The Netherlands has unveiled the details of a €150m ($159m) plan to subsidise hydrogen trucks, vans, buses and H2 filling stations in 2024-26, with the goal to stimulate hydrogen mobility “as a full-fledged option in addition to battery-electric transport”.

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Funding of up to €300,000 per vehicle and €2m per filling station would only be available to applications that include both vehicles and infrastructure — in a bid to solve what officials call “the chicken and egg” situation”, in which investment in hydrogen filling stations is held back due to a lack of H2 trucks, and investment in hydrogen trucks is also held back due to a lack of refuelling infrastructure.

The Hydrogen in Mobility Subsidy Scheme was first announced in November last year in what was then an unnamed €22m plan, but the funding pot has since grown to €150m, and the details were finally revealed this week in consultation documents published by the Dutch government.

The government’s previous €30m zero-emission truck subsidy scheme, AanZET, held in April this year, saw 1,600 applications for support of up to €131,900 per vehicle — but every single one of those bids was for battery-electric trucks.

There were only 27 hydrogen trucks registered in the country at the end of February, compared to more than 400 battery-electric trucks.

As one of the new consultation documents states, the cost of both hydrogen fuel infrastructure and vehicles “is now too high for market participants to invest in without additional government policy”.

It also points out that the Netherlands needs to meet the demands of the EU’s recently passed Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), which requires all 27 member states to ensure that publicly accessible 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) by 2030.

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.

The Netherlands has 24 of these urban nodes.

“The current generation of filling stations that have already been completed, and filling stations in development, predominantly have insufficient capacity for heavy transport use and therefore do not qualify for the AFIR,” the document points out, adding that the larger H2 filling stations needed will require “major investments”.

The Dutch government says that one of the goals of the subsidy scheme is “the development of 50 hydrogen filling stations by 2025”, up from the 14 publicly accessible ones in operation today, only “some of which” are suitable for heavy road transport.

The aforementioned consultation paper also explains the need for hydrogen trucks.

“In the coming decades, the transport sector must make the transition to zero emissions. It is not expected that this will be completely covered by batteries, but that a share of hydrogen will be required.”

Much of the trucking world believes that the industry will eventually favour the hydrogen route when it must switch to zero-emission vehicles, for two main reasons: freight companies base their business models on keeping their trucks on the road as much as possible, and therefore cannot afford to allow electric trucks to sit idle while recharging; and that the required infrastructure to fast-charge multiple battery trucks in the same location at the same time using renewable energy will simply not be feasible.

Others believe that future fast-charging will eliminate these potential problems, and that the lower costs of buying and running battery-electric trucks will make hydrogen trucking unaffordable.

Details

The Dutch scheme — which will not be finalised until after the public consultation, ending on 23 October — proposes covering up to 40% of the costs of the construction or upgrading of a hydrogen filling station suitable for heavy road transport, up to a maximum of €2m per station.

Each station must have a minimum daily capacity of 1,000kg of H2; be equipped with at least two independently operated pumps — with at least one of these operating at 700 bar; be available for the refuelling of both cars and trucks; be open to the public; be accessible from two directions; and allow users to pay electronically.

Maximum subsidies for trucks and buses depend on the size of the vehicle, and whether they have a fuel cell or a hydrogen combustion engine, as follows:

Light commercial vehicles (not exceeding 3.5 tonnes), ie, pick-up truck or van: €50,000

Medium-duty commercial vehicles (between 3.5 and 12 tonnes) with a fuel cell: €150,000

Medium-duty commercial vehicles with an engine: €50,000

Heavy-duty commercial vehicle (over 12 tonnes) with rigid chassis and fuel cell: €180,000

Heavy-duty commercial vehicle with rigid chassis and engine: €60,000

Heavy-duty commercial vehicle (semi-trailer tractor) with fuel cell: €300,000

Heavy-duty commercial vehicle (semi-trailer tractor) with engine: €100,000

Minibus/microvan (with less than nine seats, including the driver’s): €100,000

Bus (with more than nine seats, including the driver's, weighing less than five tonnes): €150,000

Large bus/coach (same as above, but weighing more than give tonnes) with a fuel cell: €300,000

Large bus/coach with an engine: €100,000

The maximum subsidy amount for all vehicles in a single application is €3m, and with only one filling station per application, the maximum total available is therefore €5m.

There are also subsidy ceilings — the maximum that the government will pay out — for each of the three years in which the scheme will operate.

For brand new filling stations (and vehicles), it is €24m in 2024, and €48m in both 2025 and 2026. In addition, smaller amounts are available for applications that include upgrading existing stations: €6m in 2024, and €12m in both 2025 and 2026.

It is planned that applications for subsidies can be submitted from 5 March to 16 April 2024; 4 March to 15 April 2025; and 3 March to 15 April 2026.

Winners of each year’s subsidies will be determined according to a complex ranking system.