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Why hydrogen will power heavy-duty transportation’s transition to zero emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency,1 transportation accounts for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Battery electric vehicles can help greatly reduce emissions in the transportation sector, but in very heavy-duty vehicles with a necessity for longer range and quick refueling times—such as long-haul trucking, rail, or container ships—electrification becomes impractical.

Global experts agree that this is where hydrogen is needed.

Why Hydrogen?

In energy-intensive sectors of our economy like heavy-duty transportation and heavy industry, hydrogen is a practical,
zero-emissions solution to provide power. 

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the universe’s most basic element, with just one proton and one electron. It is also the most abundant element in the universe, comprising 75% of all matter. Found abundantly on earth, it is chemically combined with other elements, like in water which has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom in every molecule of HO.

Where does hydrogen come from?

To produce hydrogen, hydrogen atoms must be separated from the molecules in which they naturally occur on earth. Today, a process called steam-methane reforming is the most common method for producing hydrogen by reacting natural gas or methane with steam to produce hydrogen, with carbon dioxide (CO₂) produced as a byproduct. 

Hydrogen can be produced with significantly reduced emissions if the CO₂ byproduct is captured and stored in a process called carbon capture for sequestration. 

Hydrogen can be produced with zero emissions through electrolysis, a method that produces hydrogen by using an electrical current to separate water molecules (HO) into hydrogen and oxygen gas (H + O). Furthermore, if the electricity used to produce the electrolysis reaction was sourced from renewable energy—wind, solar, or hydropower—the entire process of hydrogen production can be considered “green,” meaning there are no emissions. 

Green hydrogen can then be transported to fueling stations, dispensed, and used to power vehicles resulting in an emissions-free value chain.

How does hydrogen power a vehicle?

Hydrogen can be used to create electricity to power an electric motor in a setup similar to the drivetrain of a battery electric vehicle (BEV). Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are zero-emission vehicles because hydrogen, through an electrochemical process in the fuel cell, is used to create electricity which powers an electric motor. Hydrogen fuel cells produce zero harmful emissions and only water as a byproduct, unlike diesel fuel which, when burned in an internal combustion engine, produces exhaust, which primarily includes carbon dioxide (CO), a greenhouse gas, and harmful particulate matter.

Why do we need hydrogen for heavy-duty vehicles?

For larger vehicles with heavier payloads and longer range requirements, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a more practical option

Per energy.gov,2 “battery electric vehicle weight escalates dramatically for ranges greater than 100 to 150 miles due to weight compounding. Each extra kg of battery weight to increase range requires extra structural weight, heavier brakes, a larger traction motor, and in turn more batteries.” 

On the contrary, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are not nearly as impacted by increasing vehicle weight or range. In fact, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles already have an average range on par with conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles.

A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is also faster to refuel than recharging a battery electric vehicle, taking about the same amount of time to refuel as it does to fill up a typical gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle. On the other hand, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation,3 Level 2 chargers, commonly used in home or workplace charging stations, “can charge a light-duty BEV from empty in 4-10 hours.” Direct current fast charging (DCFC), commonly used at public locations, offers faster recharging time at “20 minutes - 1 hour” but still takes much longer than refueling a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle.

As weight and range of a vehicle increase, hydrogen-powered vehicles become more practical and economical to support decarbonizing heavy-duty transportation, including city buses, tractor trailers and heavy-duty trucks, shipping vessels, trains, and airplanes.

How does hydrogen fueling work?

Fueling a hydrogen vehicle is similar to fueling a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle and takes about the same time. To refuel, simply select a nozzle at the appropriate pressure for your vehicle type—similar to choosing gasoline versus diesel fueling. Next, attach the nozzle to your vehicle. Sensors ensure the seal is complete; hydrogen will not dispense if the sensors don’t detect a complete seal. Similar to gasoline or diesel fueling, a screen at the dispenser will indicate when fueling has completed and how much hydrogen has been dispensed.

Is hydrogen fueling safe?

All fuels are combustible, including hydrogen; however, when guidelines for its safe storage, handling and use are observed, hydrogen can be handled as safely as gasoline and diesel. In fact, Air Products helped set many of the safety standards in use today and is at the forefront of safety innovation.

Numerous safety systems are incorporated into all modern fueling stations. Dispensers monitor the fueling process in real time and communicate with the vehicle. If the dispenser detects a leak or other anomaly with the fueling event, it will shut off and prevent further fueling. Over the past several decades, Air Products has supported the development of over 250 hydrogen fueling stations worldwide. In fact, Air Products’ technology and equipment is responsible for about 1.5 million hydrogen fuelings each year.

What is Air Products doing to scale clean hydrogen?

To quickly scale clean hydrogen production to decarbonize heavy industry and heavy transportation and to support meeting the world’s 2050 net-zero goal, Air Products is building several of the largest low- and zero-carbon hydrogen plants in the world

With our partners, we’re constructing the world’s largest green hydrogen facility in NEOM, Saudi Arabia, a project that will use 4 gigawatts of clean energy from renewable wind and solar power to generate up to 600 tonnes of zero-emissions hydrogen per day, enough to power more than 10,000 trucks.

We’re also investing billions to build world-scale green hydrogen projects in the US. Our New York facility will use renewable hydroelectric power, and in Texas, we have announced plans with AES to produce zero-carbon hydrogen using solar and wind power. 

Air Products is also a pioneer in producing low-carbon hydrogen from fossil fuel sources, where the carbon dioxide produced is captured and sequestered, reducing emissions in some instances (like at our Hydrogen Energy Complex in Edmonton, Canada) to net-zero. We’re also building a clean hydrogen energy complex in Louisiana which includes the world’s largest carbon sequestration operation.

It’s estimated4 that a switch from fossil fuels to low-carbon hydrogen can propel the industrial sector, along with the heavy-duty transportation sector, to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 20%

Interested in hydrogen fueling solutions?

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