Powertrain Performance and Total Cost of Ownership Analysis for Class 8 Yard Tractors and Refuse Trucks

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Advanced powertrain technologies, specifically fuel cell electric powertrains, have gained attention as viable alternatives for medium- and heavy-duty (M/HD) vehicles. However, it is unclear how these alternative powertrain vehicles stack up against their diesel counterparts in terms of performance and total cost of ownership (TCO). Furthermore, there are vehicle segments within the M/HD sector that have remained unstudied for fuel cell electric applications. This analysis aims to provide a comparative scoping-level TCO and performance analysis for two heavy-duty vocation vehicles (Class 8 U.S. port-side yard tractor and Class 8 U.S.-based refuse truck) for both conventional diesel and heavy-duty fuel cell electric (HDFC) powertrains. The refuse truck analysis also considered compressed natural gas powertrains (CNG) for comparison. The analysis includes seven timeframes (2020, 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040, 2045, and 2050) for comparison. This simplified TCO analysis includes only direct costs (fuel price, glider purchase price, and operating & maintenance costs) and excludes any associated indirect cost (e.g., dwell time costs and other opportunity based costs). Representative drive cycles for each vehicle were based on on-board GPS logged data and chosen by the analysis team to represent average, non-extreme driving conditions. At the time the analysis was performed, the Inflation Reduction Act was not in effect and therefore any potential subsidies and future cost reductions enacted under the Inflation Reduction Act were not included. Based on the operational setpoints used in this analysis, HDFC powertrains for both yard tractors and refuse trucks have the potential to achieve TCO advantages over conventional diesel powertrains (and CNG for refuse truck applications) in the near- to mid-term future while meeting the necessary duty cycle performance requirements. Yard tractors and refuse trucks spend a significant amount of time operating at low speeds, with long durations of idling, and experience numerous start/stop occurrences. These operational characteristics favor fuel cell performance as fuel cells operate with higher efficiencies at lower percentages of total power output. Conversely, conventional diesel and CNG engines are most efficient at higher percentages of total power output. This helps HDFC powered yard tractors and refuse trucks realize improved fuel economy when compared to their diesel counterparts, which helps reduce total fuel costs and therefore, total TCO. The analysis demonstrates that fuel prices play a significant role in determining TCO for each vehicle and should remain an R&D focus area. Overall, under the analysis' specified conditions, HDFC yard tractors have the potential to achieve cost parity with diesel yard tractors as early as 2025. For refuse trucks, HDFC refuse trucks have the potential to achieve cost parity with diesel and CNG refuse trucks in 2030 and 2040, respectively.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages56
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5400-83968


  • class 8
  • FASTSim
  • heavy duty
  • medium duty
  • refuse truck
  • T3CO
  • total cost of ownership
  • yard tractor


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