Road freight activity in Europe is expected to grow continuously through 2050, oﬀsetting expected CO2 reductions from mandated heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) CO2 standards in the European Union (EU). To reach the EU’s 2050 carbon neutrality goals, more ambitious CO2 reduction targets are needed, which will require a shift from internal combustion engines to zero-emission HDV technologies. Fuel cell trucks are one option for achieving these goals. However, the economic viability of this technology is still uncertain. This study evaluates the total cost of ownership (TCO) of fuel cell electric trucks(FCETs) in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Poland, which was home to more than 75% of HDV registrations in the EU in 2020. The study focuses on long-haul tractor-trailers, the highest-emitting HDV segment in the EU. The TCO includes the costs of truck acquisition, renewable electrolysis hydrogen, diesel fuel, and maintenance, as well as road tolls and other country-speciﬁc taxes and levies.
»FCETs won’t achieve TCO parity with their diesel counterparts before 2030 in any of the seven countries. Nonetheless, the TCO gap between the two technologies is signiﬁcantly narrowed by 2030, ranging from €55,000 for trucks operating in the Netherlands to €180,000 for trucks operating in Germany and Italy. Table 1 summarizes the 5-year TCO gap between FCETs and diesel trucks, for trucks purchased in 2030.
»Fuel cell long-haul trucks can reach TCO parity with their diesel counterparts by 2030 in Europe if the at-the-pump green hydrogen fuel price is around 4 €/kg. The break-even hydrogen price varies, from 3.5 €/kg in Poland to 5 €/kg in the United Kingdom. This disparity is driven by the country-speciﬁc diesel fuel prices, road tolls, and other taxes and levies.
»Hydrogen fuel subsidies will be needed to justify the business case for FCETs in Europe during this decade. The expected hydrogen fuel price is higher than the break-even price required to achieve TCO parity by 2030. Subsidies needed to vary from 1.2 €/kg in the Netherlands to more than 4 €/kg in Italy and Germany, as shown in Figure 1. The price of hydrogen fuel will be the primary driver of the technology’s economic viability as the retail price gap between FCETs and diesel trucks are expected to narrow signiﬁcantly by 2030.
»The price of hydrogen fuel is the primary determinant of the economic viability of fuel-cell electric trucks in Europe. The fuel costs of FCETs are expected to be three times higher than those of equivalent diesel trucks today. This will fall by 2030 to 1.8 times higher, driven by expected improvements in FCET fuel economy and reductions in hydrogen fuel price. Meanwhile, the retail prices of FCETs and diesel trucks are expected to be within the same range by 2030.
»Policy interventions can help narrow the TCO gap between both truck technologies. Providing purchase premiums reduces the retail price of a FCET but doesn’t signiﬁcantly cover the TCO gap. Exempting zero-emission HDVs from Road tolls or imposing CO2 external costs on diesel trucks can have a signiﬁcant impact on the TCO gap, especially given the high truck mileage. However, providing direct hydrogen fuel subsidies remains the most eﬀective policy measure to reduce the TCO gap is shown in Figure 2.
»Increase the ambition of the heavy-duty vehicle CO2 standards as early as 2030 to comply with the EU Climate Law. More stringent CO2 standards can provide the certainty needed to invest in fuel cell trucks, which are capable of replacing the current diesel ﬂeets and providing a signiﬁcant reduction in CO2 emissions. Stricter standards would also accelerate the technology improvement and ramp up its economies of scale, reducing the total deployment costs of the technology.
»Expedite the implementation of the Eurovignette directive into national law and fully exempt zero-emission trucks from road tolls. A 100% waiver on road tolls, similar to what is implemented in Germany, can reduce the TCO of fuel-cell trucks by 14% to 25% by the end of the decade, helping fuel-cell trucks to achieve TCO parity with diesel trucks in France and the Netherlands. This policy measure should be closely monitored so as not to jeopardize the road infrastructure funding in the future depending on the market share of zero-emission trucks that will be exempted from road tolls. Tailpipe CO2 emission charges are eﬀective in penalizing polluting trucks. The proposed CO2 charge of 0.08 €/km to 0.16 €/km can narrow the TCO gap between fuel cell and diesel trucks.
»Incentivize the purchase of zero-emission trucks and limit these incentives to their early market uptake phase. A diﬀerential purchase premium could be calculated as the diﬀerence in retail price between a zero-emission truck and its diesel equivalent, similar to what is currently implemented in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Such premiums will decrease and eventually be phased out as the retail prices of zero-emission and diesel trucks become comparable, driven by the expected increase in economies of scale that may reduce the cost of some major components such as fuel cell units and hydrogen tanks. While these purchase premiums cannot cover the entire TCO gap between fuel cells and diesel trucks, they can reduce the capital investment needed to ramp up market demand for the technology. Lack of capital is identiﬁed as a key barrier to the technology’s deployment.
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