IRU outlines fuel and technology landscape on road to hydrogen

5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 6, 2020

Speaking at a webinar organised by ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, and Hydrogen Europe, IRU advocacy director Matthias Maedge outlined the landscape for commercial road transport firms on the long-term road to hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

As the voice of more than 3.5 million transport operators, including both goods and passenger transport companies, IRU considers renewable green hydrogen as one of the best long-term solutions to meet 2050 emissions targets. 

A key question is the medium-term transitional fuels that will help reduce emissions over the next decade, and be practically, operationally and financially feasible, especially for long distance heavy vehicle transports. 

Clarity needed for vehicle investment plans

Transport operators need clarity on what they should be planning to invest in over the coming decade, especially given the state of the industry‘s finances due to the pandemic. Forecast revenue losses globally for goods transport firms in 2020 are now expected to reach EUR 580 billion due the impacts of Covid-19. 

In the EU, road transport operators purchase up to 1000 trucks per day (prior to the pandemic). The view of an operator is very simple: the product has to be available, flexible and competitive in price. There is still not a market offering that can meet these requirements. And most importantly, operators can‘t plan and finance investments based on promises and hopes. 

Battery electric vehicles are clearly a good solution for short distances and urban environments, and possibly for medium ranges (500km+) in the future, but even that remains questionable due to its very low energy storage ability. 

CNG is a solution for medium ranges and LNG for long haul (1000km+). Hydrogen has an even higher energy content than natural gas or diesel, but a low energy density, which makes gaseous hydrogen a good medium-range fuel. Longer ranges can be achieved via liquefaction, which poses an additional but possible challenge.  

This is why IRU signed a declaration with ACEA and Hydrogen Europe last year to promote hydrogen in the revision of the EU Directive on Alternative Fuel Infrastructure, including pushing for the addition of mandatory hydrogen targets for long distance commercial transport. 

From an operator perspective, it makes more sense to focus on hydrogen for heavier loads and longer distances than putting hopes on battery technology. Practical real-life use cases will determine the solution. Now, operators buy LNG/CNG trucks, as they are available, competitive in price, deliver on the purpose and refuelling is fast. Hydrogen can achieve this too, but it will take some time. 

What to do up to 2030?

We need better fuels and we need to implement the well-to-wheel approach instead of looking at the tailpipe only. There is no point decarbonising the tailpipe only for the CO2 to appear somewhere else in the energy chain.

Switzerland may point the way forward on this. It has agreed on stricter targets and reducing CO2 emissions by 50%. It also understands the need to base policy on a well-to-wheel approach to achieve targets and it has just approved a national policy framework that recognises 20% bio-methane in the CNG mix, which can be deducted from the CO2 homologation figure on every vehicle sold. 

Green hydrogen can become the best long-term solution, alongside zero emission liquid and gaseous fuels, because it will work operationally. This is not the case for battery electric solutions, even given continued technological progress over the next 10 years. 

It therefore also makes sense to concentrate infrastructure development for hydrogen on major motorway corridors, and concentrate electric charging infrastructure investment in and around cities.