Working Paper

Fuel cell electric tractor-trailers: Technology overview and fuel economy

Zero-emission vehicles
Batteries and fuel cells

This study analyzes the application of fuel cells in long-haul tractor-trailers, including technology trends for powertrain architecture, fuel cell units, and hydrogen storage. In addition, it quantifies the hydrogen consumption of fuel cell tractor-trailers under typical mission profiles and operating conditions in Europe and compares the payload and energy efficiency of fuel cell, battery-electric, and diesel technologies.

Depending on the size of the hydrogen storage tank, the hydrogen fuel consumption of fuel cell tractor-trailers ranges between 9 kg/100 km and 9.2 kg/100 km. With the expected improvement in truck road load technologies, material light-weighting, drivetrain, and fuel cell efficiency, truck fuel economy has the potential to improve by almost 30%, reaching 6.6 kg/100 km to 6.7 kg/100 km. However, Truck hydrogen consumption is highly sensitive to payload, and consumption could increase by 20% at maximum payloads relative to average payloads defined in VECTO.

The study also finds that fuel cell electric tractor-trailers are 10% to 12% more energy efficient compared to equivalent diesel trucks at the tank-to-wheel level, while battery-electric trucks are at least 50% more efficient than their fuel cell counterparts in long-haul operation and 55% to 60% more efficient than diesel trucks.

Fuel cell tractor trucks show a similar payload in comparison to their diesel counterparts from a gross vehicle weight perspective. However, constraints related to the design and location of the hydrogen storage system may increase the share of the drive axle load supporting the loaded trailer weight, resulting in a lower payload capacity. On the other hand, battery-electric tractor-trailers suffer from payload loss for applications with daily mileages higher than 500 km. By 2030, the improvement in energy efficiency for all powertrain technologies accompanied by material light-weighting will make the battery-electric tractor-trailers’ payload penalty less severe even for very high driving ranges at 1,000 km.