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J Trucks And Associates – On October 8 (08/10) – the symbol for hydrogen’s atomic weight (1.008) – the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association celebrated its fourth annual National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. Officially designated by the House and Senate, October 8 commemorates the environmental and economic benefits that the widespread use of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies can bring to America. This recognition includes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), which are already becoming commercial products in the gasoline-dominated light vehicle sector. However, FCVs may have even more hope for their ability to replace diesel in fuel-intensive heavy-duty vehicle sectors. It provides the greatest reduction in transport-related emissions for smog and climate change emissions.


Traditional heavy duty diesel engines have long dominated the US heavy duty vehicle (HDV) segment. However, several zero-emission (ZE) and near-zero-emission (NZE) fuel technology platforms have begun to emerge and are gradually entering commercial sales. These include HDVs powered by natural gas, battery electric, propane and hydrogen fuel cell technologies. Considerable progress has been made, but commercial products (so far) are very limited. In particular, no ZE platform (electric battery or fuel cell) has yet proven itself in the most demanding heavy transport class 8.




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Some experts believe that this unique fuel technology platform could provide ZE’s long-term solution to the high fuel consumption of heavy duty trucks.

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Although hydrogen fuel cell technology has lagged behind battery electric technology for widespread use in Class 8 heavy-duty trucks, it is starting to emerge as a viable option. In fact, some experts believe that this particular fuel technology platform could provide ZE’s long-term solution to high fuel consumption in heavy-duty trucks, offering advantages in terms of driving range and refueling time.

However, major challenges must be overcome before hydrogen fuel cells begin to significantly replace diesel engines in the US heavy-duty truck sector. The current lack of hydrogen refueling stations, the high cost of fuel cell vehicles (mostly due to expensive onboard hydrogen storage systems) and the high cost of hydrogen fuel.

In contrast, fuel cell light vehicles are now in the early stages of commercialization. Passenger vehicles powered by proton exchange fuel cells (which produce energy electrochemically by reacting hydrogen with oxygen from the surrounding air) are already on the market. Among them are Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity. Other major light vehicle manufacturers have announced FCVs in the coming months and years, such as Audi’s h-tron quattro concept and Hyundai’s 4th generation NEXO.

An obvious advantage of FCVs is that they are as fuel efficient as internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

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As consumer awareness of environmental issues continues to grow, low-energy FCVs are a better option. FCVs have the advantage of being powered in the same way as internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, but the nature of charging EV batteries requires changes to decades-old fueling practices. The start of sales of light-duty FCVs by major OEMs began to spur the construction of hydrogen fueling stations in America, but by the end of 2019 only 50 stations were operating in the US. Most of them are under construction. In California. It should be noted that almost none of the existing or soon-to-be-planned hydrogen pumps involve heavy-duty fuel cell trucks.

Like batteries, fuel cells provide highly efficient conversion of electrochemical energy into propulsion. Since this process does not burn, it does not directly emit harmful pollutants (including CO2). But unlike batteries, hydrogen is stored in fast-charging tanks, just like traditional diesel trucks. The result is the same emission-free performance as a battery electric truck, while providing the same mileage and refueling time as a conventional diesel engine. This is particularly useful for meeting the reach requirements of heavy loads such as regional and freight traffic. The result is that high-efficiency fuel cell vehicles hybridized with battery-electric architectures that improve performance and provide regenerative braking can offer greater utility and use compared to “pure” battery-electric trucks.

Fuel cell technology is becoming more mature and optimized for HDV applications. Today, instead of fuel cell hardware, the main remaining challenge for heavy-duty FCVs is hydrogen supply. In summary, hydrogen fuel represents the most promising and challenging aspects of moving heavy-duty FCVs toward actual commercialization and widespread use to replace diesel HDVs.

Unlike the light-duty sector, medium- and heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles are more behind in commercialization and technological maturity. Currently, no major truck manufacturer offers an integrated fuel cell platform. This means that the future of fuel cells in the commercial truck looks bright. This is evidenced by recent announcements from OEMs, which have launched demonstration projects alongside major R&D efforts.

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The future of fuel cells for commercial trucking looks bright. The latest announcements from OEMs prove this

For example, Toyota has been testing a Class 8 tractor prototype powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology since mid-2017. The Toyota Mirai fuel cell uses the same proton exchange member fuel cell (PEMFC) technology already used commercially in passenger cars. The Kenworth Class 8 tractor used by Toyota in the project consists of two parallel arrays of Mirai PEMFCs (total peak power of about 230 kW) combined with a small battery pack (about 12 kWh). As part of the initial “project portal,” Toyota tested its first PEMFC truck prototype at a local drainage service from the Port of Long Beach. In mid-2018, Toyota launched a second ‘Beta’ model, offering a longer range (increased from 200 to 300 miles) and other improvements. Namely, Toyota’s apparent master plan is to sell this heavy-duty PEMFC powertrain to OEMs for Class 8 trucks (rather than as Class 8 OEMs).

In a major new program related to the Toyota Portal project, CARB awarded $41 million to the Port of Los Angeles to develop and demonstrate 10 ZE Class 8 fuel cell tractors using the Kenworth T680 platform. The award is part of California’s ZANZEFF (Zero-Emission and Near Zero-Emission Freight Facilities) program. Through a partnership between Kenworth and Toyota, these fuel cell dump trucks will be specially designed to move cargo from Pola terminals to local distribution centers and domestic destinations. 10 fuel cell tractors serviced by Toyota Logistics Services, United Parcel Services, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Southern Counties Express. In the second phase of the project, Shell will develop two new “high capacity, high yield hydrogen stations” to service these fuel cell trucks (one in Wilmington, one in Ontario).

Obstacles to the Commercialization of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Trucks The current cost of hydrogen fuel is a significant barrier to the commercialization of high-performance fuel cell vehicles.

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For high-performance aircraft, fuel costs are second only to labor costs in determining total operating costs. The current cost of hydrogen fuel, which is currently more expensive than diesel fuel, is a major obstacle to the commercialization of high-performance fuel cell vehicles. Hydrogen costs about $10 to $15 per kilogram, which equates to about $12 to $18 per gallon of diesel equivalent. On the plus side, the high cost and relatively small amount of hydrogen in the vehicle is partially offset by the relatively high efficiency of the fuel cell electric propulsion system compared to a conventional diesel truck. Fuel cell manufacturers such as Ballard Power Systems are working hard to further reduce total cost of ownership through longer inventory life, lower capital costs, better energy density and other improvements. Ballard said its heavy-duty PEMFC assemblies will be commercially available in 2019.

Like compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, new heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles are designed to use compressed hydrogen stored in large, expensive high-pressure tanks. While on-board CH2 storage is robust and proven (using similar technology to LNG tanks), it comes with significant trade-offs in terms of cost, range and other factors that are critical to hauling heavy trucks. Further optimization and improvement of hydrogen fuel systems may be required before heavy-duty FCVs can meaningfully enter HDV on-road use, particularly in Class 8 freight traffic.

As already mentioned, hydrogen fueling infrastructure designed for medium and heavy FCVs is almost non-existent today. Restricted or scheduled hydrogen gas stations designed for passenger vehicles do not supply high power FCV fuel. With the exception of a few demonstration programs, the only hydrogen stations that can accommodate high-capacity FCVs are on transit properties and are designed to charge fuel cell buses. The initial approach to creating a hydrogen supply network for heavy goods vehicles is likely to focus on the “corridor” concept; Implementation would take several years and cost about $3 million per station. Building a national network of FCV fuel stations for heavy-duty vehicles would take decades and cost billions of dollars. The speed of deployment of high-performance FCVs using such stations requires careful coordination.

Fortunately, there are several grant options available to finance heavy fuel expansion.

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