At last month’s Road Transport Expo, a special two-hour segment of the conference session was dedicated to a progress update from the UK’s DfT-funded ZEHID programme, bringing all four projects on stage for the first time in public.

Visitors to the recent RTX 2024 were treated to an in depth progress report on the Zero Emission HGV and infrastructure (ZEHID) demonstrator programme, with presentations from all four consortia taking part in this groundbreaking initiative, which was launched in October last year with £200m of government funding. It was standing room only at the RTX Knowledge Zone as Innovate UK’s Dr Isabella Panovic, ZEHID programme lead, kicked off the proceedings with a brief overview of the initiative.

Innovate UK’s Isabella Panovic getting things underway

She said the four consortia will procure around 350 zero emission vehicles – both battery electric and hydrogen-powered – which will all hit the road by 2026, supported by the roll out of a comprehensive national network of public and depot-based charging installations. Panovic emphasised the importance of the four consortia’s commitment to regularly share trial data on issues such as total cost of ownership and performance, to help build sector confidence, adding that a number of papers are already published.

Electric Freightway

Next up was Sam Clarke, Chief Vehicle Officer at electric charging installation company Gridserve, which is leading the Electric Freightway consortium, the largest of the four consortia. Clarke said: “Our expectation is to put 140 trucks on the road and 220 high powered chargers at over 30 public and private sites around the UK. It’s a big ambition, but we are here to do it.“ 

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Electric Freightway is the largest of the ZEHID programme projects

Turning to Gridserve’s charging infrastructure, Clarke said: “We’re focusing on how we can deliver really high powered charging, so when a vehicle stops for 45 minutes, it can fill it up with enough energy to go to its next destination, removing the need for a bigger battery, so you can transport the same amount of freight.” Clarke said challenges in designing the charging installations include making them HGV destruction-proof and how to squeeze them into already overcrowded HGV motorway parking areas - problems he said Gridserve is confident it can overcome.

Electric Freightway already has trucks on the road and Clarke proudly showed delegates a video of the first Volvo battery electric vehicle deployed with consortium member AF Blakemore. Clarke said Gridserve’s principle partner Hitachi ZeroCarbon is already crunching the data and sharing those findings publicly to help hauliers make informed decisions.

He encouraged delegates to read Electric Freightway’s first report, published in March, adding: “We want to really understand and disseminate the right information back to the wider audience.”

eFreight 2030

Michael Boxwell, CEO of Voltempo then took to the stage to talk about eFreight 2030’s strategy.

The eFreight consortium, led by EV charging developer Voltempo, plans to roll out 35 of Voltempo’s megawatt charging hubs across the country, each one operating up to six charging bays. These will charge a fleet of 100 eHGVs.

The consortium is also throwing open its doors to smaller hauliers, launching an associate membership programme next year which will bring on board up to 40 associate membersover the life of the trial.

Boxwell explained: “We want to be inclusive and involve the whole industry. Fleets will be able to join the programme on a shorter term basis, hiring vehicles and infrastructure for six to 12 or perhaps 18 months, to try electric vehicles for themselves.”

Associate members will also get access to the same data modelling and total cost of ownership templates as eFreight’s partner hauliers, provided by software provider and consortium member Dynamon.

Boxwell added: “We want lots of people trying out these vehicles, from small one-man van operations to big corporates.”


The floor then heard from HyHaul. Led by green hydrogen energy solutions provider Protium, it is the only ZEHID consortium focusing exclusively on delivering a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure and trialling hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks.

David Langford, Protium project delivery head, said HyHaul plans to open at least three public refuelling stations to power an initial fleet of 30 hydrogen fuel cell HGVs, which will begin operating along the M4 corridor by 2026.

By 2030 the consortium hopes to have 300 trucks on the road, with plans to extend the network to the M5, M6 and beyond.

Langford highlighted the benefits of hydrogen in terms of range and recharge time, pointing out that the 42 tonne hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks on the trial will be able to deliver a 435 mile range at 700 bar and 275 miles at 350 bar, with refuelling time of less than 20 minutes.

In addition, he said, the lease price of the HGVs will be comparable to their diesel equivalents.

ZEN Freight

Langford was followed by Tom Williams, Maritime Transport deputy CEO, who brought news of the restructuring of the Zero Emission Northern (ZEN) Freight consortium, following BP’s decision to pull out of the programme.

Williams said since BP’s departure in April consortium members have worked together, supported by the other three ZEHID consortia, to reset the project, with Dynamon replacing BP as project lead.

ZEN Freight will run a benchmarking programme, comparing the performance of 62 battery electric provided by Scania, DAF and Daimler, and 16 hydrogen trucks, supplied by Iveco and Scania, to their diesel equivalents.

All vehicles will be in operation by 2026 with ZEN Freight gathering and sharing all data and operational learnings across the trial.

Williams said: “We are the only project comparing a baseline of diesel to battery electric and then to hydrogen fuel cell. This will really help the industry come to the right decision.”

Turning to the electric charging infrastructure, he said: “We are creating an easy access, common user, shared network, similar to eFreight, which allows the project to be delivered at pace.”

This will see a network of 30 sites developed, providing up to 15MW of power, along with access to Gridserve and eFreight’s charging installations.

Meanwhile Zen Freight’s hydrogen fleet will use the UK’s existing network of charging installations, with a commitment to using green hydrogen producers.

Williams then gave the stage to Angus Webb, CEO of software provider Dynamon, which is supplying data analysis services to both Zen Freight and eFreight 2030, using Dynamon’s Zero software, which is fleet decarbonization planning tool.

Webb said: “All of the analysis and planning can be handled by this software. It’s connected to telematics companies all over the world. It enables you to bring in all the data of your existing operations and understand vehicle suitability, what routes to put the vehicles on, what you need to do in your depots in terms of charging infrastructure, energy and grid connections, as well as delivering a full cost analysis.”

Webb said the Zen Freight project will go through three phases – soft start, ramp up and stress test.

He explained: “Ultimately, we’re working towards stress test, driving the utilisation of the zero emission vehicles as close to diesel as possible, because that’s the goal of this project.

“The funding is not there to just put zero emission vehicles in the easy parts of the fleet operation, it’s to prove they can replace diesel. Achieving that stress test is going to be challenging. There’s issues with zero emission vehicles that need to be overcome,” he warned adding that planning analysis and giving the necessary tools and procedures to the fleets was key to solving these challenges.

All five speakers then returned to the stage to answer questions from the audience.

Questions & Answers

One key concern was how effectively data will be shared with the industry. Panovic said data will not only be shared by the consortia but also via Innovate UK’s independent technical evaluator, Ricardo. She added: “It’s a requirement and core ambitions of the programme to share data openly.”

Williams added: “Collaboration is hugely important. Yes, it’s alien to the industry, but if we want to actually decarbonize at pace and scale, we all need to work together.”

The panel was asked if the charging infrastructure roll out can keep up with the programme. Boxwell said the programme will have a combined total of around 500 electric chargers at the start of the programme, which exceeds the number of vehicles on the trial. Turning to the future, he said eFreight is providing district network operators with trial data giving them the information needed to better plan grid connections to meet future demand.

Williams argued that data analysis will play a key role. He said analysing whether a site needs a megawatt or a half a megawatt can make huge differences in terms of costs and lead time for a grid upgrade. “Doing the planning is really important to avoid that unnecessary spend and delay,” he added.

Langford noted there are around 7,000 diesel refuelling stations in the UK, providing about five billion litres of diesel to the industry. “That’s a lot of work to provide an equivalent level of energy, ignoring the efficiency factors,” he said. “For hydrogen, that means a lot of refuelling stations, probably in the hundreds, not in the thousands, and in the form of regional hubs around the strategic road network.” Looking ahead, he added: “I think we’ll move towards a pipe network ultimately, supporting the grid, much like we have today in terms of our energy distribution between gaseous and electrons.”

The panel then turned to the benefits of hydrogen versus electric vehicles. Williams said as an operator involved in rail, Maritime sees a great future for battery electric, with rail delivering the long journeys and BEVs the shorter distances. He added: “The issues with battery electric are payload, range and recharge time. You can argue hydrogen addresses all of them, but the big issue there is cost. But if the cost of the hydrogen vehicle comes down significantly, that could be a legitimate fuel for the future.”

Clarke argued that BEV technology is constantly improving. “Electric trucks will be doing 400 to 500 miles very soon, with vehicles megawatt charging in 10 or 20 minutes. The price point is coming down all the time. The economics suggest in the next five, 10 or 15, years, battery electric will have a commercial viability that will enable massive uptake,” he added.

Pointing to the rise in electric cars, Boxwell said: “As their range, performance and infrastructure has got better, nobody now talks about hydrogen for cars or vans. I see the same thing happening for trucks.”

Another question from the floor was on the impact of charging bays on lorry parking spaces. Clarke said this was one of the biggest challenges but added that the motorway services operators are already tackling the shortage by developing or extending parking spaces. He added: “This is a good time to work more closely with them on how we can provide charging infrastructure on their sites - because they are acutely aware battery electric is the future.”


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