Hydrogen trucks: How seriously should we take this truck technology?

Hydrogen trucks: How seriously should we take this truck technology?

A funny trend surfaced at the North American Commercial Vehicle show at the tail end of 2019: increased talk of hydrogen-fueled trucks. Sure, Kenworth had made its partnership with Toyota to pursue hydrogen technology earlier that year, but at NACV 2019 several OEMs, including Daimler Trucks North America and Cummins, talked about hydrogen truck development.

That buzz crescendoed in 2020.

In April, Daimler Truck AG and the Volvo Group announced that the global competitors signed a preliminary non-binding agreement to establish a new joint venture to develop, produce and commercialize fuel cell systems for heavy-duty vehicle applications and other use cases. In October, Hino announced its own hydrogen truck initiative. In November, Cummins and Navistar announced that they will work together on the development of a Class 8 truck powered by hydrogen fuel cells. And 2021 kicked off with Navistar announcing a partnership with General Motors and OneH2 to bring a long-haul hydrogen truck to market.

Jeff Priborsky, Shell

All of this happened while electric truck orders were opening and the industry waited (and still waits) to see how fully electric truck technology will be adopted by the fleet market. So the questions are: How seriously should fleets be considering hydrogen trucks? Is this a hedging of future fuel bets? A new shiny object for investors? Or is there a need within the market for clean hydrogen-fueled trucks?

In talking with Jeff Priborsky, global marketing manager of the on-highway fleet sector at Shell, the answer could be surprising:

“I think you’re going to see it,” Priborsky said confidently. “As the technology becomes more and more available, I think you’ll see more fleets looking at it.”

What’s the appeal?

“It’s based upon duty cycle,” Priborsky explained. “The light commercial vehicle space is prime for electrification for regional applications like last-mile delivery. Regional haul is something that can fit within a realm of electrification because it fits into the range of that equipment. But when it comes to the electrification of long haul trucks, electrification may not exactly work because of the range of the vehicles. If you look at a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, its range is equivalent to that of diesel. Their problem is that right now, the infrastructure is not there to support it.”

The fueling infrastructure challenge is somewhere Shell could make an impact quickly if the interest in the equipment supported it. Priborsky shared that Shell is currently installing hydrogen fueling stations for cars in California.

“We’re going down that path,” he said, “and if you look at the work we do globally in our retail sector, which is what we call your typical fuel stations, how we’re putting in electrification throughout Europe into our retail sector—we’re helping advance that infrastructure on a global basis.

“There are fleets that are all in on hydrogen technology, and they’re there to support it. We’ve seen other OEMs also going down the road of hydrogen fuel cells. To me, it’s the way of the future.”

To be sure, Cummins, Daimler Trucks, Hino, International Trucks, PACCAR and Volvo Trucks have all invested heavily in the development of hydrogen trucks. During the press event in which Volvo Trucks North America announced that it was opening orders for the VNR Electric (that’s battery electric), Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, said of hydrogen power:

“We believe that hydrogen fuel cells are another alternative fuel source that will happen in the future. You will see not one [fuel source] solution. We will continue to see diesel trucks. We will see a rapid increasing amount of electric trucks on the road. And we will see fuel cell-driven trucks, where the latter will mostly play more in long haul and heavy haul. Where then electric we will see more in local and regional distribution, food delivery and pickup for instance. We will still see diesel and we will see natural gas. But fuel cell trucks are absolutely part of the solution going forward.”

If you’re a long-haul, over-the-road operation, then it’s worth taking a look at what hydrogen is offering in terms of a diesel equivalent. Click here to peruse our full archive of hydrogen-focused content.

Equally important is how hydrogen could fit into sustainability plans, another topic important to Priborsky. If you’re wondering why sustainability should be important to your fleet and looking for ways to get started, head over to this story:

You May Also Like

Mercedes-Benz delivers truck with 1,000-ton towing capacity to German customer

The maximum trailer load of this Arocs SLT 4463 AS 8×6 is 1,000 tons.


Mercedes-Benz Trucks has delivered a specially converted truck for heavy-duty transport (SLT) to the Viktor Baumann company. The maximum trailer load of this Arocs SLT 4463 AS 8x6 is 1,000 tons. For the transportation of such particularly large loads, the truck will drive in combination with several coupled trucks, so the gross combination weight can exceed 1,000 tons. The fleet says it will use their new truck for the transportation of transformers and heat exchangers.

United Natural Foods to deploy eCascadia and VNR Electric trucks

UNFI will combine these trucks with refrigerated trailers cooled by Carrier’s all-electric Vector eCool TRU.

Daimler Truck delivers Freightliner eCascadias to Reyes Coca-Cola Bottling

The 20 Freightliner eCascadias are expected to result in the reduced use of 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year. 

Nicholas Trucking on cutting costs and emissions

Early success with propane-powered trucks has the fleet planning to replace more diesel trucks.

Kenworth ADAS adds new features for T680

Adaptive Cruise Control Stop and Auto Go and Highway Departure Braking to Zero features are now available.


Other Posts

How to avoid the effects of harsh winters on your truck’s batteries

The time to avoid winter’s effects on the truck’s batteries is actually in the summer, not the winter.

Cameras are coming to trailers

What you see–both behind your trailer and inside of it–might surprise you.

Cummins, three other companies agree to test hydrogen engines in real-world conditions

The project aims to develop a full hydrogen eco-system together with a hydrogen producer, vehicle manufacturer and end user.

Volvo to acquire battery business from Proterra Inc., Proterra Operating Company

Volvo Group has been selected as the winning bidder in an auction for the business and assets of the Proterra Powered business unit.