TNO: zero-emission vehicles are an effective way to decarbonize the heavy-duty vehicle sector

Zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) are widely regarded as an effective way to reduce CO2 emissions and decarbonize the heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) sector. However, the speed at which the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) towards battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will happen and for which vehicle segments is still uncertain. 

Key drivers which will determine the market uptake include the expected technology improvements and cost reductions of vehicle components such as batteries, fuel cells, and hydrogen storage tanks, as well as the future development of energy prices, including diesel, electricity, and renewable hydrogen. Possible constraints such as insufficient vehicle ranges, insufficient charging/fuelling infrastructure availability, additional downtime due to longer charging and refueling times, or payload losses due to heavier vehicles could potentially delay market uptake. 

A new report by TNO assesses the techno-economic feasibility and market uptake potential of zero-emission trucks for the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) over the timeframe 2020 – 2040. The analysis is carried out for four vehicle segments, i.e., rigid trucks for urban delivery and three articulated tractor-trailers for regional delivery, long haul, and construction. 

TCO parity with diesel trucks

Switching from ICEVs to ZEVs is considered feasible in this analysis if TCO parity with diesel equivalents is reached (affordability) and operational limitations such as range constraints, time, or payload losses can be avoided (applicability). To determine whether range limitations are barriers to the uptake of ZEVs for certain types of vehicle use, an account was taken of the distribution of average daily mileages of the fleet and day-to-day distance variations of individual vehicles. Based on the expected affordability and applicability, the analysis forecasts the ZEV uptake potential for each vehicle segment until 2040. Subsequent analysis also examines an accelerated market uptake scenario where policy measures such as vehicle purchase subsidies, CO2-based road tolls, and CO2 pricing of transport fuels are taken into account. 

The actual uptake of ZEVs will likely differ from the uptake potential as determined in this study. This is because, besides the factors mentioned above that are considered (i.e., affordability and applicability), many other factors affect the actual uptake, such as the availability of charging and refueling infrastructure, availability of vehicles, and uncertainties over new technologies. 

Based on the results of this report, BEVs are expected to be the most cost-effective option for all of the included vehicle types. If battery prices do not come down as fast as expected, diesel prices will be relatively low, or electricity prices will be relatively high. However, due to range limitations, battery electric vehicles can potentially not be used for very long trips, which makes them unsuitable for replacing trucks with high average daily mileages or longer trips for part of the time. This, however, concerns only a limited number of trucks. 

Estimated uptake of electric trucks

The estimated aggregated ZEV uptake potential for all urban, regional delivery and long haul trucks will reach 99.8% by 2035. For 0.2% of the fleet sales, ZEVs cannot replace diesel trucks due to range limitations (BEVs) or because they are not cost-competitive (FCEVs). A 100% ZEV uptake potential for construction trucks will be reached in 2033. Despite the differences in vehicle range requirements and energy prices, the variation in ZEV uptake potential between the regions in Europe is found to be limited. The maximum difference between regions is approximately a three years delay, and the final uptake potential is equal in all regions. 

Based on the purchase subsidy schemes in seven different European countries, the uptake potential advanced significantly during the early years but did not change much in the 2030s. Since the subsidies are only assumed to apply until 2024, the uptake potential beyond 2024 is not affected. The effect of CO2-based tolling on the ZEV uptake potential is also significant up to 2030 as the uptake potential is brought forward by one to three years. CO2 pricing (ETS2) leads to higher fuel costs for diesel trucks. As a result of the increased diesel price, the relative cost-competitiveness for zero-emission alternatives improves. Nevertheless, the impact on the ZEV uptake potential is negligible. 

Future of hydrogen

FCEVs can be a zero-emission alternative for diesel trucks that drive very large distances at least part of the time. However, it is expected that these will not be cost-competitive with diesel. Even at lower hydrogen prices or lower fuel cell costs, FCEVs will only become the most cost-effective technology from 2030 onwards for a very limited share of the fleet and only in a small number of countries. 

Although it is concluded that FCEVs are not the most cost-competitive drivetrain for any of the types of vehicles assessed, it does not mean that FCEVs will not play a role in the decarbonization of the road freight sector. There may be other types of vehicles, such as vocational and special purpose vehicles, that are out of the scope of this study for which hydrogen may be the most cost-competitive option.

But even for mainstream road freight applications, some limited share of other solutions on the vehicle or logistics side may be required to meet the long-term zero-CO2 objective if the boundary conditions for the projected ZEV uptake are not met in time.

Source: TNO

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