The Council of the EU has given the final rubber-stamp of approval for the EU’s Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), which sets targets for member states to roll out electric charging and hydrogen refuelling stations and encourage the uptake of zero-emissions vehicles.

Stay ahead on hydrogen with our free newsletter
Keep up with the latest developments in the international hydrogen industry with the free Accelerate Hydrogen newsletter. Sign up now for an unbiased, clear-sighted view of the fast-growing hydrogen sector.

While consumers are generally opting for electric passenger cars over H2 options, the EU identifies heavy-duty vehicles as “the most likely segment for the early mass deployment of hydrogen-powered vehicles”.

However, uptake has been limited to date due to a lack of filling stations, with the preamble to AFIR noting that “hydrogen refuelling points are only deployed in a few Member States and are largely unsuitable for heavy-duty vehicles”.

As such, in order to ensure “seamless travel” of hydrogen-fuelled transport throughout Europe, member states will have to ensure by the end of 2030 that publicly accessible gaseous H2 filling stations capable of serving both heavy-duty and light vehicles are set up in every “urban node” and every 200km along the core routes of the planned Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

The TEN-T core network links “urban nodes” — an EU term for 424 major cities in the bloc with ports, airports and rail terminals — across Europe and is expected to be completed by the start of next decade.

Each hydrogen refuelling stations must also have a minimum capacity of one tonne per day and a 700 bar dispenser.

However, the regulation allows for this daily capacity to be reduced by up to 50% if the station is placed along roads with an annual average daily traffic of less than 2,000 heavy-duty vehicles and deployment “cannot be justified in socio-economic cost-benefit terms”.

Member states will also have to review these cases every two years as part of their national progress reporting.

Additionally, prices charged by refuelling station operators “shall be reasonable, easily and clearly comparable, transparent and non-discriminatory”, with ad hoc prices per kilogramme clearly displayed to end users before they start a refuelling session.

However, renewable hydrogen prices at the pump are expected to be expensive compared to fossil fuels, which could keep a switchover between current heavy-duty vehicles and H2-powered versions extremely slow despite an upcoming mandate for at least 1% of fuels supplied to Europe’s transport sector to be “renewable fuels of non-biological origin” — ie, H2 or its derivatives.

Similarly, battery-electric versions of heavy-duty vehicles are steadily being developed — and could be cheaper to run, but will require hours to charge, rather than minutes.

AFIR requires fast recharging stations of at least 150kW for cars and vans, as well as charging points for heavy-duty vehicles with a minimum 350kW output, to be installed every 60km along the TEN-T core network by the end of 2025.

And by the end of 2024, the European Commission has to submit a technology and market-readiness report on heavy-duty vehicles to the EU’s Parliament and Council, with a particular focus on high-power recharging standards, electric road systems, and the use of liquid hydrogen.

While AFIR implies that this review could result in setting a higher capacity at H2 refuelling stations or the introduction of sub-targets for liquid hydrogen refuelling stations, it could also mean that no further action is taken to encourage the uptake over electric options.

The new regulation is due to be published in the EU’s official journal — effectively signing it into law — after the summer and will enter into force after 20 days. The rules will apply from six months after the regulation enters into force.