WASHINGTON — The use of hydrogen fuel cells to power electric trucks was prominently featured in a debate in the U.S. Senate over how to formulate a national low-carbon fuel standard.
Much of the discussion, which kicked off the Environmental and Public Works Committee’s first hearing of the new Congress on Wednesday, centered on not whether hydrogen fuel cells and other clean fuels should be part of reducing green-house gas (GHG) emissions but how aggressive a national standard timeline should be.
American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear testified that his organization sued over the low-carbon fuel standards that California and Oregon put in place several years ago before they took effect. California requires significant carbon reductions by 2030 and will allow only zero-emission drayage trucks at its ports by 2035.
Spear argued such tight standards increase diesel prices and the “patchwork” effect of state regulations makes it more difficult for trucking companies — particularly those with 20 or fewer trucks — to operate in interstate commerce.
“When you have a timeline and a target that is that aggressive, and an economy [the size of California] — we service that,” Spear said. “If you want us to keep servicing that and providing those goods to consumers, you have to build in time to do it. Moving to electric [trucks], moving to hydrogen, these are emerging technologies that will take time but are very exciting.
“Hydrogen has tremendous potential for longer haul trucks. We’ll get there. It’s just going to take a little more time than some states are providing.”
Michael Graff, chairman and CEO of major hydrogen producer American Air Liquide Holdings Inc., was unsurprisingly bullish on the use of hydrogen for meeting a low-carbon fuel standard. Graff outlined its advantages for use in the trucking sector specifically.
“As you look at Class A tractors on the highways, if we want to get to a zero-emission vehicle, we’re already in a place where we can utilize hydrogen — paired with a fuel cell — and maintain the same drivability, the same refueling time, regardless of the [outside] temperature,” Graff said during the hearing.
“And because of the small footprint in weight of the fuel cell, you will be able to maintain the payload you have today. The key is to build out the infrastructure.”
Graff also noted tax incentives for hydrogen production contained in the Inflation Reduction Act will help jump-start more production. “The key now, given that the transportation sector is one of the most difficult to decarbonize, is to further incentivize and build out the vehicles.”
The witnesses at the hearing, which also included Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, agreed that any national standard should be technology neutral and should allow the market to determine a combination of low-carbon options to meet it.
“While the use of low-carbon electricity in electric vehicles would very likely be one promising option for some parties to meet the requirements of a national clean fuel policy, it is widely acknowledged that electrification alone cannot deliver the GHG emissions reductions necessary to achieve a 50%-52% reduction nationwide by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050,” Cooper testified.
Supporting that position, in a joint statement filed with the committee before the hearing, the National Association of Convenience Stores, SIGMA: America’s Leading Fuel Marketers and NATSO, which represents travel plazas and truck stops, asserted that policy should set performance goals and the market be allowed to find the best way to meet them.
An example of a counterproductive policy would be allowing electric vehicle charging infrastructure at interstate highway rest areas, they stated.
“Not only would this discourage off-highway fuel retailers from investing in charging infrastructure, but it will signal to prospective EV drivers that they will need to refuel at often desolate, poorly maintained state-run rest areas rather than the off-highway travel centers, convenience and fuel retailers with all of the amenities that drivers have come to expect,” the groups stated.
Spear pushed back hard against policies that promote early adoption of battery-electric trucks. He cited recent studies by the American Transportation Research Institute, an ATA affiliate, that considered the entire battery supply chain.
“These are 5,000-pound batteries,” Spears said. “The amount of lithium, cobalt, graphite that has to go into them is not readily available. We’re also not sourcing that in the U.S. Beyond that, the infrastructure to charge it is not in place.
“These issues have to be addressed before moving forward with such an aggressive timeline. I think this mad rush to zero [emissions] is going to be very impactful in state economies and the national economy. If we pace ourselves and let the market work its will, we will get to zero.”
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