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Hydrogen could play key role in decarbonizing trucking, finds new CATF report

March 13, 2023 Work Area: Zero-Carbon Fuels

Findings pinpoint operational efficiency benefits of hydrogen fuel cell trucks and fueling infrastructure in race to net-zero trucking.

A new report from Clean Air Task Force (CATF) conducts a first-of-its-kind analysis comparing the operational performance of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV) and identifies key advantages to FCEVs in efforts to decarbonize long-haul heavy-duty trucking.   

“Transportation is the highest emitting sector in the United States, and decarbonizing it means transitioning long-haul heavy-duty trucking away from diesel — which accounts for nearly half of U.S. on-road diesel fuel consumption,” says Thomas Walker, Transportation Technology Manager at CATF. “Unfortunately, vehicle weight and energy needs could make it difficult for trucks to transition away from diesel with onboard battery technology alone. Our new report finds that we could increase our chances of quickly and efficiently decarbonizing the sector by taking advantage of the merits of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.”   

There are ongoing efforts to project the full range of costs associated with hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks and how those costs compare to those of battery- and fossil fuel-powered systems, with studies suggesting very different results based on assumptions related to upstream factors like fuel production and transportation. The report, Zero Emission Long-Haul Heavy-Duty Trucking, takes a novel approach to analyzing questions of cost by comparing the operational performance of BEV and FCEV drive trains and infrastructure as alternatives to diesel trucking on a popular long-haul route in the U.S. It finds that FCEVs outperform BEVs in terms of the number of stops required (three vs. eight), total time spent refueling (1.4 hours vs. 43.8 hours), and available room for cargo (accounting for the size of equipment).

The report also finds that while building charging and refueling infrastructure for BEVs and FCEVs could prove equally challenging, FCEV refueling technology has the comparative advantage of being similar to existing diesel refueling technology, making for fewer barriers to transition.  

Walker continued: 

“Electrification and the buildout of zero-emissions electricity will achieve much of the work of decarbonization but given the uncertainties over the ultimate total cost of ownership of hydrogen fuel cells and battery electric vehicles, this report reinforces the potential advantages of pursuing both technology pathways to decarbonize the heavy-duty vehicle sector.” 

The findings of the report point to the importance of the recent reintroduction of the Hydrogen for Trucks Act of 2023 by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and John Cornyn (R-TX). This bill would “establish a grant program to demonstrate the performance and reliability of heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles that use hydrogen as a fuel source,” while also collecting critical data to inform future investments in hydrogen trucking infrastructure. The grant program would incentivize private investment in the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle industry and accelerate its deployment by lowering financial barriers and closing knowledge gaps among first movers. The bill is part of the Coons-Cornyn Hydrogen Infrastructure Initiative, a collection that would support the deployment of hydrogen technologies and infrastructure for hard-to-decarbonize end-use applications, including not only trucking, but marine shipping, heavy industry, and infrastructure as well. 

80% of global energy demand is currently met by fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, kerosene, and bunker oil, which pump high amounts of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Hydrogen has emerged as a promising carbon-free alternative to these high-emitting fuels, and the International Energy Agency predicts that global hydrogen use must increase from the 90 million tonnes per year used today to more than 530 million per year by 2050, an increase of more than 500%.  

The U.S. Congress recently signaled its acknowledgment of hydrogen’s importance as a clean energy carrier by passing groundbreaking legislation with hydrogen provisions that provide $8 billion towards the establishment of Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs through the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) and up to $3.00 per kilogram of clean hydrogen produced via the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded $7.4 million to seven projects that will develop medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicle charging and hydrogen corridor infrastructure plans.

Read the report here for a detailed description of research methods and findings. 

For more on the impact of diesel emissions from transportation on public health in the U.S., explore CATF’s interactive map, Deaths by Dirty Diesel.

Press Contact

Troy Shaheen, Communications Director, U.S., [email protected], +1 845-750-1189 

About Clean Air Task Force 

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world. Visit and follow @cleanaircatf.

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