In a recent analysis, Fraunhofer ISI concludes that battery-electric drives will become established in heavy-duty applications in the commercial vehicle sector and that fuel cells will remain a niche application. The decisive factor for the switch to battery-electric vehicles is the energy cost advantage compared to hydrogen and diesel.
A paper on the work is published in Nature Electronics.
Electricity and hydrogen are the two key energy carriers for a low-carbon future, and hydrogen will play a vital role in industry, shipping and synthetic aviation fuels. But for road transport, we cannot, I believe, wait for hydrogen technology to catch up, and our focus now should be on battery electric vehicles in both passenger and freight transport.
Freight segments and potential applications for zero emission trucks. The different applications of trucks are arranged according to annual mileage and vehicle weight and load. The center of the ovals indicates the typical annual mileage and weight for each given heavy-duty vehicle application. The dashed lines indicate the mileage and weight combinations that are feasible with different truck technologies (first-generation battery trucks, second-generation battery trucks and second-generation battery trucks with megawatt charging systems (MCS)). The maximal capabilities of trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and diesel or synthetic fuels are also indicated, as well as electric road systems. Plötz (2022)
We are pleased with the clarity of the analysis result, even if it does not surprise us. It once again confirms TRATON Group’s strategy of focusing on battery-electric drives for our commercial vehicles.
In truck traffic, especially on long-distance routes, pure e-trucks will in most cases be the cheaper and more environmentally friendly solution. This is because hydrogen trucks have a decisive disadvantage: only about a quarter of the output energy flows into the drive, three quarters is lost through conversion losses. With the e-truck, the ratio is reversed.
In addition, the expected amount of green hydrogen is limited, even with large-scale imports, and should thus be available to energy-rich industries, as the current Fraunhofer study also summarizes. The demand from European industry alone, for example steel mills, massively exceeds the total green hydrogen production capacity currently planned for the EU for 2030.
The energy cost advantage of battery-electric trucks is the key to a rapid switch to e-trucks, because fuel and energy costs account for the largest share of the total cost of ownership (TCO) for intensively used commercial vehicles. They exceed the purchase costs many times over.
The better the vehicles are utilized, the more intensively, longer and more regularly they are used, the greater the energy cost advantage of e-trucks becomes.
Overall, a typical heavy-duty e-truck in Europe is likely to be ahead of a conventional diesel truck in terms of total costs as early as 2025. However, this requires an area-wide fast-charging infrastructure, in Europe designed for a driver’s 45-minute break after four and a half hours of driving.
Battery-electric long-distance trucks are coming, the technology is there, and the networks will go along with it. What’s needed now is political support to achieve massive CO2 savings quickly with this technology. That’s why the development of a high-performance charging network for e-trucks must be pushed forward promptly, and with government support.
Modahl-Nilsson said that further support for a rapid changeover could be found in incentives for the operators of battery-electric trucks. Conceivable here, for example, would be exceptions to the Sunday driving ban or making night logistics possible.
For TRATON Group, the high cost-effectiveness of e-trucks on long-distance routes is the most important lever for an emission-free future. We expect that by 2030, as much as 50% of our new sales in long-haul transport could be battery electric, provided the charging infrastructure is in place. This is not likely to fail due to the resilience of the power grids—our trucks mainly load at midday and at night, when demand and prices are particularly low.
Plötz, P. (2022) “Hydrogen technology is unlikely to play a major role in sustainable road transport.” Nat Electron 5, 8–10 doi: 10.1038/s41928-021-00706-6