Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Trucks (FCETs)

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Trucks (FCETs) are commercial vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells that convert hydrogen gas into electricity, driving the truck’s electric motors. Instead of relying on batteries, FCETs refuel with hydrogen, similar to gasoline-powered trucks.

Impact on climate action

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Trucks (FCETs) offer a significant impact on climate action by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional diesel trucks. They promote a shift towards cleaner transportation, aiding in achieving carbon reduction targets and fostering a sustainable future for logistics and freight industries.


  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells: A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and water. The core of a fuel cell is a membrane that allows the passage of hydrogen ions but not electrons, creating an electrical current.
  • Hydrogen Storage and Refueling: Hydrogen gas is stored onboard the truck in high-pressure tanks or cryogenic tanks. Refueling an FCET with hydrogen is a relatively quick process, similar to filling up a diesel truck.
  • Electric Motor Propulsion: The electricity generated by the fuel cell powers the truck’s electric motor, providing the drive force.
  • Emissions: FCETs emit only water vapor, making them a zero-emission vehicle.
  • Hydrogen Production: The production of hydrogen is a critical aspect of FCET technology. Ideally, hydrogen should be produced from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, or hydroelectric power to ensure sustainability.

TRL : 5-6 (Progressing rapidly towards 7)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Fuel Cell Stack Efficiency: Researchers are continuously working to improve the efficiency of fuel cell stacks, maximizing the amount of electricity generated from hydrogen and minimizing energy losses. This involves advancements in materials, design, and operational optimization.
  • Hydrogen Storage Technology: Innovations in hydrogen storage technology, including lightweight and more efficient storage systems, are crucial for improving the range and practicality of FCETs. Research is focusing on solid-state hydrogen storage, metal hydrides, and advanced carbon-based materials.
  • Hydrogen Production and Distribution: Developing cost-effective and sustainable methods for producing and distributing hydrogen is essential for the widespread adoption of FCETs. This involves developing renewable hydrogen production technologies, such as electrolysis using renewable energy sources, and building a network of hydrogen refueling infrastructure.
  • Fuel Cell Durability and Reliability: Improving the durability and reliability of fuel cell stacks is essential for ensuring a long lifespan and reducing maintenance costs. This involves developing more robust materials, optimizing system design, and implementing advanced monitoring and diagnostics.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Advanced Fuel Cell Efficiency
  • Lightweight Hydrogen Storage Solutions
  • Solid-State Hydrogen Storage Development
  • Metal Hydrides for Hydrogen Storage
  • Carbon-Based Hydrogen Storage Innovations
  • Renewable Hydrogen Production Methods
  • Electrolysis with Renewable Energy
  • Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure Expansion
  • Fuel Cell Stack Materials Research
  • Design Optimization for Fuel Cell Stacks
  • Operational Efficiency in Fuel Cell Stacks
  • Sustainable Hydrogen Distribution Systems
  • Network Development for Hydrogen Refueling
  • Enhanced Fuel Cell Durability
  • Reliable Fuel Cell Stack Technology
  • Robust Materials for Fuel Cells
  • System Design for Fuel Cell Reliability
  • Advanced Monitoring in Fuel Cell Systems
  • Diagnostics for Fuel Cell Maintenance
  • Long-Term Durability in Fuel Cell Technology

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Nikola Motor Company:
    • Technology Enhancements: Nikola Motor Company is at the forefront of developing hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks (FCETs). Their technology enhancements likely include advancements in fuel cell efficiency, hydrogen storage, and vehicle design to maximize range and performance.
    • Uniqueness: Nikola stands out for its holistic approach to hydrogen-powered transportation, offering not only trucks but also infrastructure solutions such as hydrogen fueling stations. Their vision encompasses zero-emission transport from production to delivery.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Nikola’s FCETs target various industries requiring heavy-duty transportation, including logistics, shipping, and long-haul trucking. Their solutions are particularly appealing to companies aiming to decarbonize their fleets and meet sustainability targets.
  • Hyundai:
    • Technology Enhancements: Hyundai is a major player in the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology for automotive applications, including trucks. Their enhancements likely involve improvements in fuel cell efficiency, durability, and integration into truck platforms.
    • Uniqueness: Hyundai’s uniqueness lies in its vertically integrated approach to hydrogen fuel cell technology, leveraging expertise across various industries, including automotive, energy, and materials. They may offer comprehensive solutions for hydrogen production, storage, and distribution.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Hyundai’s FCETs cater to a wide range of industries requiring heavy-duty transportation, including logistics, construction, and municipal services. Their solutions appeal to customers seeking sustainable alternatives to diesel-powered trucks.
  • Plug Power:
    • Technology Enhancements: Plug Power specializes in fuel cell technology and hydrogen infrastructure solutions. Their enhancements likely focus on optimizing fuel cell efficiency, reducing costs, and expanding hydrogen refueling infrastructure to support FCET deployment.
    • Uniqueness: Plug Power stands out for its expertise in hydrogen infrastructure development, offering turnkey solutions for hydrogen generation, storage, and dispensing. They may provide integrated solutions for fleet operators looking to transition to hydrogen-powered vehicles.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Plug Power’s FCET solutions target a wide range of industries, including e-commerce, food distribution, and material handling. Their hydrogen infrastructure solutions are particularly attractive to companies seeking to electrify their operations while minimizing environmental impact.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Technology Enhancements: UC Berkeley researchers are working on enhancing the efficiency and performance of hydrogen fuel cell systems for electric trucks. They are focusing on improving the durability and reliability of fuel cell components, such as membranes and catalysts, to increase the lifespan and reduce maintenance costs of FCETs.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC Berkeley’s approach includes the development of novel hydrogen storage and delivery technologies tailored for trucking applications. They are exploring advanced materials and engineering solutions to optimize the onboard hydrogen storage capacity and refueling infrastructure for FCETs, enabling longer driving ranges and faster refueling times.
    • End-use Applications: The research at UC Berkeley has direct implications for the transportation and logistics industry, particularly for long-haul trucking and freight transportation. By deploying hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks, companies can reduce their carbon footprint and comply with stringent emissions regulations while maintaining the performance and range required for heavy-duty trucking operations.
  • Stanford University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Stanford researchers are focusing on improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of hydrogen production methods for fuel cell electric trucks. They are exploring novel catalysts and electrolysis techniques to lower the energy consumption and carbon footprint of hydrogen production from renewable sources such as wind and solar.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Stanford’s approach involves the integration of hydrogen fuel cell systems with advanced powertrain technologies, such as regenerative braking and energy recovery systems. They are developing hybrid electric-hydrogen propulsion systems for trucks, optimizing the use of both hydrogen fuel cells and batteries to maximize energy efficiency and driving range.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Stanford has broad applications across the transportation sector, including urban delivery fleets, port drayage operations, and regional freight transportation. By leveraging hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks, companies can reduce air pollution and noise emissions in urban areas while enhancing the sustainability and resilience of their supply chains.
  • University of Washington:
    • Technology Enhancements: University of Washington researchers are focusing on addressing the infrastructure challenges associated with the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks. They are developing modeling tools and decision support systems to optimize the placement and design of hydrogen refueling stations along key transportation corridors.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UW’s approach includes stakeholder engagement and policy analysis to identify barriers and opportunities for the deployment of hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks. They are working closely with industry partners, government agencies, and community stakeholders to develop a roadmap for scaling up the adoption of FCETs and establishing a sustainable hydrogen economy.
    • End-use Applications: The research at UW has implications for regional and national transportation policies, as well as for the development of clean energy infrastructure. By investing in hydrogen refueling infrastructure and supporting the adoption of FCETs, policymakers can accelerate the transition to a low-carbon transportation system and achieve ambitious climate goals.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

While full-scale commercialization of FCETs is still in its early stages, several companies are testing and deploying these trucks in pilot projects. Nikola Motor Company has announced partnerships with several major logistics companies to test its trucks in real-world conditions. Hyundai is also piloting hydrogen-powered trucks in select markets.