Regional Haul, Zero-Emission Heavy-Duty Tractors: Follow up Q&A from an ACT News Webinar

August 26, 2020

ACT News with NACFE conducted the webinar, Keeping It Real: Regional Haul, Zero-Emission, Heavy-Duty Tractors, on August 6, 2020. The panelists and moderator have provided this follow-up interview from the extensive list of questions submitted by the audience that were not able to be answered during the webinar session due to time constraints.


Mike Roeth –Executive Director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, NACFE, with extensive industry experience including 13 years with Navistar and now his 11th year directing NACFE.

Andrew Kotz, Ph.D. – Commercial Vehicle Research Engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL, in Colorado.

Alan Mace – Market Manager at Ballard Power Systems, a leader in hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing, with over 8 years at Ballard.

Rick Mihelic, Panel Moderator, Director Emerging Technologies, NACFE, with 38 years in industry including 20 with PACCAR/Peterbilt.

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) is a non-profit organization founded in 2009. The mission is to drive the development and adoption of efficiency-enhancing, environmentally beneficial, and cost-effective technologies, services, and methodologies in the North American freight industry.

As part of this mission, NACFE conducted the Run on Less Regional (RoLR) technology demonstration over a period of three weeks in October 2019. The demonstration captured daily operational data from ten commercial production Class 8 tractors hauling trailers. Ten fleets in ten different regions, in real world operations with real freight loads and real fleet drivers participated. The vehicles included nine diesel vehicles and one natural gas-powered vehicle, from multiple manufacturers.

Data was collected using multiple data collection devices and methods, and where practical, two separate methods for collecting and calculating each metric were used. All tractors were tracked via GPS and instrumented with a commercial Geotab telematics device. An additional engineering data logger was also installed, supplied by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, capturing vehicle data at one second intervals during each day of operation.

The extensive data sets collected from the RoLR vehicles were then analyzed, resulting in three reports published in June of 2020:

1). Run on Less Regional Report – prepared by NACFE, summarizing the results, lessons learned and observations from the industry group involved in RoLR.

2). Battery Electric Powertrains for Class 8 Regional Haul Freight Based on NACFE Run on Less – a report prepared jointly by NACFE and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on the potential of battery electric vehicles to accomplish the RoLR duty cycles.

3). Fuel Cell Electric Trucks: An analysis of hybrid vehicle specifications for regional freight transport – a report requested by NACFE from a Ballard Power Systems analysis with respect to the viability of using hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to accomplish the RoLR duty cycles.

Slides from the webinar are available from ACT News. At the end of this article are links to a series of reports and resources that contain more information relating to the topics discussed below.

Moderator: What are the top three obstacles that fleet operators would need to surmount before they can successfully transition to fuel cell trucks?

Mike Roeth: The ability to buy hydrogen fuel where and when you need it. In the early days this will need to be consistent on long-haul routes where stations can get high volume. Second, truck availability. Early trucks will be prototypes until market growth is confirmed with field testing. And finally, service and parts availability for all mission disabling components.

Moderator: What are the barriers to hydrogen infrastructure in the US and what needs to happen to deliver California’s 2040 zero-emissions target?

Alan Mace: Some of this was answered during the webinar, with additional thoughts here. There are the usual suspects like codes and standards, and developing standardized fuel station designs. I believe that scaling is needed to see the cost benefits of hydrogen. There needs to be support for projects that enable scale. This takes good coordination and the political will to organize and fund large multi-sector projects which are needed to scale up so that the cost and deployment of green and blue hydrogen becomes self-sustaining. I think that California is making progress on setting zero-emission expectations and regulations, which will drive the OEMs to invest in developing vehicles. There should be better progress on equitable funding for hydrogen infrastructure.

Moderator: What would be the dominant propulsion architecture for BEV or FCEV for regional haul HD trucks in the US?

Andrew Kotz: It is important to consider timeline and duty cycle. At present, ICE’s have the longest range followed by FCEV and BEV. However, advances in either FCEV or BEV could help them cover larger segments of the market. Depending on the timeline of these advances, the penetration will vary. Under current specifications, BEV’s will thrive in short to mid-range operation in moderate climates, whereas FCEV will likely take hold in mid to long range applications. That said, both are being developed simultaneously, so there will be mixing throughout the applications. Fleets will need to assess the applicability to their specific application.

Alan Mace: For trucks operating at longer range and higher speeds, the best solution is fuel cell. Especially if you need full-service trucks with high utilization, heavy payload, and which don’t cause you to make significant changes to your operational needs. And, at larger scale, the cost of hydrogen fueling is lower cost than the battery charging infrastructure with grid upgrades and capacity improvements.

Moderator: With the regional haul and return to base sector electrifying more and more over time, what strategies should fleets put in place to mitigate the risk of depending solely on the electrical grid? (power outage can be frequent, even more so with climate change)

Andrew Kotz: Behind the meter storage (BTMS), onsite generation, and backup generation is going to be key to achieving long-term reliance as well as charge management and vehicle-to-grid capability. Electrification introduces more challenges as well as opportunities for looking at the fleet as a system integrated with both the facilities they park at and the roads they operate on. With vehicle to grid bi-direction charging, electric vehicles could help make the grid more resilient by absorbing excess energy when they are not in-use.

Moderator: What is a realistic timeline for commercially available ZEV Tractors?

Mike Roeth: NACFE’s Defining Production report helps explain “commercially available.” For the first phase, with ranges up to 250 miles, we will see those starting in 2021. The expanded growth in range (around 2022 or 2023) will bring a second group of tractors that will significantly expand the market for electric tractors. Wave three will be determined when we see how far BEVs will go, and when there is the availability of FCEVs.

Moderator: What are the barriers for infrastructure (H2 or electric) that need to be overcome and what role do you see customers, governments, and OEMs playing to overcome them?

Alan Mace: The infrastructure should be deployed in coordination with vehicle deployments – build the infrastructure and then deploy the vehicles. High utilization of the infrastructure helps to justify the costs, so initially targeting fleets is a good strategy, and fleet applications simplify the initial infrastructure requirements. Customers and end-users should signal to government that infrastructure is needed and should be prioritized. Governments should adopt legislation requiring zero-emission vehicles and ensure the approval process for stations is transparent with reasonable timelines. There should be incentives to low carbon solutions which benefit everybody.

Moderator: Could and should H2 refueling and EV charging infrastructure be co-located together in hubs on regional routes?

Andrew Kotz: Infrastructure is needed for either of these technologies to thrive. Co-locating these hubs would help enable both technologies to flourish. However, the needs for each may be different. At present, BEV charging takes longer than H2 refueling. So it is possible that more charging locations and facilities designed to handle longer dwell times will be needed for BEVs depending on charge rate specifications.

Alan Mace: Maybe there are some benefits here if grid-management services are considered. One of the benefits of H2 is that it can be deployed without a significant impact on the grid. H2 is a new energy vector into areas like heavily built-out cities – you can bring energy into these areas without needing new substations, transformers and other grid infrastructure.

Moderator: What role can near-zero-emission (i.e. CNG/LNG) and negative-emission (i.e. RNG) vehicles play in the transition from diesel vehicles?

Mike Roeth: We affectionately call the next two decades the “messy middle” for HD tractor alternatives. This industry has so many variations that great use cases exist for many alternatives. Until electric based vehicles using renewable energy dominate, maybe around 2050. That’s a long time off, with many production trucks being built, so these alternatives in the messy middle are important to help mitigate the impacts of diesel truck.

Moderator: What is the TCO for FCEV trucks?

Alan Mace: That depends on assumptions and application details, but the cost of hydrogen is more than half the TCO for Regional Haul (not including labor costs). Therefore, reducing the cost of hydrogen is really important to reach parity with diesel vehicles. One of the assumptions which has a dramatic impact on the TCO is whether payload is valued – for example, cost parity with a pure battery vehicle can already be achieved if the value of lost payload is valued at $0.30/ton-mile. Parity with a diesel truck is more difficult and either requires higher diesel costs than today, like $3.50-$4.00/gallon, or a carbon tax, along with reduced cost of the fuel cell, which will be achieved when production volumes scale-up.

Moderator: What is the weight vs cost trade-off of hydrogen vs Li ion batteries?

Alan Mace: A pure battery truck with a range of 500 miles will have a curb weight of about 38,000 pounds – which is about 14,000 pounds more than a fuel cell truck with the same range. If that 14,000 pounds is valued at $0.30/ton-mile, then for the 500 mile range the value would be just over $1000.

Moderator: Where are the most useful locations for DCFC infrastructure?

Mike Roeth: Where fast charging is needed. Keep in mind tractors that are driven by teams are dual utilized for two shifts per day. As well as opportunity charging to extend the range of the depot charging.

Andrew Kotz: It would be beneficial to install DCFC and H2 infrastructure along the US Highway system and frequent freight corridors such as those identified in the freight analysis framework. In addition, extra infrastructure in mountainous and hilly areas as well as extreme temperature regions would help account for edge cases. If enough data existed, an analysis could be performed to identify optimal infrastructure locations based on frequency and duration of stops. Those frequented locations with dwell times between 5 minutes and 1 hour would be ideal for DCFC fast charging.

Moderator: How do we reconcile HOS requirements with in-route or opportunity charging? Drivers can’t charge (fuel) on their “coffee-break”.

Mike Roeth: This could potentially be an area for cross agency regulations. Would it be possible for the EPA and DOT to work together to allow different HOS exemptions for electric truck charging?

Andrew Kotz: Yes, fleets operating near the limits of the HOS will have a challenge adapting to the added time to charge and technological advances will likely be needed. However, we are not talking about full charges, but rather a partial charge while the drive is stopped for a short period of time. Data from the Run on Less study showed frequent mid-route stops of 20 minutes that could provide enough extra charge to get the truck to its final destination based on modeled results.

Moderator: A common assumption is sizing vehicles for a “drop-in solution”. For many vehicles, this assumption requires very large batteries and charge powers. How receptive are fleets to adjusting their logistics to be more amenable to current EV offerings? Is there a refusal to change behavior in pursuit of lower per-mile costs?

Mike Roeth: Excellent question. This comes down to how much change is needed and how that change is monetized in a total cost of ownership. For instance, with a range of 250 miles, why not just use two trucks for the needed 500 miles? Cost. Two times the truck costs. This may be a silly example, but my suggestion is to explore the operational changes with your fleet customers and search for a win-win.

Moderator: The NREL analysis did not consider the HVAC load? Do we have a sense of what the battery size would need to be, considering HVAC loads during winters?

Andrew Kotz: This is an important question to answer. Data from battery electric transit buses has shown that HVAC can contribute to up to 25% of vehicle energy use in hot climates, and transit fleet operators in cold climates have opted to install diesel fire heaters. This is likely extreme for battery electric trucks since they have smaller cabins, fewer door openings and closings, and fewer passengers. However, it is an important topic and needs to be studied.

Moderator: I totally understand that some fleets have intense duty cycles which aren’t amenable to long dwell times for recharging. One option would be to increase the number of trucks a fleet owns to allow EVs. Since hydrogen is likely to remain quite expensive for the foreseeable future, have you or anyone done a breakeven analysis between the additional capital costs of more trucks to allow EV recharging vs. the cost savings

Alan Mace: There have been a number of recent reports about the rapid decrease in hydrogen cost (for example, which makes the cost of owning and operating a fuel cell vehicle increasingly more cost effective. Typically the highest cost of operating a truck is the driver, so adding more vehicles (and drivers) might not be the best solution.

Moderator: How do you manage thermal management of the PEM FC at 200-300 kW size? In other words, what are the cooling needs for the fuel cell truck?

Alan Mace: Important factors here are maintaining a high efficiency of the fuel cell to reduce the amount of rejected heat, and increasing the operating temperature of the fuel cell to address the size of the heat exchangers. The higher operating temperature has to be balanced against the lifetime requirements of heavy-duty truck applications, which is an area of development.

Moderator: Have you looked at what portion of the regional trucking market would be addressable if only overnight/return-to-base charging is available?

Andrew Kotz: Unfortunately, no. Others at NREL are working on answering this to help set technical vehicle targets, but one hurdle is availability of nationally representative data. More data and data openness can help achieve this goal.

Moderator: Do you think long-distance trucks can use the public charging stations such as Electrify America for recharging during the route? I think the truck is too big to park their parking lot.

Mike Roeth: Unlike depot charging where the tractor will be charged alone, during long trips the truck and trailer will be attached and require very different parking during charging. This will require a lot of space at existing truck stops or in expanded ones.

Moderator: It seems like payload weight may be a big factor to determine the fit of BEVs versus FCEVs. If a company needs to transport light loads that cube out and very heavy loads that weigh out, say potato chips and soda, do you see a role for mixed fleets of BEVs and FCEVs?

Mike Roeth: In our work on lightweighting we concluded that generally the few trucks that gross out, do so consistently. But the vast majority of trucks never do. A tare weight increase on the tractor tends not to be the biggest issue when investigating BEVs or for that matter FCEVs.

Moderator: Building out fast-charge infrastructure to address short intraday dwell periods is expensive and probably impractical. Depot charging is a lot more viable. What effective range/duty cycle would be viable if we make the assumption that depot charging is going to be the available solution?

Andrew Kotz: I would like to push back on the comment that intraday charging is impractical since electric fleets already incorporate this for other vocations, however, it would be impractical for the fleet operator to assume the task of building the charging infrastructure. A multi-faceted approach advancing both charging and battery technology is going to be needed for large scale adoption. That said, urban operations will likely see the greatest penetration of heavy-duty electric tractors such as in drayage and last mile delivery operations that have transient duty cycles and slower speeds.

Moderator: You might want to know about the AZETEC collaboration project that Ballard is part of where two Class 8 63t trucks are being built in Canada to run the Calgary to Edmonton Alberta route with censors for 18 months. You might want to collaborate with CESAR and AZETEC.

Alan Mace: Yes, refer to Emissions Reduction Alberta:

Mike Roeth: NACFE is in touch with this excellent Canadian project.

Moderator: Nikola claims they only need $16 Million for the hydrogen station with electrolyzers to fulfill their first fleet needs for 700 trucks. Does this sound right?

Alan Mace: There are a number of unknown variables here including cost of land, cost of power, duty cycle of the trucks, etc. However, there are a number of reports indicating that fuel cell vehicles will compete with diesel and battery vehicles before 2030, for example the Hydrogen Council has an excellent study by McKinsey & Company at

Moderator: The COVID pandemic has highlighted our society’s reliance on freight. Can someone speak to the resilience considerations of large-scale transitions to transportation reliance on the electric grid (which both BEC and H2 do)? How can we be proactively ensuring we have resilience and redundancy?

Mike Roeth: Excellent question. Resilience is necessary and actions will need to be taken along this evolution. Energy storage will play a part along with more capacity at the grid. Energy efficiency actions in buildings, offices, etc. is helping to lower overall electricity demand.

Moderator: With the advanced clean truck regulation in California and 11 other states, how do OEMs look to align their sales target?

Mike Roeth: As always with regulations, if the OEMs want to continue to sell trucks they must comply. These rules will have OEMs adjusting not only their sales targets but their product development efforts to support the timing as these regulations become firm.

Moderator: Has anyone looked at the cost of electric infrastructure per truck served versus H2 infrastructure?

Alan Mace: There have been some comparative studies by transit fleets in California. Those studies are site-specific but, generally, at scale, hydrogen infrastructure is lower cost than battery charging infrastructure.

Moderator: Do you view H2/Fuel Cell as a threat to battery in the ZEV?

Mike Roeth: We think both will win for the specific use cases we have outlined in our reports. Longer hauls, with limited dwell time will take advantage of the on-board storage capacity of FCEVs. The FCEV is an extended range EV, so one versus the other is more of a one and a modification.

Moderator: What is the life of the typical lithium ion battery pack used for commercial vehicles?

Rick Mihelic: Battery packs designed properly for duty cycle and environment can exceed the vehicle intended useful life.

Moderator: Charging HD vehicles takes a long time. However, fast charging reduces the life of the battery – how has this issue been resolved?

Rick Mihelic: Battery design tradeoffs by manufacturers need to be considered, but proper design of battery packs for intended duty cycle can produce batteries capable of meeting or exceeding the vehicle intended useful life.

Moderator: What’s the resale market going to look like for the electric and hydrogen powered trucks?

Rick Mihelic: Regarding resale value, it’s speculation at present since there are few vehicles in the market yet. Business models may change with longer first owner life. Resale value is a topic in two NACFE reports.

Moderator: To what extent will biofuels be considered as “zero-emission”?

Rick Mihelic: True zero-emission systems do not burn fuel. Net zero-emission systems pair emission production with emission reduction to arrive at a net zero. Both are part of freight transportation’s messy middle described in NACFE reports.

Moderator: Do electric utilities currently have enough infrastructure to support fleets?

Rick Mihelic: There is room inside electricity production capacity for the near future, the challenge is local delivery may not be adequate.

Moderator: Do carbon reduction calculations include the life-cycle carbon estimate for the batteries, including mining, transportation, manufacture, and eventual disposal?

Rick Mihelic: Well-to-Wheel analysis needs to and does include the entire life cycle of a technology.

Moderator: In terms of cost effectiveness of GHG reductions today, how do BEV and FCEV compare to NGV?

Rick Mihelic: Each has different qualities and likely will be optimized for different duty cycles, where both coexist as viable solutions in fleets.

Moderator: I have heard discussions on blending CNG with 20-30% hydrogen. Has anyone analyzed this possibility or believe it is a practice that could aid in getting closer to adopting ZEV?

Rick Mihelic: Blending fuels is a unique topic. Blending adds complexity and challenges to designing infrastructure and vehicles. Blended fuels are another aspect of the many messy middle solutions that may be explored.

Below are links to a series of reports and resources that contain more information relating to the topics discussed in this article.