A study released in December 2020 says there is still much work to be done to understand the full extent of the role that hydrogen and other low emission technologies will play in the path to decarbonising the long-distance heavy freight transport sector in Aotearoa. Dr Cristiano Marantes, Ara Ake Chief Executive, noted that in making the transition there are several rapidly evolving options each with social costs and benefits to be considered. 

The study conducted for Ara Ake by NERA Economic Consulting, found that existing quantitative research undertaken in New Zealand into hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) as an option to decarbonise long-distance heavy freight focused almost entirely on the costs to truck operators of running FCEVs compared to vehicles powered by electric batteries or diesel.

“Consequently, issues such as the ability of owners to purchase new technology vehicles, the economic and environmental impacts of decommissioning the existing diesel fleet, the ability of manufacturers to scale up production to meet the demand for vehicles using new fuels, the potential to make greater use of rail and coastal shipping, and the potential use of other low emissions fuels were not taken into consideration in the quantification of costs. Therefore the existing quantitative analyses do not paint a complete picture. Furthermore, the likely advances in both battery and fuel cell technology are considered inconsistently across the studies and the assumptions made may already be out of date,” said Marantes.

Marantes said New Zealand’s heavy truck fleet contributed 27 percent of total transport emissions but accounted for only seven percent of total annual travel. 

“Decarbonising the heavy freight industry would be a major step towards a low-emission economy. However, it is important we consider not just that final destination, but also the best way for us to get there,” said Marantes.

“What works for a single operator at a single point in time is not necessarily the best solution for the whole industry, let alone for society overall” 

Marantes said focusing on the search for a single long-term solution to what was a multi-faceted problem could mean missing opportunities to make significant reductions in emissions in the interim.

“Policy settings and incentives must be flexible enough to encourage all viable options to be brought forward,” he said.

Marantes said while government had a key role to play in supporting the development of new energy innovations, if that support was not implemented carefully it could advantage technologies that may not provide the best long run solution.

Marantes said funding and other decisions taken now would have long term implications for New Zealand’s progress towards establishing a sustainable, low-emission economy. It was therefore essential that those decisions were based on comprehensive information. For example, decarbonisation of long-distance heavy freight is likely to require a number of technologies.

“To determine which technology is best suited for each application, we need a publicly available total cost of ownership model that incorporates economy-wide costs and benefits, not just the capital and operating costs incurred by individual truck operators,” Marantes said.

Marantes said Ara Ake was working on how to develop such a model, which would incorporate data on freight movements within Aotearoa. Ara Ake would be looking to collaborate with the Ministry of Transport/Te Manatū Waka and industry groups to compile this data. 

Other issues needing further attention include the potential role of biofuel, blue hydrogen, and cleaner burning fossil fuels, as well as opportunities to increase the use of other means of transport such as rail and coastal shipping.

Marantes said the ongoing review of long distance freight transport decarbonisation options demonstrated one aspect of how Ara Ake will carry contribute to a just transition to a low emissions economy. “Through research, collaboration and practical assistance we intend to give government and other decision-makers the information they need to make accurate and well-informed decisions,” he said.

Read the Long-Distance Heavy Freight study here.


About Ara Ake

Ara Ake (formerly known as the National New Energy Development Centre) was officially launched in July 2020. Ara Ake was established to help effect a just transition to a low emissions economy. 

Since its launch, Ara Ake has appointed several key staff and is on track to meet its establishment goals, ahead of schedule. 

Ara Ake has a project under way on the need for and nature of an energy accelerator based in Taranaki, is assisting a project to develop content and presentation for external investment, and is also working on assessing social justice elements of the transition to a low emissions economy.