Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV) offer a minimum 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from diesel, an 85 percent or more reduction when producing hydrogen from biomass using renewable energy.
However, significant cost and technical hurdles remain to make FCVs a commercially viable option for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
The market outlook is much more promising in light-duty than medium- and heavy-duty vehicles given that production costs have dropped more than 50 percent in recent years.1 Eight automobile manufacturers are commercializing light-duty FCVs, and automakers expect around 50,000 fuel-cell vehicles will be on the road within five years.2 Approximately US$1 billion of public funds are invested annually in hydrogen R&D 3
Current market share of FCV in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is a fraction of 1 percent and is expected to remain low for more than a decade.
The hydrogen FCV is a different technology than the internal combustion engine (ICE) and requires more research and development for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Two manufacturers currently produce a tractor powered by hydrogen fuel cell, and several already make transit buses.4 The most practical applications of hydrogen in this sector for the medium-term may be for materials-handling vehicles, transit buses, and possibly to extend range of medium-duty battery electric vehicles. Durability of the fuel cell system and volume and weight of hydrogen storage system are constraints that must be addressed for commercialization across other medium- and heavy-duty vehicle types.5
Fueling infrastructure in the United States is extremely limited. In 2013, there were an estimated 76 refueling stations in North America, and an additional 68 with capacity to serve 20,000 vehicles are planned for California by 2016.6