Freight in the City recently hosted the 'Hydrogen for Urban Distribution Vehicles' webinar in partnership with Tevva Electric Trucks. The webinar looked at how hydrogen can be used to boost electric delivery vehicle ranges and government plans for decarbonising commercial vehicles.

First up was Alan McKinnon, professor of logistics at Kuehne Logistics University who listed “five levers” that need to be pulled in order to decarbonise city logistics.

These include reducing the demand for freight transport in urban areas, shifting freight on to lower carbon transport modes, optimising vehicle loading, and increasing the energy efficiency of urban freight vehicles.

The fifth lever is reducing the carbon content of the energy used by urban freight, which McKinnon said is where hydrogen has a role to play, not as the main player but largely as a range extender in battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

Alan McKinnon resize

Pointing to recent research into 41 studies of the use of hydrogen range extenders in BEVs, McKinnon said a number of clear advantages had emerged, including significant cost and carbon reductions.

“Range extenders could also reduce the requirement for a refuelling infrastructure, as well as reducing range anxiety, which currently deters many operators from switching to a purely electric vehicle,” he argued.

McKinnon added there is an even stronger case for the use of hydrogen range extenders on mid-range BEVs serving wider urban and regional areas. “The bigger the vehicle and the longer the delivery range, the stronger the case for adding a range extender, “ he concluded.

Time for action

David Thackray, Tevva Electric Trucks director, said government targets on decarbonisation, plus its ban on diesel trucks from 2035, mean that the transition from diesel vehicles “must start now and not in seven to 10 years’ time.”

He said the holy grail for operators is a truck that can match its diesel equivalent on capital expenditure, mileage, payload and operating costs. “It is all about total cost of ownership parity and if we can produce zero-emission vehicles capable of doing the work diesel vehicles currently do – operators will buy then tomorrow,” Thackray said.

However, the stumbling block for BEV manufacturers is the weight of the batteries required to ensure range, said Thackray. “If you took a 7.5-tonne truck and equipped it with 130 kWh battery, you'd end up with a smaller payload than the average transit van,” he explained.

BEV charging costs can also be “eye wateringly" expensive, said Thackray, who estimates that a 100-strong fleet of 19-tonne BEV trucks would need around 15 megawatt hours of electricity per day. “You could be looking at a seven-figure bill,” he warned.

David Thackray

However hydrogen does not provide the solution either, since the cost of hydrogen is roughly twice the cost of battery electricity-fuelled vehicles, Thackray told delegates.

As a result Tevva has taken a mix of both technologies, fitting its BEVs with hydrogen range extenders - small lightweight hydrogen fuel cells which act as a back-up generator to the vehicle’s electric battery.

“Range extended BEVs carry heavier loads over greater distances with less down time - a really workable solution that gives you a zero-emission range without compromising payload,” Thackray said.

“With an aggregate of 200 kWh of energy on a 7.5-tonne truck, trust me, you will not have range anxiety, as it will always have boatloads of energy in reserve.”

The company is also working on the fuelling infrastructure by collaborating with Vattenfall Network Solutions to produce and distribute sustainable green hydrogen either direct to depots or via a network of highway fuel stations.

Decarbonisation target

The final speaker, Bob Moran, head of DfT’s environment strategy, announced the launch of the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan and a consultation on phasing out the sale of all new non-zero emission HGVs by 2040.

Bob Moran

The consultation is proposing vehicles between 3.5 tonnes and 26 tonnes be phased out by 2035, at the latest, with vehicles above 26 tonnes phased out by 2040 or earlier, if possible.

Moran said: “We think 2040 is probably right at the moment for the largest trucks, but zero emission technology is moving fast – so we're proposing the more ambitious date of 2035 for vehicles that are 26 tonne and under.”

All three speakers responded to a host of questions from delegates on a variety of topics including vehicle availability, the range efficiency of batteries in cold weather, the challenges of installing charging infrastructure at depots, the roll out of a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, driver and technician training in the new technologies and the ability to retrofit small hydrogen fuel cells to BEVs.

For the answers to these and many more questions, why not watch the webinar yourself. It is free of charge to view and can be watched at any time.