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BEVs or FCEVs: Which Zero Emission Vehicle is Right for Your Fleet?

Choosing a BEV or FCEV
Chelsey Hendrickson,<br>AICP

Chelsey Hendrickson,

Transportation Planner

Jenna McDavid

Jenna McDavid

Clean Transportation Strategy Expert

Peter Meyerhofer, </br>P.E.

Peter Meyerhofer,

Transit Facility Design and Operations Expert

The widespread commitment to reduce carbon emissions is accelerating the transition to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) among government and commercial fleets across the globe. As the market evolves, fleet operators are continuously asking our team of engineers and planners how they can determine which type of ZEV is right for their operations—battery electric vehicles (BEVs) or fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). When making this decision, it is important to consider operational considerations, lifecycle costs, infrastructure requirements, and lifecycle emissions.

Operational Considerations

Topography, climate, and service frequencies all impact a fleet’s operations. It is important to understand the conditions of operations when choosing the right ZEV.

BEVs: Heavy-duty BEVs perform well in moderate climates, gentle topographic areas, and for short to medium travel routes. Many light-duty vehicle fleets have begun the transition to BEVs. Battery electric buses (BEBs) are also used across the country when conditions allow and are the predominant ZEV technology of choice for transit agencies because of their excellent torque and smooth, quiet rides. Awareness of battery capacity will also be vital to successful operation of your fleet—keep in mind that most BEVs require several hours to recharge. Assuming proper care and typical operating conditions, these batteries could last up to 8 to 10 years before replacement.

FCEVs: FCEVs are known for performing well in extreme climates, capable of handling long travel service routes and performing well in hilly and mountainous terrain without losing power. Because they are typically lighter than their battery electric counterparts, fuel cell buses tend to be more maneuverable and excel when facing steep inclines. These vehicles can be refueled in a few minutes.

Lifecycle Costs

While upfront costs may be higher when compared to vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs), ZEVs are more cost-effective over the lifespan of the vehicles. Evaluating the total cost of ownership and considering the differences in upfront capital, annual maintenance, and infrastructure requirements are key factors in deciding the type of ZEV for your fleet.

BEVs: Depending on the type of BEV, upfront costs are typically lower than most FCEVs, so they can be quickly phased into your fleet. Due to their lack of moving parts, BEVs also have lower lifetime maintenance and repair costs. Fuel costs are also typically lower for BEVs than for FCEVs.

FCEVs: Today, costs for converting fleets to FCEVs are higher than for BEVs for two main reasons: (1) the costs of the vehicles and fueling infrastructure are higher; and (2) limited availability of hydrogen fuel in many parts of the country means higher fueling costs. Compared to natural gas vehicles, FCEVs have significantly lower maintenance and repair costs, but these costs are generally still higher than for BEVs.

Infrastructure Requirements

When transitioning your fleet to ZEVs it is vital to understand the necessary infrastructure requirements.

BEVs: When and where BEVs charge are key factors to consider when it comes to operations and required infrastructure. Examine the type, quantity, and cost of chargers needed to power your fleet to mitigate any impacts to service. Initiate conversations with your electric utility early in your planning process to ensure they can meet the power needs for charging your vehicles. When time-of-use electricity rates are available, timing your charging to correspond with off-peak periods can help minimize power costs. Compared to FCEVs, infrastructure costs will be lower.

FCEVs: FCEVs require compressed hydrogen gas and are filled at hydrogen fueling stations. There are currently only a few dozen of these stations in the U.S., so it is important to remember that although onsite hydrogen fueling stations can be costly, this infrastructure may be necessary for large fleets.

Lifecycle Emissions

Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions—also known as well-to-wheel emissions—are the total emissions resulting from the production, processing, transportation, and consumption of fuels. Lifecycle emissions can vary based on a vehicle’s fuel type and source or location of power.

BEVs: Although BEVs are entirely electric and produce no tailpipe emissions, their lifecycle emissions will vary based on the generation source for the electricity used to charge them. If your local electric utility relies on fossil fuels to generate electricity, the lifecycle emissions associated with BEV operation will be higher than if your utility relies on renewable resources like solar or wind power. To learn more about the electricity generation mix in your area, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Electricity Sources and Emissions tool.

FCEVs: Like BEVs, FCEVs do not produce harmful tailpipe emissions—they emit water vapor, so their lifecycle emissions will vary based on how their fuel is generated—whether it is based on fossil fuels, renewable energy, or nuclear power. About 95% of the hydrogen fuel in the U.S. today is generated using natural gas.

The Future of ZEVs Through Smart Growth

Integrating ZEVs into your fleet operation is a step towards a greener future. Operational considerations, lifecycle costs, infrastructure requirements, and lifecycle emissions are essential considerations when selecting which ZEV is right for your fleet. A thoughtful approach is necessary, and while the conversion may take many years to complete, we’ve worked with many organizations on effective and efficient ways to implement seamless transitions to ZEVs.

Where are you in your fleet conversion journey? We would love to hear from you!

About the Experts

Chelsey Hendrickson, AICP

Chelsey Hendrickson, AICP

Chelsey is a transportation planner who specializes in transit planning and public engagement. Since joining Kimley-Horn, Chelsey’s experience on transit planning projects ranges from transit development plans to county transit plans, campus transit plans, and bus networks for LRT and BRT projects.

Jenna McDavid

Jenna McDavid

Jenna has more than 21 years of experience in the energy and utilities industries. She specializes in strategy and planning to accelerate the transition to zero-emissions vehicles. Since joining Kimley-Horn, Jenna’s work has focused on EV charging infrastructure roll-out strategy and roadmaps to decarbonize transportation for fleets and regional governments. A recognized leader in the energy industry, Jenna serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Association of Women in Water, Energy, and Environment (AWWEE) and Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC).

Peter Meyerhofer, P.E.

Peter Meyerhofer, P.E.

Peter is a Transit Facility Design and Operations Expert and has more than 21 years of engineering experience in California and Nevada, primarily focused on planning and design for transportation facilities, including municipal, roadway, and transit facilities. He has specialized experience in site civil design, facility design, construction phasing, agency/stakeholder coordination, utility design, multimodal design and circulation, and construction cost estimating.


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