It was announced in September of 2023 that there’s been a new development in the quest for zero-emission semi trucks. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, together with key engine and truck makers, have reach an agreement on developing zero-emissions commercial trucks. This agreement is quite far-reaching, but it also allows for a generous amount of time to put into place; truckers won’t have to worry about immediate changes to emissions tests when getting their annual DOT inspection.
The ultimate goal of the Clean Trucks Partnership agreement is for Californian manufacturers to adopt zero-emissions technology; this will take collaboration from both sides. Manufacturers have also agreed to abide by the terms of the agreement, even though they’re stricter than what’s outlined by the federal Clean Air Act. Partners in the Clean Trucks Partnership include:
- Volvo Group North America
- Isuzu Technical Center of America
- Hino Motors
- General Motors
- Daimler Truck North America
- Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association
CARB acknowledged that manufacturers will need time to adopt new processes and technologies, and even set limits on how fast they could introduce new regulations. Some of the key points of the agreement are:
- Truck manufacturers will adhere to CARBS’s regulations regarding criteria pollutants and zero-emission goals, even if other entities challenge their authority to go above and beyond federal standards.
- CARB will provide a minimum of three years of regulatory stability, and a minimum of four years’ lead time, before they impose new requirements.
- CARB will modify some parts of the 2024 NOx emission regulations, with manufacturers providing offsets as needed to meet the state’s emission targets. CARB will also align with the EPA’s 2027 regulations that govern nitrogen oxide emissions.
In March, California became the first place in the world to require truck manufacturers to produce zero-emissions vehicles. This partnership has been formed at a crucial time, as California prepares to implement groundbreaking regulations to phase in 100% zero-emissions technology with medium- to heavy-duty vehicles. The goal is for this to happen by 2045, and with these new rules in place, concrete steps are already being made.
According to Laine Randolph, the chair of CARB, this deal was unprecedented. Many people and entities had been pushing for zero-emission vehicles to be put into widespread use, but manufacturers were reluctant to move quickly on the issue. However, these new regulations are sure to get things going much more quickly than before, at least in California.
The question is, how will manufacturers produce zero-emissions vehicles if electric vehicles aren’t ready for universal rollouts? Even though they’re getting increasingly popular, the infrastructure and functionality just isn’t robust enough for the trucking industry. A more likely alternative is technology such as hydrogen fuel cells, which produce only H2O (water) when used. Alternative fuels like hydrogen fuel cells have caught the attention of zero-emissions advocates, but are they really the answer to carbon-neutral vehicles? Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons.
- Hydrogen is a renewable (and available) fuel source
Unlike fossil fuels, of which there are a limited supply worldwide, hydrogen can hypothetically be extracted from water in unlimited amounts. This removes one of the crucial obstacles of fuel usage, which is the potential of running out.
- Hydrogen is a clean energy source
The only byproducts of using hydrogen fuel cells are water and heat – nothing more. Plus, the production of hydrogen doesn’t require huge tracts of land, like what you see with hydropower or biofuels. Hydrogen fuel is so non-toxic that NASA is even exploring technology that would allow astronauts to drink the water that’s generated as a by-product of burning hydrogen.
- Hydrogen fuel is highly efficient
It’s all well and good to require vehicle manufacturers to produce zero-emissions vehicles, but consumers shouldn’t have to pay the price with ineffective alternative fuels. In the case of hydrogen fuel cells, they actually reduce fuel consumption by 50% while using a higher percentage of the fuel’s energy compared to traditional gasoline.
- Hydrogen fuel produces almost zero emissions
If hydrogen fuel became widely used in medium- to large-sized vehicles, the levels of CO2 emissions would drop noticeably – which is the entire goal of the emissions agreement spearheaded by CARB. This could also improve local air quality, which is an increasingly urgent problem in many areas. While reducing the world’s carbon footprint has been a priority for decades, proponents of alternative fuels also point out how dangerous it is to have prolonged exposure to high levels of exhaust.
- Hydrogen takes a lot of energy to extract
Even though hydrogen is abundantly present all over the world, the process of isolating it and turning it into fuel is costly and inefficient. In fact, the energy that’s used to generate hydrogen fuel is actually more than what the fuel itself can provide. Plus, the process usually involves the use of fossil fuels, which does undermine hydrogen’s credentials as a green alternative fuel.
- Hydrogen fuel cells aren’t ready for widespread implementation
Like electric vehicles, there’s plenty of interest in hydrogen fuel cells, but they just haven’t gotten mainstream implementation. If truck manufacturers start making vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel cells, that will go a long way towards promoting their use. However, will consumers opt for these vehicles, when they could stick with the vehicles and fuel that they’re already familiar with?
- Hydrogen fuel cells are expensive
Despite its many benefits, hydrogen fuel is simply too expensive to be widely used at this point. This will likely change as the technology is refined, but the way things are now, only the most dedicated environmentalists would commit to running their vehicles on hydrogen fuel.
Even though the adoption of new technologies presents an obstacle for truck manufacturers, it’s a necessary step if they’re going to hit zero-emission goals on time. The Clean Trucks Partnership may only apply to a single state, but it sets an important precedent for other states in the US, and possibly even other countries that are also committed to reducing emissions.