The future of zero emission HGVs


The government is investing £200 million in four projects that aim to put zero-emission trucks on the road, as well as the charging and refuelling infrastructure needed. Robyn Quick takes a look at the projects.

Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) are essential to so many of the UK’s industries, yet they are one of the most polluting modes of transport in terms of contributing to carbon emissions.     

While HGVs made up a much smaller proportion of the vehicle miles compared to cars (six per cent), their emissions were disproportionately greater (21 per cent), according to government statistics.     

The UK has targets of ending the sale of new non-zero emission vans and trucks under 26 tonnes by 2035 and trucks over 26 tonnes by 2040.     

But with this comes significant challenges due to the size and weight of such vehicles, and the distances they need to travel.     

The future of the freight sector can seem daunting in terms of transitioning to zero emission vehicles, so we have broken it down to show you a glimpse of what it could look like. 

What is being done to make this happen?

The UK government is investing £200 million into projects that are testing zero-emission trucks and deploying the charging infrastructure they require.     

Delivered in partnership with Innovate UK, the funding from the zero emission HGV and infrastructure demonstrator programme (known as ZEHID) will put a total of 370 zero emission trucks on the road, as well as 57 refuelling and electric charging sites, through four innovative green projects.     

The government said the funding will help supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer lower their transport emissions while protecting them from rising delivery costs associated with changing petrol and diesel prices. This could help prevent price hikes across supermarkets, allowing people to save money on food and groceries to help with the cost of living. 

What are the projects the government is investing in?

There are four different projects that will be funded under the zero emission HGV and infrastructure demonstrator programme. They are all based across the UK, ranging from Birmingham to London.

One project that will be receiving the funding is GRIDSERVE’s Project Electric Freightway, which aims to put in place high-powered charging sites at motorway service areas, truck stops and commercial depots, as well as a fleet of up to 140 eHGVs.     

Within the first two years of this seven-year project, GRIDESERVE plans to install over 200 high power chargers across key motorway service areas and more than 10 commercial depot charging locations.

They will also be deploying at least two one megawatt capacity high power chargers.     
Under EU laws, HGV drivers must not exceed 4.5 hours of driving without taking a 45-minute break. GRIDSERVE said their project will provide truck drivers with the most powerful EV chargers for these 45-minute windows so that they don’t need to change behaviours.

Data collection will run for five years to collate valuable insights into the electrification of eHGVs to support the ongoing transition. The project will run until 2030.     

Programme director of Hitachi ZeroCarbon, James Comer, said the project is “the pioneer demonstration for the decarbonisation of the UK’s logistics industry and will tangibly test what a zero carbon future could look like.”     

Sam Clarke, chief vehicle officer at GRIDSERVE, added: “In Electric Freightway, we’ll push electric HGVs to their limits to establish just what is possible, while highlighting where there is the need for process, technological or policy innovation to enable the transition to electric.”


Next, we have Voltempo whose eFREIGHT 2030 project will demonstrate up to 100 battery electric HGVs in partnership with Renault Trucks, Scania and DAF. Marks and Spencer and Menzies Distribution are some of the fleet operators confirmed to be participating.     

Voltempo has also reserved ten vehicles for short term use by SMEs through leasing company Vertellus. This will help to combat any cost restrictions that create barriers to smaller fleets getting involved in testing how e-HGVs could work for their business.     

The project also aims to put in place 32 new charging locations, all of which will have megawatt-charging capacity.     

As well as this, Voltempo will use some funding  to develop both the technology and the business case for an ultra-rapid charging hub that can be delivered to a new site and operational within hours, for both short-term trials and long-term use.     

Mike Boxwell, group CEO of Voltempo, which is leading the eFREIGHT 2030 project, said: “A key part of this work will be to stretch boundaries by focusing on ‘difficult’ use cases, including long-range, multi-shift and power take-off, using data modelling to resolve challenges.”

Hydrogen power

Protium’s Hydrogen Aggregated Logistics (HyHAUL) will deploy around 30 hydrogen fuel cell HGVs onto the M4. The HGV fleet will be serviced by one fixed hydrogen refuelling station and mobile refuelling in two other locations. In the long term, the project aims to implement two additional permanent hydrogen refuelling stations in Magor and Bridgend, alongside additional hydrogen conversion projects along the motorway.       

Rebecca Zeitlin from Protium said the project is still in its initial stages. She said: “We are still open to new interest, so we encourage hauliers who are interested in accessing hydrogen fuel cell HGVs to get in touch.”     

As part of their zero emissions aim, Protium has recently supported a hydrogen FCEV van trial in Wales.     

Project Zero Emission North (ZEN) Freight is the fourth project to receive government funding. It will demonstrate up to 70 battery electric and 30 hydrogen fuel HGVs. Eddie Stobart and Royal Mail are just two of the fleet operators participating in this scheme.     

Why is it so hard to make HGVs carbon free?

There are several reasons HGVs are difficult to transform into a zero emission vehicle. Firstly, HGVs are (obviously) much heavier than smaller vehicles, and can weigh up to 44 tonnes. Using the usual batteries to electrify vehicles is not powerful enough to power to such a heavy load.     
It is also very expensive to replace combustion engines with electric or hydrogen fuelled vehicles, so some companies may be more hesitant to make the change without cheaper options. While they are expected to be cost effective by 2030, many say this is not soon enough to generate real change within the industry.     

There are interim solutions that can help HGVs greatly reduce their emissions, such as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). This fuel is made from waste cooking oil, crops and animal fats that would otherwise go to waste. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, HVO works with the diesel engines that fleets already use, so there is no initial cost to buy new vehicles. However, it is more expensive than diesel and not as sustainable as hydrogen batteries.     

Natural gas can be used as a road fuel either as a liquefied natural gas (LNG) or a compressed natural gas (CNG). It produces less harmful emissions than conventional fuels, as well as less nitrous oxide emissions, as well as zero particulate emissions.     

The work is being done to make zero emission HGVs cost effective and fit for purpose. Electric and hydrogen powered HGVs may one day overtake their combustion engine counterparts in price and power. This shift would have an excellent benefit for the freight sector and businesses both economically and environmentally.     

Making this change to significantly reduce the sector’s impact on the environment may take some time, so acting now is critical.