What's delaying freight electrification?

FCEV-powered freight could be a steppingstone to an efficient, cheaper, all-electric fleet
Automotive World, January 6, 2023, By Farrell-Kingsley

Freight emissions currently account for roughly 29% of all vehicle emissionsglobally. Despite significant improvements in energy efficiency, freight vehicle consultant Evenergi has forecasted that freight emissions could grow by 56-70% between 2015 and 2050. This is attributed to the increase in freight transport due to the rise of online consumerism, increased urbanisation and reduced vehicle ownership.

IDTechEx predicts that electric trucks will account for 9.4% of the global medium and heavy-duty market by 2030. However, the delay from production to deployment is significant, as highlighted by the Tesla Semi - in 2017, the vehicle was anticipated to enter production by 2019; however, it was delayed until October 2022 and Tesla eventually fulfi lled some orders to PepsiCo in December 2022.

"Heavy-duty trucking, aviation, and shipping trains are all currently propelled byinternal combustion engines (ICE)," says Iryna Zenyuk, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor at Samueli School of Engineering, University of California. "Battery-driven electric powertrains suffer from challenges of weight and long recharging times," she adds. Different battery types and chemistries are better suited to specific applications than others. Lithium-titanium-oxide (LTO) batteries can be charged quickly and respond well to regenerative charging, but they have low energy density and are heavier. Conversely, nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries are lighter and have higher storage capacity - well-suited for long-rangeapplications. However, these batteries are relatively new to the market and still indevelopment.

The Tesla Semi's battery alone takes up a colossal 11,000 pounds of the 80,000 pounds limit

The battery in the electric Ford F-150 Lightning weighs 1,800 pounds alone, andthat's just to power a pick-up. In terms of freight, Tesla's Semi battery is estimated toweigh around 11,000 pounds due to its 100kWh capacity - a figure that can quickly eat into a loaded Class 8 truck's maximum gross weight of 80,000 pounds.

The hindrance of electric

Since a heavier electric battery can reduce the cargo capacity of a freight vehicle,this is problematic during a time of growing consumerism. Bill Gates highlighted theissue for Class 6-8 trucks in 2020, stating on GatesNotes: "The problem is thatbatteries are big and heavy. The more weight you try to move, the more batteriesyou need to power the vehicle. But the more batteries you use, the more weight you add - and the more power you need."

In an effort to encourage the greater use of electric light goods vehicles, the UK government has since changed the weight threshold of electric trucks from 3.5 to 4.25 tonnes to take battery weight into account.

However, similar regulatory developments are yet to be seen in the US. Therefore, as battery technology develops and regulations change, Zenyuk proposes anotheroption: hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydrogen fuel cells

She believes battery and hydrogen-powered technologies will soon be deployed in the heavy-duty market. "There are several demonstration projects for Class 8 trucks powered by hydrogen. One example is Toyota and Kenworth's collaboration to decarbonise Los Angeles andLong Beach ports using Class 8 hydrogen trucks," she says. Toyota and Kenworth deployed ten trucks as part of the Zero and Near-Zero Emissions Freight Facilities Project (ZANZEFF), hauling cargo through LA. The California Air Resources Board(CARB) awarded US $41m to the ZANZEFF project as part of California Climate Investments.

ZANZEFF's FCEV project is one step closer to the transition towards full electrification

"Toyota is committed to fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) technology as a powertrainfor the future because it's a clean, scalable platform that can meet a broad range ofmobility needs with zero emissions," said Bob Carter, Executive Vice President forAutomotive Operations Toyota. "The ZANZEFF collaboration and the innovative 'Shore-to Store' project allow us to move heavy-duty truck fuel cell electrictechnology towards commercialisation."

The advantage of hydrogen fuel cell trucks over battery-powered, Zenyuk notes, is that there is "almost no payload reduction due to the weight of the fuel cell system,compared to one-third of payload reduction if batteries power trucks. Therecharging time is five minutes, and the process is comparable to ICE." Conversely, it can take between 60 minutes and eight hours to recharge a battery electric vehicle (BEV), according to NGO Transport and Environment.

Investing in infrastructure

Nevertheless, a challenge for implementing hydrogen across the freight sector is the lack of refuelling infrastructure. "We have some of it to connect the north and south of California, so fuel cell trucks are possible there but not in the entire US," highlights Zenyuk. "Biden's Infrastructure Bill allocated US$7bn for regional hydrogen hubs, and that will develop this infrastructure. Therefore, it shouldn't be an issue in the next five years." The 2021 Bill is a package that consists of more than US$1tr of public infrastructure spending. The legislation will put US$110bn into roads, bridges and other major projects and invest US$66bn across freight and passenger rail.

Similarly, to help jump-start the production and use of clean hydrogen, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of November 2021 provided US$8bn for theUS Department of Energy to fund a set of hydrogen hubs (H2Hubs).

Operating costs

However, the cost of hydrogen trucks remains higher than that of ICEs. According to AVL, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a Class 8 truck after a five-year periodoperating is estimated at €759,000 (US$805,000) for diesel operating trucks,€851,000 for H2 high pressure direct injection (HPDI) and 102m for FCEV. H2 HPDI combines the technology of hydrogen and ICEs, coming together with the aim of CO2 reduction, increased power and torque, and cheaper TCO.

Comparatively, for smaller regional deliveries of up to 400km, Transport &Environment has analysed the TCO of an FCEV at €459,000 and €393,000 for BEV.It is forecasted that by 2030, the prices will drop to €319,000 and €256,000, respectively. According to the International Transport Forum in its Decarbonising Europe's Trucks report, higher lifetime costs for FCEVs compared to BEVs and ICEs are almost exclusively due to higher fuel costs, which in turn are due to energy losses associated with electrolysis.

Electric freight could soon become more of frequent sight in cities as TCO decreases

"This is partially because economies of scale have not kicked in yet, but the projections for reduction are there," says Zenyuk. "The cost of hydrogen fuel will besubsidised under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) law, so we should not have anissue with it." The IRA of August 2022 is a landmark US federal law aiming to curbinfl ation by investing in domestic energy production while promoting clean energy. One of its proposals introduces a ten-year production tax credit for "clean hydrogen" with a corresponding option to claim the investment tax credit.

The emissions rate also affects the number of available credits. According to Resources Magazine, the credit amount equals US$0.60 per kilogram if the facilityproduces qualified clean hydrogen that results in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of less than 0.45 kilograms of CO2e per kilogram of hydrogen. If the CO2e level is between 0.45 kilograms and 4 kilograms, the credit is available but at a lower credit rate. The IRA increases the highest rate of the tax credit to US$85 per metric tonne of CO2 captured and geologically sequestered. The regulation likewise increases the credit for utilised carbon, such as for enhanced oil recovery, to US$60 per tonne.


Although these subsidies could significantly impact the uptake of hydrogen freight vehicles, there are even further regulations pushing the sector towards the option of hydrogen or electric. In California alone, transportation is responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gas emissions (when accounting for fuel production emissions) and 80% of air pollutants. Therefore, it's not surprising that CARB ruled in 2022 that all new cars and light trucks sold in California will be zero-emissions from 2035. New York and 15 other states are following its lead and gearing up for a similar ban by the same year, by which time all new passenger cars, pick-ups and SUVs sold must be zero emissions. The regulation, which will be effective in all states that have followed it, requires 35% of sales in the model year 2026 to be zero-emission vehicles, 68% of sales by 2030 and 100% of sales by 2035.

In the lead-up to 2030, Zenyuk notes this could prove pivotal in pushing forward the electrification of freight: "The legislation/regulations in California banning ICE inlight-duty vehicles and other regulations will only help to push the electrification further."

As such, she foresees significant development of hydrogen refuelling stations in the US to push forward a combination of hydrogen and electric vehicles: "Ultimately, these developments will enable trucking across all the major highway corridors, so infrastructure can only help the electrification of freight in the long term."