Global transportation systems have begun a shift to newer, cleaner technologies that will meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction and air quality improvement goals that governments have developed or fleets have adopted for themselves. Though freight vehicles represent a relatively small percentage of on-road vehicles, emissions from freight account for a disproportionately high percentage of GHGs, harmful air pollutants, and noise. Zero-emission freight vehicles (ZEFVs) can match the current transportation system’s capabilities while creating hidden societal benefits by reducing the negative outcomes associated with diesel and gasoline consumption.

As manufacturers scale up production and battery technologies improve, heavier-duty vehicle applications with larger battery capacities will expand the ZEFV market. New and diverse models have been announced for the European and North American markets within the next few years. Though no vehicle segment is fully prepared for market commercialization, growth in early segments will support commercialization in the broader market. By improving on economies of scale and producing components that are transferable and adaptable to new zero-emission vehicle models and segments, manufacturers will advance from first-success “beachhead” applications to secondary (early near markets) and tertiary markets as technology improves, production volumes increase as market size increases, and costs go down. These successive new market applications will innovate by incorporating clean vehicle technologies in increasingly rigorous duty cycles or in vehicles with demanding operational characteristics.

There are multiple barriers to growing these different segments of freight vehicles toward commercialization, which require sustained public and private actions to overcome. In particular, infrastructure investments and advancements will be needed to support rapid growth in the ZEFV market. As the size and quantity of vehicles grow, charging and hydrogen fueling stations will need to become more numerous and robust to meet refueling needs, with charging stations capable of charging vehicles at rates of at least hundreds of kilowatts. The high rates of charge needed to fuel large ZEFV fleets will create challenges both for electric utilities to cost-effectively balance energy supply and for fleets to cost-effectively manage their vehicles’ charging needs.

Governments can develop the ZEFV market with targeted eco-systems of supportive policies and incentives. MHDV fuel economy and GHG emission standards are common across China, the European Union, and North America, and though these standards provide incentives for incorporating ZEFVs into manufacturers’ fleet sales, they do not explicitly advance the ZEFV market. Financial incentives have also been implemented in leading markets to encourage ZEFV uptake. Programs that lower the upfront costs of ZEFVs and the cost of electricity reduce operators’ total cost of ownership, and regulations that increase costs for diesel-powered vehicle operations (e.g., CO2-based road charges) make the ZEFVs more attractive relative to diesel-powered vehicles. Government investments in charging and fueling infrastructure will also help fleets lower their capital expenses and support their operations.

Because truck manufacturers use similar technologies and components across different global markets, with component suppliers and vehicle manufacturers producing parts and models for individual and common markets around the world, aligning ZEFV deployment and supportive systems across leading markets will accelerate economies of scale in ZEFV production. The parallel implementation of supportive eco-systems in leading regions worldwide will send stronger signals to manufacturers to accelerate production volumes, which in turn will lower vehicle costs while technologies improve, encouraging fleets to speed ZEFV uptake. This will ultimately facilitate the large-scale transition to a zero-emission commercial transportation sector. Though the ZEFV market is young, manufacturers have indicated that they are prepared to design and develop vehicles to meet expected demand growth.

Moving zero-emission freight toward commercialization

Authors: Dan Welch and Cristiano Façanha (CALSTART); Rob Kroon, David Bruil, Floris Jousma, and Harm Weken (FIER Automotive)

Published: 4 December 2020

Describes the barriers, opportunities, and benefits associated with transitioning to zero-emission freight vehicles and provides recommendations to governments to accelerate commercialization.

Download the report here.