- The overall fuel-cell market, estimated at around $3 billion in 2020, may reach $30 billion by 2030.
- Fuel-cell makers have advanced energy density significantly over the past two decades.
- Automakers and startups say hydrogen can be an effective solution for the commercial-vehicle market.
Over the past decade, battery-electric vehicles have established themselves as the de facto alternative to gasoline engines for consumer vehicles.
For large commercial vehicles, however, hydrogen power is getting a closer look. Rising fuel costs, the possibility of stricter emissions regulations to come, and questions about battery supplies, have all increased the appeal of zero-emission fuel cells.
Allied Market Research calculates that the overall fuel-cell market, estimated at around $3 billion in 2020, could reach around $30 billion by 2030. The promise is clear: Hydrogen can be used as a liquid fuel, meaning it can be stored, moved, and deployed in ways similar to gasoline and diesel.
Hydrogen trucks could carry enough fuel to travel hundreds of miles without refueling, and that range is primed to improve as automotive companies advance their technology. When they do refuel, it happens in a manner of minutes as opposed to the half hour required to recharge a Tesla semitruck.
Fuel-cell makers have advanced the energy density of their product significantly over the past two decades, to the point they are now a viable way to move heavy-duty trucks down the road, Timothy Lipman, the codirector of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California Berkeley, said.
Lipman told Insider that a mixture of established automakers and startups are vying to prove hydrogen can be a reliable and cost-effective solution for short- and long-haul trucking as more countries and companies race to slash their transportation emissions.
With this market set to explode in the coming years, here’s a look at who’s best poised to reap the benefits.
CEO: Jae-Hoon Chang
Market Cap: $27.62 billion
HQ: Seoul, South Korea
The South Korean automotive giant gained experience building fuel cells for concept cars and consumer vehicles such as the Hyundai Nexo over the past couple of decades. In 2020, it began to produce fuel-cell versions of its Xcient semitruck, which can travel 250 miles on a full tank of hydrogen. A pilot project at the Center for Transportation and the Environment in Northern California will use 30 Xcient fuel-cell trucks, which will mark the vehicle’s debut in the United States. As part of a commercial project for HyLane, 27 more are headed to Germany.
Toyota / Hino
CEO: Akio Toyoda
Market Cap: $197.72 billion
HQ: Toyota City, Japan
Like Hyundai, this Japanese colossus benefits from years of building fuel cells for hydrogen vehicles, and its Mirai, which began production in 2014, was one of the first mass-produced fuel-cell cars. Toyota said in 2020 it would partner with Hino Motors, a wholly owned subsidiary in the Toyota group, to build heavy-duty fuel-cell trucks with a cruising range of around 370 miles.
This July, it announced plans alongside Hino, Isuzu, and CJPT — a Toyota-Hino-Isuzu partnership — to develop a hydrogen-powered light-duty truck, which are used for restocking supermarkets as opposed to carrying cargo cross-country. That model is due to enter production in early 2023.
CEO: Martin Lundstedt
Market Cap: $32.97 billion
HQ: Gothenburg, Sweden
Volvo Trucks said in June 2022 it had begun testing hydrogen fuel-cell trucks. Volvo claims a range comparable to diesel trucks, up to about 620 miles, and said the trucks can be topped off with hydrogen in 15 minutes or less. The trucks carry two fuel cells capable of towing around 65 tons of weight.
CEO: Michael Lohscheller
Market Cap: $2.19 billion
HQ: Phoenix, Arizona
It’s been a bumpy road for the startup Nikola Motors. The startup sprang to prominence in 2016 with the announcement of the Nikola One, a hydrogen semitruck powered by proprietary fuel cells that claimed eye-popping capabilities such as a range of more than a thousand miles on a single fill-up. When those assertions didn’t pan out, Trevor Milton, the founder, left the company and got into legal trouble for allegedly misleading investors.
Yet of late, Nikola appears to have stabilized. It delivered beer for its investor Anheuser-Busch before this February’s Super Bowl to show its trucks in action, and now produces both battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell semitrucks. The Tre, its hydrogen-powered cabover-style truck, promises 500 miles of range and a refueling time of 20 minutes.
CEO: Parker Meeks
Market Cap: $480 million
HQ: Rochester, New York
Hyzon was born in 2018 when the Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies spun off the company in the US to develop heavy-duty hydrogen-powered vehicles. The company offers a slate of hydrogen trucks of varying range and configuration. It has delivered nearly 100 fuel-cell semis to date, and has signed an agreement to build a fuel-cell vehicle-assembly plant in Saudi Arabia.
However, this has proven to be a turbulent summer for Hyzon: The company has gone through a leadership change and a delay in reporting second-quarter earnings following allegations of financial irregularities, which Hyzon denied.
CEO: Andrew Marsh
Market Cap: $14.97 billion
HQ: Latham, New York
Plug’s primary business is building fuel cells that can replace the conventional batteries in vehicles, and its client list includes Renault, the US Postal Service, and Amazon. In the latter case, Plug Power has provided Amazon with more than 15,000 fuel cells to replace the batteries in its warehouse forklifts since 2016. Plug just signed a new deal to provide the behemoth with the liquid hydrogen necessary to run its fuel-cell vehicles starting in 2025.
Ballard Power Systems
CEO: Randall MacEwen
Market Cap: $2.14 billion
HQ: Vancouver, Canada
Founded in the 1970s to research lithium-battery technology, Ballard pivoted to fuel cells in the 1980s and has become a leading manufacturer for not only trucks and buses, but also in trains and mining. As part of a deal with Weichai group, Ballard is building fuel cells in China to power fuel-cell vehicles in that market. Its other clients include the auto giant Audi and bus-making companies like Solaris, New Flyer, and Van Hool.