to big-rigs as well as last-mile fleets.
“If you solve the infrastructure piece, the challenges go away,”
said James Kast, manager of hydrogen infrastructure for Toyota
Motor North America. But those obstacles are immense. Transport and
storage—whether in gaseous or liquified forms—contain
technical challenges, and there is no national network of refueling
Big-rig manufacturer Nikola is addressing that challenge in both
directions: A battery-electric rig with a claimed 330 miles of
range, and a hydrogen fuel cell with 500 miles of range.
Paradoxically, the thought is that hydrogen will be a long-haul
trucking solution—once a refueling network can be put into
“Truckers make money taking a lot of load as far as they can,”
said Carey Mendes, Nikola’s president of energy. “If you tell
people, ‘It’s going to be five years,’ they will not adopt. It has
to be sooner than that.”
Which means interim solutions, such as mobile refuelers that
Nikola is providing clients. Nikola also has joined with HYLA to
build up to 60 refueling stations by 2026. The first stations will
serve trucks operating at the adjacent ports of Long Beach and Los
Angeles, and in the inland trucking hubs of Ontario and Colton. As
the ports have decarbonization measures in place for trucks parked
for lengthy stretches of time, hydrogen might be a better solution
than battery-electric, Kast noted.
Building more hydrogen stations has its own obstacles in terms
of local permitting, said Jennifer Hamilton, co-executive director,
technical and operations, for the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership.
Visions of the Hindenburg play in the heads of city council members
asked to allow a hydrogen station to be placed on the footprint of
a gasoline service station.
“We certainly need more stations. The infrastructure needs to be
there ahead of the vehicles. There’s a lot of education to be
done,” Hamilton said.
Amer Amer , transport chief technologist for Aramco, sees
hydrogen transport as the major barrier. In gaseous form, it can be
compressed only so much and is inefficiently transported, but when
liquified using a molecule such as ammonia to increase its density,
the destination station must expensively back-crack the elements to
restore the hydrogen to its original form.
What of the early bids to establish hydrogen as a passenger-car
powertrain alternative? Toyota sold 2,094 Mirai fuel-cell cars in
limited markets in 2022, while Honda discontinued its slow-selling
Clarity fuel-cell in 2021. Toyota’s Kast said hydrogen needs a
boost: “Hydrogen is hard to justify when it’s small, and right now
it’s small. Justifying large-scale investments is a challenge when
it doesn’t look like it fits. We have early adopters. We need to
Amer said that hydrogen might have a bigger impact in
retrofitting old, dirty engines with hydrogen-based powertrains:
“We need to address the existing fleet. Addressing future car sales
is not going to give you the biggest bang for the buck.”
– By Mark Rechtin, executive editor and executive director,
S&P Global Mobility
This article was published by S&P Global Mobility and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.