Approval of new European CO2 emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles

by Juan Palencia | May 17, 2024 | Technical articles

Following the European Parliament’s approval of new regulations on CO2 emissions from heavy duty vehicles, the European Council formally adopted regulations on CO2 emission standards for heavy duty road transport on 13 May 2024, with new targets for 2030, 2035 and 2040.

The new regulation sets a 90% reduction in emissions for urban buses, obliging all European fleets in the Union to convert to zero-emission vehicles until 2035. The regulation will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and it will take full effect 20 days after its publication.

Figure 1. Number of hydrogen-powered city buses running in 2024. Source: Ballard

New Regulation: CO2 emission reduction targets for Heavy Transport

The new regulation keeps the existing reduction target for 2025, currently set at a 15% reduction in emissions for heavy-duty trucks above 16 tonnes. Aligned with the EU’s climate targets for 2030 and beyond, the regulation also sets the following new targets:

  • 45% emission reduction from 2030 onwards (increasing from 30%)
  • 65% emission reduction from 2035 onwards
  • 90% emission reduction from 2040 onwards

These targets will apply to medium trucks, heavy trucks over 7.5 tonnes and passenger vehicles (as well as intercity buses), as well as to the associated commercial vehicles from 2035 onwards.

The new regulation introduces a 100% zero emissions target for new city buses by 2035, with a mid-term target of 90% for this category by 2030. Intercity buses will be exempted from this target, as they will be considered as transit buses in order to measure emission reductions.

Zero Emission Buses (ZEB)

The global urban transport sector is undergoing a very significant transition towards a more sustainable future. Driving this trend, the remarkable growth of zero emission buses (ZEBs), both battery electric buses (BEBs) and fuel cell electric buses (FCEBs), are strongly becoming the backbone of public transport in most major markets worldwide.

Intercity transport companies are increasingly choosing hydrogen-powered fuel cell buses as a complement to battery-powered city buses (BEBs). Their longer operating range, fast refuelling and solid performance under extreme weather conditions are the main reason behind this choice.

Whereas BEB electric buses require several hours to refuel, FCEB hydrogen buses can be refuelled in a mere 10 minutes, thus replicating the convenience of traditional diesel buses, yet without the environmental cost of their associated emissions. Moreover, the scalability of hydrogen refuelling infrastructures and the potential of green hydrogen production to meet global climate targets ensure that hydrogen buses are not just a transitional technology but a long-term sustainable solution for public transport. Through increased public support, technological advances and commitments from the public and private sectors to achieve environmental sustainability targets, the global deployment of fuel cell electric bus fleets is witnessing a current growth among transport agencies and operators.

Leading operators such as Caetano Toyota, NFI, Wrightbus and Van Hool are at the forefront of this transition, deploying ever larger hydrogen-powered fleets across an increasing number of cities around the world. Solaris, a Polish-based company belonging to the Spanish CAF group, is a pionner on this technology with almost 200 vehicles on the road in Europe and orders for a further 500 of its emission-free 12 and 18-metre Urbino Hydrogen models over the next few years.

Ballard announces the largest purchase order in its history. 1,000 Solaris fuel cells for city buses

By early April 2024, the Canadian vehicle fuel cell manufacturer announced the supply of 1,000 fuel cell engines to the European city bus manufacturer Solaris for the hydrogen propulsion of its vehicles until 2027.

The agreement between the companies strengthens the existing orders placed previously for nearly 300 fuel cell engines as well as providing extended warranty and after-sales services to those existing orders, plus a new supply commitment for approximately 700 additional engines and after-sales warranty services. This order consolidates the largest fuel cell engine order in Ballard’s history and marks a significant step forward in its relationship with Solaris. The 1,000 units will be comprised of approximately 80% 70 kW FCmove®-HD engines and 20% 100 kW FCmove®-HD+ engines to address the 12-metre and 18-metre bus markets. Deliveries will begin in 2024 and will run up to late 2027.

These engines are expected to be deployed in city buses throughout Europe, where Solaris buses powered by Ballard fuel cell engines currently operate in more than 22 European cities. Supported by proactive zero emission policies and regulations to decarbonise urban public transport fleets, the transition to zero emission city buses has been accelerated in the last few years as fleet companies have become more aware about the added value proposition of hydrogen-powered fuel cell city buses: zero emissions, fast refuelling, long range and improved performance or duty cycle, to mention just a few.

Fuel cell city buses worldwide

According to Ballard’s data, there are a total of 1,753 FCEB buses on the road worldwide up to date. China, with 1,168, is the largest market, followed by Europe with 398 buses, North America with 170, India with 13 and Oceania with 4.

Additionally, there are dozens of FCEB buses in Japan and South Korea that Ballard does not include in this statistic. Hyundai, the Korean car manufacturer, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with KD Transportation to supply 1,000 hydrogen buses by 2027. Although it is unclear whether the agreement is commercially binding, Hyundai agreed to replace the first 100 buses with fuel cell models by this year. These buses will run in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi province, and SK will be responsible for building and supplying H2 to the six hydrogen refuelling points throughout that area. The hydrogen will be transported and stored in its liquid form.

The South Korean government sets an ambitious target of at least 21,200 hydrogen buses as part of a broader goal of 300,000 fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and more than 660 H2 refuelling stations by 2030.

Across the USA, fuel-cell electric bus deployment has enjoyed a solid 76% growth between 2022 and 2023, and 13 federal states reported the deployment of fuel-cell buses in their fleets. California remains ahead with plans to deploy more than 2,000 additional hydrogen-powered buses over the next few years, in addition to the 170 vehicles currently deployed.

In Europe, news are more positive for 2024. German cities such as Cottbus or Weimar announce 46 (Wrightbus) and 6 FCEB buses to complete their fleets. Frankfurt announces 9 Solaris Urbino 18 for 2024. Meanwhile in the UK, a partnership between Metrobus (Go Ahead), West Sussex County Council, Surrey County Council, Kent County Council and London Gatwick won a funding bid to launch a new fleet of 43 hydrogen-powered buses. In Barcelona, the municipal operator TMB has ordered 36 FCEB buses for its existing small fleet (8 in service), buses made by Solaris.

Figure 2. Solaris Urbino 18 m powered by hydrogen. Source: Solaris

Field test carried out by SynerHy

Within the framework of the Sustainable Mobility Hub promoted by INAEL ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS, SynerHy carried out a technical field test in the streets of Toledo and its surroundings for a week.

The selected vehicle, the 𝗧𝗼𝘆𝗼𝘁𝗮 𝗛𝟮.𝗖𝗶𝘁𝘆 𝗚𝗼𝗹𝗱, has the following technical characteristics:

  • FC Toyota fuel cell 60 kW. Siemens motor 180 kW peak (3,500 Nm). LTO Batteries (29-44 kWh)
  • 5 Type IV storage tanks of 37.5 kg of H2 at 350 bar
  • 9 min recharge time. 400-450 km range. Ideal consumption 6 kg/100 km

A selective test of over 600 km was carried out, looking for twisty lines, full and empty bus, heated and unheated and at an ambient temperature of 11-15 °C. The main technical conclusions of this test:

  • Consumption in good environmental and ground conditions is low < 6kg/100 km. With the bus full, the heating on and twisty ground, consumption above and very close to 6 kg/100 km.
  • Great stop&go performance on hills. The Hillholder ramp start system makes it perfect for cities like Toledo. The regenerative charging and braking system provides very good power response and low fuel consumption in mixed and demanding driving conditions.
  • Drivers noted the good turning radius in tight corners, as both axles are positioned ahead of normal buses. The suspension is electronically controlled (speed bumps).
  • The electronic filling system, fuel consumption monitoring and differentiated FC stack and auxiliary systems make it possible to control and anticipate fuel consumption and refuelling. The vehicle’s safety and connectivity are highlighted.
  • Finally, the 30-35 km range extender in battery mode (plug-in) in case of H2 powertrain failure, the high cold-start capability (pre-heating) and the aluminium outer bodywork caught a lot of attention.

Figure 3. Field test of an FCEB bus carried out by SynerHy along with Inael at Toledo. Source: Inael


According to the specific needs of urban transport companies around the world, and based on operational data, it becomes evident that FCEB (fuel cell buses) offer several advantages over BEB (battery electric buses), thus promoting the transition to zero emissions for these types of fleets.

Despite the competitive advantages related to refuelling time or range in relation to mileage, or the limited grid capacity compared to BEBs, there are significant challenges and barriers related to infrastructure and high-cost issues.

An issue for fleet operators is to address the scalability of the infrastructure and possible increases in the fleet over the long term. While the investment in BEB electric buses may initially seem minor, it becomes evident that hydrogen-powered FCEB buses offer a competitive advantage economically as the number of zero emission buses increases, due to the scalability of the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and their position as a 1:1 entry point for replacing existing diesel or natural gas vehicles and fleets.

It is worth underlining that the main objective of municipal and regional transport companies is to offer the best possible user experience. FCEBs are a guarantee of an optimal user solution for both users and fleet operators.

We at SynerHy have always been committed to the deployment of hydrogen-powered FCEBs to provide an operational complement to electric bus fleets. We always remember that hydrogen buses powered by fuel cells are electric buses, as are those powered by batteries.