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    Commercial vehicles

    Truck fuel

    Hydrogen can be stored in large quantities and be produced using renewable energies: An optimum combination for CO2 neutral mobility, especially for commercial vehicles. All that is missing is the infrastructure.

    Hydrogen can be stored in large quantities and be produced using renewable energies: An optimum combination for CO2 neutral mobility, especially for commercial vehicles. All that is missing is the infrastructure.

    Hydrogen: The future for commercial vehicles

    German commercial vehicle manufacturers and suppliers see hydrogen as a medium- to long-term option for making long-distance transportation in particular CO2 neutral. Hydrogen can be produced from renewable energies and can be stored in large quantities. The use of hydrogen in fuel cells in trucks and buses enables similar flexibility and comparable performance profiles to their conventionally powered counterparts. However, the direct combustion of hydrogen in an ICE is also conceivable. As opposed to current battery-electric drives, hydrogen-powered commercial vehicles can be refueled quickly and have only marginally longer idle times at the fuel pump than diesel-powered ones.

    Compared to battery-electric powered commercial vehicles with current battery chemistry, the use of hydrogen in heavy-duty commercial vehicles enables them to safely cover long distances. This will be particularly important in those regions of Europe where no corresponding electric charging infrastructure is possible. The necessary use of green hydrogen and its current lack of availability on the one hand, and the lack of refueling facilities for trucks/buses along with the cost of fuel cells on the other, are currently limiting factors for the widespread introduction of this technology. The 92 refueling stations1 currently available in Germany are mainly designed for passenger cars only and are not suitable for use in long-distance freight transportation. A core network of hydrogen refueling stations must therefore be established for road freight transport in the near future. In particular, it must be taken into account that commercial vehicles running on gaseous hydrogen are refueled at pressures of up to 700 bar.

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    1 As of spring 2021

    300 hydrogen refueling stations in Germany — by 2030

    The revised Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Directive (AFID) is intended to set a target for Europe of around 300 hydrogen refueling stations suitable for trucks by 2025 (85 of which in Germany) and at least 1,000 (300 in Germany) by 2030 at the latest. In addition, there should be a hydrogen refueling station available every 200 km in the long-distance transport network (highways and freeways) by 2030. The hydrogen refueling station for commercial vehicles (trucks/buses) should have a minimum daily capacity of at least 6 t of hydrogen with at least two refueling points per station. The technical specifications and this target are to be reviewed in 2025 and adjusted if necessary. To ensure that the required number of refueling stations is available throughout the EU by 2025 and 2030, binding targets should be set for each Member State.

    In the initial phase, it therefore makes sense, for example, to use own-account transport with predefined and unchangeable route plans so as to be able to develop a targeted hydrogen infrastructure.

    To increase cost efficiency and make better use of the space available in commercial vehicles, consideration should also be given in the future to ways of enabling refueling with liquid hydrogen. The use of liquid hydrogen can contribute to significant increases in the range of heavy commercial vehicles and will significantly improve their competitiveness compared with conventionally powered vehicles.

    Conditions for implementing the strategies

    Over the next few years, vehicles using hydrogen (fuel cell or direct combustion) will only incur costs comparable to those of conventionally powered commercial vehicles if the appropriate measures are in place (e.g., procurement subsidies, CO2 pricing, toll adjustments, etc.). This is due to the expensive technology used but also because these fuels are still expensive, and investments are necessary in the refueling infrastructure.

    Operators should be involved at an early stage in the definition of structural policy measures and possible support programs. This applies both to the acquisition of vehicles as well as to the establishment of on-site refueling facilities.

    At the same time, a core network of hydrogen filling stations (one hydrogen filling station every 200 km by 2030) needs to be established for heavy-duty commercial vehicles (trucks/buses). In particular, it must be taken into account that commercial vehicles can be pressure-fueled at up to 700 bar. To increase energy efficiency and make better use of the space available in commercial vehicles, refueling with liquid H2 should also be made possible in the future.

    Similarly, it must be ensured that hydrogen production is closely linked to sources of renewably generated electricity. By bundling hydrogen requirements from transportation, private households, and industry, it would make sense to produce electrolysis hydrogen locally in regions with numerous wind power and photovoltaic plants. Imported green hydrogen must also play a role, since electricity costs in sunny countries, for example, are significantly lower than German production costs.

    Another way to promote alternative powertrains in the commercial vehicle sector is a CO2-based truck toll. In this way, the additional costs for vehicles with alternative drives could be reduced.

    Dr.-Ing. Sascha Pfeifer
    Contact person

    Dr.-Ing. Sascha Pfeifer

    Head of the Transport Policy Division

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