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. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/71796.pdf.