Share this on
February 2023

Can the decarbonisation of heavy vehicles be achieved by using hydrogen?

Francesca Del Bello

The announcement of a joint venture between Air Liquide and TotalEnergies for the development of a network of hydrogen filling stations for heavy vehicles in continental Europe opens the door to new possible scenarios
It's easy to say ‘electric’. With the directives issued by the EU on emissions, the debate around alternative fuel vehicles is becoming increasingly animated. The ban on internal combustion engines for newly registered cars starting from 2035 means that manufacturers have to find technologically advanced and sustainable solutions, not only in terms of the environment, but also for the community.
The discussion is focusing more and more on battery electric cars (BEV – Battery Electric Vehicle), which have been around for years, even if they are still a long way from having a significant share of the market, which is still quite puzzling. The main uncertainties are linked to the vehicle autonomy and its recharging. Recharging times are still relatively long (especially when compared to normal refuelling times for ‘traditional’ motor vehicles) and recharging columns are not yet sufficiently widespread. This last point is even more relevant when it comes to heavy vehicles. If on the one hand it is true that the European directive, which was issued last year, refers only to cars and light commercial vehicles, it is equally true that, sooner or later, the question of emissions from heavy road vehicles will have to be faced. Some companies have already introduced electric trucks to the market, but they require charging infrastructure that is far more powerful than that used for light vehicles and, again, much more widespread than it is today.

Some believe that using hydrogen might be a possible alternative for ensuing the progressive reduction in emissions from heavy road vehicles. ‘Fuel cell’ hydrogen vehicles (currently the most common), are in fact electric vehicles fitted with an engine that converts the chemical energy produced by hydrogen into mechanical energy, creating a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen via a cell fuel. This allows electricity to be generated without thermal combustion, eliminating emissions. What about refuelling? It works in the same way as for diesel or petrol vehicles. The problem again though, is the presence of refuelling stations throughout the country. The European Union has also expressed its opinion on this. The AFIR regulations of October 2022 included the objective of installing one hydrogen refuelling station every 100 km on EU roads by 2027.

The recent joint announcement by Air Liquide, which supplies gas, technology and services to industry and healthcare, and TotalEnergies, a global multi-energy company, which produces and supplies energy, falls within this framework. At the beginning of February, the companies announced an agreement to enter into a joint venture to develop a network of hydrogen filling stations specifically for heavy vehicles, located on the main European routes. It will be implemented initially between France, Germany and the Benelux area. The two companies are convinced that hydrogen can offer distinct advantages for heavy vehicles: Matthieu Giard, Vice President and member of the executive committee of Air Liquide Group, stresses however, that in order to benefit from it, the development of refuelling infrastructure has to be speeded up in order to offer vehicle manufacturers and transport operators an extensive network of stations. Thierry Pflimlin, president of Marketing & Services for TotalEnergies, agrees: he also emphasizes the importance of starting work immediately to create a refuelling network for heavy vehicles.
What is certain is that the road towards the decarbonisation of heavy vehicles is very long and still needs to be analysed thoroughly before an effective strategy can be developed. In order to actually make a small revolution possible, the development of vehicle technology – or rather, technologies – must move in conjunction with the development of the infrastructure. This is because the decarbonisation process also has to be sustainable.

Do not miss any article from the Autopromotec Blog! Subscribe to our newsletter!


You might be interested in