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NACFE releases guidance report on hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty trucks

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) released its latest Guidance Report, Making Sense of Heavy-Duty Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tractors.

Almost every day there is a new announcement about hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks. Even with all the information, there are a lot of unanswered questions. We published this report to help make sense of hydrogen for commercial freight movement.

—Rick Mihelic, Director of Emerging Technologies and Study Team Manager, NACFE

Key findings from the report include:

  • Hydrogen fuel cells trucks are just starting to see real-world use and their adoption is being driven by regional or national considerations that are much bigger than what exists for trucking fleets.

  • Battery electric trucks should be the baseline for hydrogen fuel cells electric vehicle (HFCEV) comparisons, rather than any internal combustion engine alternative.

  • As for all alternatives, fleets should optimize the specifications of HFCEVs for the job they should perform while expecting that the trade cycles will lengthen.

  • The future acceleration of HFCEVs is likely not about the vehicles and fueling but resides mostly on the creation and distribution of the hydrogen itself.​​

  • The potential for autonomous fuel cell trucks to operate 24-hours a day adds significant opportunity for making sense of capital and operational investment in hydrogen.


While hydrogen fuel cell technology is very promising, we know that widespread adoption will take time. Many factors will influence this, including emissions regulations, infrastructure, hydrogen availability and total costs of ownership. Buses and trains will likely be some of the first applications to transition to hydrogen, with the Hydrogen Council predicting that heavy- duty trucks will fall further out on the curve with about 2.5% of hydrogen adoption in 2030.

—Amy Davis, President of New Power Business, Cummins

The report also offers fleets some recommendations on how to proceed with hydrogen fuel cell electric truck exploration:

  • Fleet investment in new fuel cell electric and battery electric vehicles requires vehicles. The debate on infrastructure is irrelevant if there is no demand.

  • Hydrogen is a regional solution, cheap hydrogen even more so. The ability to scale truck demand will be limited by the nature of truck production volumes and market forces.

  • Purists pushing green hydrogen as a goal should accept that some compromise is needed to allow alternatives in the “how” of getting to net zero-emissions.

  • Stop comparisons of fill times. Fill times are moving targets for both fuel cell and battery electric vehicles. In a zero-emission future world, as in California’s plans, diesel does not exist. What is the value of a comparison on fill times?

  • Incentives, grants, credits, tax breaks will be around for a while. Truck production volumes versus zero-emission target dates will require zero-emission transport financial help for some years.


With an abundance of new research and company announcements in the hydrogen truck space, this report offers not only a way for the readers to make sense of the opportunity, but also provides a comprehensive set of resources for those who wish to explore the subject further. The report contains 101 figures and 230 references. Much more material exists but these are the reference and figures the NACFE team believes helped put hydrogen fuel cell electric heavy-duty tractors in perspective. NACFE is also available for discussions on this report with the industry and beyond.

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) works to drive the development and adoption of efficiency enhancing, environmentally beneficial, and cost-effective technologies, services, and operational practices in the movement of goods across North America. NACFE provides independent, unbiased research, including Confidence Reports on available technologies and Guidance Reports on emerging ones, which highlight the benefits and consequences of each, and deliver decision-making tools for fleets, manufacturers, and others.

NACFE partners with Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) on a variety of projects including the Run on Less fuel efficiency demonstration series, electric trucks, emissions reductions, and low-carbon supply chains.


George Kafantaris

"The future acceleration of HFCEVs is likely not about the vehicles and fueling but resides mostly on the creation and distribution of the hydrogen itself.​​"
For sure. And as far as setting up the refueling infrastructure is concerned, green hydrogen, blue hydrogen, and gray hydrogen are all the same. Indeed, gray hydrogen should be used first because it’s already here and can easily help us set up and test the new delivery network. Once we have it in place and things are working, we can then shift to blue hydrogen and ultimately to green. This is the sound way of doing things and the way we’ve done things before. So stop conflating the source of the hydrogen with the means of delivering it. One has nothing to do with the other. Arguments against the source of hydrogen should not get in the way of us setting up a safe and efficient way to deliver it to those that need it.

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