‘Truck manufacturers could spread themselves too thin by investing in hydrogen combustion engines’: BNEF

Hydrogen combustion engines appear to be gaining steam as a way to decarbonise heavy vehicles, with manufacturers Bosch in Europe and the US, FAW in China, and joint ventures Tata-Cummins and Reliance-Ashok Leyland in India all planning to launch H2 engines for trucks this year.

However, recent analysis by research house BloombergNEF (BNEF) warns that these manufacturers could be spreading themselves too thin by investing in this technology as well as fuel cells and batteries — both expected to be more efficient and more widely taken up by the market.

“In the next 10-15 years, these two technologies [ie, batteries and fuel cells] are likely to account for a high share of sales for many of the companies that are developing hydrogen combustion vehicles, and their place in future technology portfolios remains uncertain,” the research firm notes.

BNEF concedes that manufacturers are likely investing in H2 engines in order to repurpose incumbent diesel technologies for a zero-emission fuel, extending the lifetime of manufacturing assets even as diesel truck sales decline as regulations on transport emissions tighten. As such, these vehicles are expected to have lower upfront costs than battery or fuel-cell trucks.

The research firm also notes that hydrogen combustion engines, despite producing nitric oxides at the tailpipe, would likely be counted as zero-emission vehicles such as in upcoming EU regulations.

However, as is the case for fuel-cell electric trucks, the infrastructure for supplying hydrogen to heavy vehicles is still nascent, with green H2 extremely expensive at present — which BNEF warns could mean that trucking firms opt to use grey hydrogen made from unabated fossil gas instead.

The EU and US have both unveiled plans to set up widespread charging and H2 refuelling stations along major transport routes.

But even with the rollout of hydrogen supply infrastructure, BNEF notes that fuel cells for trucks will still likely win out over H2 engines as they are more efficient — and therefore less expensive to operate based on fuel costs.

However, the research firms notes that “hydrogen combustion trucks could still occupy a niche market”, particularly in emerging economies such as India where a lack of mature electricity grid infrastructure could limit the roll-out of battery-electric trucks.


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