Hydrogen: the future of zero-emission long-haul transport

As the European Union sets ambitious targets for decarbonizing the transport sector, the race is on to develop zero-emission solutions for long-haul truck transport. Among the contender solutions being proposed, compressed hydrogen stands out as the frontrunner, offering the most viable and compelling combination of range, quick refuelling, and no emissions.

NPROXX, a leading provider of hydrogen storage systems, is confident that this technology will play a dominant role in the future of the industry. “I’m really sure that compressed hydrogen will become established in the market,” commented Henning Middelmann, Segment Leader for truck business at NPROXX. “It’s a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’”.

The case for hydrogen is particularly strong in long-haul applications, where battery electric powertrains face significant obstacles to adoption. The added weight and reduced cargo capacity of large battery packs become major drawbacks when trucks need to cover distances of 500 kilometres or more between charges. In contrast, fuel cell electric trucks, powered by compressed hydrogen, can achieve ranges and refuelling times comparable to diesel trucks.

Europe’s topography, namely its many mountains and hilly areas, are also a challenge. “You need more power or energy storage to go up and down hilly roads” explained Mr. Middelmann. “This is the great thing about hydrogen. A diesel truck can travel from the north to the south of Europe with 500 litres of fuel on board. To cover the same distance with hydrogen, you would need around 100 kilograms of storage, which is completely achievable with our current technology.”

While some truck manufacturers are exploring the use of liquid hydrogen or other hydrogen carriers, NPROXX believes that compressed hydrogen will win out in the near term. The company points to the existing standards and regulations for high-pressure gas storage, as well as the relative simplicity of the refuelling process, as key advantages.


Infrastructure: the chicken-and-egg situation

The shift towards hydrogen is being driven by increasingly stringent CO2 emission regulations in Europe. The European Union has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from trucks by 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2030, relative to 2019 levels. To meet these goals, manufacturers will need to rapidly scale up production of zero-emission vehicles.


“By the end of this decade, we estimate the different OEMs will be producing around 30,000 hydrogen trucks per year and bringing them to market” says Middelmann. “That’s the necessary target they have to fulfil by 2030.”

However, the successful rollout of hydrogen trucks will depend heavily on the availability of refuelling infrastructure. Currently, there are only a handful of hydrogen stations in Europe capable of servicing heavy-duty vehicles. Expanding this network will require significant investment and coordination between governments, energy companies, and truck manufacturers.

“Currently, it’s expensive” said Middelmann. “One filling station costs at least €2 million, and as we speak there are very few customers already driving hydrogen vehicles. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. You can’t have trucks without infrastructure, but you also can’t have infrastructure without trucks.”

To overcome this obstacle NPROXX believes that a concerted effort will be needed. “Governments will need to provide financial incentives and streamline permitting processes for hydrogen stations. Energy companies will need to invest in production and distribution of renewable hydrogen. And truck manufacturers will need to work together to standardize components and develop a common platform for fuel cell vehicles” commented Middelmann.

Despite these hurdles, NPROXX is optimistic about the future of hydrogen in long-haul trucking. The company is already working with several major truck manufacturers to develop storage systems for their upcoming fuel cell models. With its expertise in large Type 4 pressure vessels and its close partnership with parent company Cummins, NPROXX is well-positioned to become a key player in this emerging market.

And as the EU’s emission targets draw closer, the pressure is on to find sustainable solutions for long-haul transportation. While there is still much work to be done, hydrogen is increasingly seen as the key to unlocking a zero-emission future for the heavy vehicle transport industry that European society relies on so greatly.