Fuel cell electric trucks (FCETs) will not match the total cost of ownership (TCO) of their diesel equivalents before 2030 in any of Europe’s seven leading markets, according to new research from US-based non-profit the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). The TCO gap between the two technologies will, nonetheless, significantly narrow in the time frame.

The TCO comprises the costs of truck acquisition, renewable electrolysis hydrogen made from renewables-powered electrolysis, diesel fuel and maintenance, as well as road tolls and other country-specific taxes and levies. The study evaluated the TCO of FCETs in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK, home to more than 75% of heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) registrations in the EU in 2020. It focused on long-haul tractor-trailers, the highest-emitting HDV segment in the EU. 

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A hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric truck in Germany. (Photo by audioundwerbung via Getty Images)

The research indicated that fuel cell long-haul trucks could reach TCO parity by the decade’s end if the at-the-pump green hydrogen fuel price is around €4 per kilogram. However, that figure is 50% lower than the forecast hydrogen fuel price by 2030, so hydrogen fuel subsidies will be needed to justify the business case for FCETs in Europe during this decade, states the ICCT.

Regulatory support such as purchase premiums, road toll exemptions and hydrogen fuel subsidies would help reduce the TCO gap between FCETs and diesel tractor-trailers, say the study’s authors. 

European policymakers, states the ICCT, should speed up adoption of the Eurovignette directive into national law and fully exempt zero-emission trucks from road tolls – as is currently done in Germany. Furthermore, incentivising the purchase of zero-emission trucks based on the retail price differential between fuel cell and diesel trucks could help reduce the TCO gap and would significantly reduce the capital investment needed to ramp up market demand.