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Hydrogen Tech Unable To Compete Against Battery-Powered Electric Trucks: Tesla Semi To Rule

According to a study published by the prestigious journal Nature, the rapid advances in the field of batteries and fast charging could cause the hydrogen fuel cell to fall behind not only in the passenger car sector, but also in areas such as heavy-duty transportation, where up until now it seemed – and many claimed – that they would be better than BEV trucks, like the Tesla Semi.


As a matter of fact in recent years most car manufacturers (with exceptions such as Hyundai and Toyota) have abandoned the development of hydrogen cars due to their higher cost and the complexity of building refueling networks; however, this technology is still used in trucks due to the autonomy and heavy-duty load requirements of this types of vehicles.

The study was carried out by Patrick Plötz, from the famous – and prestigious - Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research in Karlsruhe, Germany. Under the revealing title “Hydrogen technology is unlikely to play a significant role in sustainable road transport”, Plötz outlines the many reasons why batteries will dominate markets in the coming years even in long-distance, heavy-duty transport.

Apart from the obvious improvements that battery technologies will experience in the coming years and their notable competitive advantage in terms of costs, the study indicates that the new high-power charging standards - in the MW order of magnitude - for electric trucks will cause even heavy-duty transport to shift away from hydrogen fuel cells, since it is a much less efficient solution as compared to batteries.

For Plötz, the biggest challenge battery electric vehicles currently face is being able to carry out long-distance logistics operations, which involve covering some 60,000 miles (100,000 km) a year transporting very heavy goods. In this context, manufacturers and suppliers have come together to build hydrogen fuel cell trucks, in order to try to balance performance on a cost-benefit basis.

Tesla Semi, courtesy of Tesla Inc.

However, the development of this technology is going forward at a very slow pace up to now; even more considering that it is estimated that the first commercially viable hydrogen trucks will reach the market only in 2027. By then, new battery-electric models from many different manufacturers, like Tesla Semi, Nikola, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, and many other brands will be already available. It is assumed that all these brands will have already improved the models they currently have by far at that point in time, with a strong emphasis on on key indicators like autonomy (FSD, etc.), charging times (very probably in MW), range (400-500 miles), and cargo capacity.

Also very important thing to consider is the fact that, from an energy point of view, batteries are a much more efficient solution than hydrogen, since another key indicator, the energy losses associated with hydrogen technology (electrolysis, compression, transport, reverse electrolysis in the fuel cell... ), are way higher. In this context, everything is set for the Tesla Semi and the other upcoming electric trucks to rule the roads, for the benefit of the air we breathe and for the environment in general.

You can check the full report by Patrick Plötz, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, on this link.

All images courtesy of Tesla Inc.

Nico Caballero is the VP of Finance of Cogency Power, specializing in solar energy. He also holds a Diploma in Electric Cars from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and enjoys doing research about Tesla and EV batteries. He can be reached at @NicoTorqueNews on Twitter. Nico covers Tesla and electric vehicle latest happenings at Torque News.