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NREL report finds electrified heavy-duty vehicle powertrains could provide lower total cost of ownership than diesel under certain conditions

A new total cost of ownership (TCO) study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) finds that battery-electric and fuel-cell electric commercial trucks could be economically competitive with conventional diesel trucks by 2025 in some operating scenarios.


Spatial and Temporal Analysis of the Total Cost of Ownership for Class 8 Tractors and Class 4 Parcel Delivery Trucks compares six leading powertrain technologies to quantify the total cost of ownership (TCO) of different truck options and to identify operating scenarios where each technology may have an economic advantage. The powertrains analyzed include conventional diesel; diesel hybrid electric; plug-in hybrid electric; compressed natural gas; fuel cell electric; and battery all-electric.

Our objective was to provide a quantitative comparison of various powertrains to highlight the potential lifetime implications of each technology. This analysis found that battery-electric and hydrogen-electric powertrains could have a competitive TCO as early as 2025, even for Class 8 vehicles, which are notoriously difficult to decarbonize.

—Chad Hunter, lead author of the report and former NREL researcher

This TCO study quantifies indirect costs—for example, the cost of lost cargo capacity due to a heavier powertrain or the cost of dwell time spent refueling or recharging—along with the direct costs of buying, maintaining, fueling or charging, and driving a vehicle. Understanding these indirect costs is critical to understanding the full economic implications of a shift toward zero-emission transportation.

The research leveraged NREL’s Transportation Technology Total Cost of Ownership (T3CO) modeling framework, which enables levelized assessments of the full life-cycle costs of advanced commercial vehicles. T3CO combines the power of two existing NREL tools, the Future Automotive Systems Technology Simulator (FASTSim) and the Scenario Evaluation and Regionalization Analysis (SERA) model, to account for the varied performance and economic requirements for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

T3CO features an end-to-end, integrated approach for evaluating all costs and enabling consistent comparisons across technologies and vocations.

Using the new T3CO model, NREL researchers assessed all direct and indirect costs for each powertrain technology for three different truck vocations: Class 8 long-haul (500–750-mile range); Class 8 short-haul (300-mile range); and Class 4 parcel delivery (120-mile range). To further the analysis, researchers compared the powertrains for multiple timeframes to illustrate how battery and hydrogen fuel price reductions are key to accelerating medium- and heavy-duty vehicle electrification.

The analysis found that each powertrain technology may have an economic advantage on a TCO basis in certain business operating conditions, depending on fuel price realized. Among the top-level findings:

  • In general, battery-electric powertrains may be best for shorter-range applications or when dwell time is not a concern, and are complemented by fuel cell powertrains that may be better for longer ranges or operating scenarios that require higher uptime.

  • The Class 8 long-haul (750-mile-range) fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is the lowest-cost zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) if technology targets are met (regardless of dwell and payload costs).

  • For the Class 8 long-haul (500-mile-range) vocation, FCEVs and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are very competitive with diesel if Ultimate targets are met (regardless of dwell and payload costs).

  • If dwell time costs are incurred, FCEVs are the lowest-cost ZEV for Class 4 parcel delivery, Class 8 short haul (300 miles), and Class 8 long haul (500 miles).

  • For the Class 8 short-haul (300-mile-range) and Class 4 parcel delivery (120-mile-range) vocations, BEVs are the lowest-cost ZEV if dwell time costs are not in- curred and Ultimate targets are achieved.

  • Lost payload capacity cost for Class 8 long-haul (500+ mile) FCEVs or Class 8 short-haul (300-mile) BEVs is small due to the 2,000-lb exemption for alternative powertrain trucks.

  • Electricity price and hydrogen fuel price are the most influential parameters to the TCO of all trucks, and medium- and heavy-duty refueling/recharging cost reduction/management should be a key focus area for R&D.

In summary, this analysis shows that medium- and heavy-duty trucks with battery and fuel cell electric powertrains could be economically competitive with diesel powertrains under several operating scenarios as early as 2025 for shorter-range applications (<500-mile Class 8 tractors, 120-mile Class 4 delivery) if high diesel prices (>$3/gal) and low hydrogen/electricity prices are realized.

—Hunter et al.


  • Hunter, Chad, Michael Penev, Evan Reznicek, Jason Lustbader, Alicia Birky, and Chen Zhang (2021) “Spatial and Temporal Analysis of the Total Cost of Ownership for Class 8 Tractors and Class 4 Parcel Delivery Trucks.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL/TP-5400-71796.



I have no idea what they are talking about.

On page 10 table 2 they give the 2018, 2025 and 2050 power density of fuel cells as
0.96KW/kg, 1.02 and 1.08

And Hyzon right now:

' As confirmed by leading technical certification provider TUV Rheinland, Hyzon’s Gen3 fuel cell stack achieves a volumetric power density above 6.0 kW/liter and gravimetric power density more than 5.5 kW/kg'

They are on the road, not in a lab

And page 11:

' Hydrogen prices are discussed in detail in Section 2.3.1, but the 2018 dispensed hydrogen price is based on average costs demonstrated in fuel cell bus evaluations
(Eudy 2019) for those fleets with dedicated hydrogen refueling infrastructure (e.g., SunLine). The 2025 and Ulti- mate (2050) hydrogen costs were based on efforts by HFTO for M/HDTs and similar to those for light-duty vehicles
(Ramsden and Joseck 2018).'

So why the switch from bus fleets to light duty vehicles?

They are miles different, since the prices at the pump for cars etc are mainly due to the high cost of distribution for their low volumes.

Hydrogen from natural gas is available right now in depots for around $4.50kg.

We want to and are going to switch to more renewably generated hydrogen, but their figures make no sense at all. $10,$7 and $4 for 2018, 2025 and ultimate.

' The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Earthshot Initiative has today (June 7) launched with an ambitious target to slash the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram in just one decade.'

Maybe we will miss $1kg by 2030, but to go from that to $4kg by 2050 is a bit of a pessimistic leap.

The other major lacunae is hydrogen ICE for heavies, as for instance Cummins are working on.


About 2 years, I did an informal survey of the drivers making deliveries to my company on how far they drove during a day. Mostly it was under 100 miles. This included drivers making deliveries of steel sheet, tube, and plate with full size class 8 tractor trailers, deliveries of other large items, including engines, wheels and tires using class 8 tractor trailers either full size or shorter urban delivery trailers, and then the UPS, FedEx, etc delivery vehicles. This was for the Salt Lake City area so I would expect it is even less in more densely populated areas.

Based on my own experience driving an electric car, I think that the tipping point where battery electric is cheaper than diesel is getting close and may well happen before 2025. Almost all of these deliveries are done during normal business hours so there is at least 12 hours spent at a depot when the vehicles can be charged. Once the economic tipping point is hit, there is going to be a scramble to go electric. Ford is already expanding their production capacity for the electric F-150 before it is even on the market.



On page 15 they note:

' Class 6 bus cost data on fuel cell powertrain maintenance indicate that most of the current O&M cost is based on labor and over half of the current cost is unplanned (Eudy and Post 2019; Eudy and Jeffers 2019), indicating that the O&M costs are likely to come down over time as labor skills and techniques improve and as technology matures.
Because fuel cell vehicle electric powertrains are mechanically simpler than diesel powertrains, lower O&M costs are expected relative to conventional vehicles (Total Transportation Services, Inc 2018). Thus, the mid estimate for fuel cell powertrains is set to that of diesel, whereas the low estimate is set lower than diesel and equivalent to that of battery electric vehicles. Although the fuel cell electric powertrain is more complex than a battery electric powertrain, the fuel cell bus evaluations demonstrate this is a feasible lower bound (Eudy and Post 2020).'

This is a reasonable conservative approach.
However fuel cell technology is less mature than batteries, and early examples are not representative of likely costs incurred going forward.

The very high reliability in fleets of fuel cell cars seems to indicate that the low estimate is more likely the best guess going forward.

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