Fuel cell trucks: 140 refueling stations are enough

October 08, 2020

Hydrogen-powered trucks feature prominently in Germany's National Hydrogen Strategy and are one way to decarbonize road freight transport. Refueling infrastructure is a decisive factor for this technology to catch on. Fraunhofer ISI has calculated that a network of 140 refueling stations is enough to meet the hydrogen demand of fuel cell trucks in 2050. The costs for this amount to around nine billion euros per year.

Road freight transport in Germany emits about 50 mega-tonnes of CO2 each year. Approximately half of this is due to the 250,000 heavy-duty trucks that weigh more than 26 tonnes. To meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement, transport must become virtually emission-free by 2050. One possibility to decarbonize it is to completely replace conventional trucks with fuel cell trucks powered by hydrogen.

To meet the annual demand of about 1.3 million tonnes of hydrogen that results from this and to ensure reliable truck transportation, there has to be a sufficient number of refueling stations. Although there are already more than 80 stations for fuel cell passenger cars across Germany, most of them are not suitable or only partially suitable for trucks, because they cannot ensure the amount of hydrogen required or rapid refueling.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI has examined what a refueling station network for fuel cell trucks would have to look like by 2050 based on a scientific simulation model.

A fully developed hydrogen refueling network for trucks in Germany will have about 140 stations in 2050 to cover German heavy-duty truck traffic at a total cost of about nine billion euros per year (2050). The stations will be distributed relatively evenly across the highway network, but are still visibly concentrated along the main transit routes and in industrial regions.

70 refueling stations are already needed in 2030

Prof. Martin Wietschel, head of the Competence Center Energy Technology and Energy Systems at Fraunhofer ISI, emphasizes: “According to EU directives, the emissions from trucks should already be reduced by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2019. Fuel cell trucks would be helpful to achieve this but in order to use them, a large number of refueling stations need to be built early on: 70 hydrogen refueling stations, including some smaller ones, are already needed to cover about 50,000 vehicles in 2030. Compared to the amount of hydrogen sold, the relatively high number of refueling stations shows the strong demand for suitable business models. The question of state subsidies for hydrogen refueling stations for trucks also needs to be clarified quickly.”

Producing the hydrogen (electrolysis) is also decisive for the infrastructure's success. In addition to producing hydrogen in centralized facilities and then transporting it to the refueling stations, there is the option to build electrolyzers directly at the refueling stations and produce the hydrogen on-site. For the second option, the authors of the study recommend oversizing the electrolyzers and installing large hydrogen storage tanks at the refueling stations: This makes hydrogen production less expensive. In addition, due to their size and high electricity consumption of about 65 Terawatt hours per year, the truck refueling stations can integrate strongly fluctuating renewable energies into the energy system and help to relieve the pressure on it. This provision of flexibility saves about one billion euros per year. To achieve the climate targets, it is also important to produce ”green hydrogenv, which means making it using renewable energy sources.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.