From Scott Carlberg

“After years of unmet promises, hydrogen vehicles could finally be catching on. If so, it’ll be a convoy of clean semi-trucks — not a bunch of quirky passenger cars — leading the way.” (Source)

Who’d have thought? To be fair, trucks are not top of mind for most of us. We think about cars or SUVs. Maybe pick-ups.

But it is about time for hydrogen to make its way as a vehicle fuel. Hy-time for hydrogen. That’s because the idea of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel was discussed as early as the 1960s. It has been touted as a fuel that is “just ten years off,” and always “ten years off.”

ECC wrote about hydrogen as a promising energy technology for the nation. Just about that time we saw several reports that note the way big-rig trucks may be one avenue to advance hydrogen.

YouTube video about the Kenworth truck

Scientific American notes, “Because hydrogen fuel weighs much less than electric batteries, it could make trucks more efficient because they could carry more cargo, refuel more quickly and drive longer distances.”

Water is the only emission from this kind of truck, which enhances its appeal. There is expected to be less maintenance for these trucks, too.

What has held this technology back? “For years, the technology made theoretical sense, yet a lack of hydrogen fuel pumps largely limited its reach. But advancements in hydrogen technology and an emphasis on beginning the technological rollout with heavy-duty trucks instead of cars is beginning to make fuel cell vehicles a reality.” (Source)

Researchers say that hydrogen has not made sense on a small vehicle, consumer basis, but can in a large vehicle commercial basis. “A number of automakers, including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and General Motors, have tried to market hydrogen fuel-cell cars over the years with little success.”

Proof of success? Here’s an interesting indicator. “A Kenworth hydrogen-powered truck has become one of the first Class 8 zero emissions vehicles to drive the 14,115 foot summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado. The hydrogen-powered Kenworth T680 displayed superb power and exhibited excellent driveability over the 156 twisting turns and switchbacks during the 4,700 foot elevation gain to the summit, Kenworth said.”

This truck has a 15-minute refueling time.

Switzerland is putting hydrogen trucks into commercial use. “A hydrogen-powered commercial truck built by Hyundai was set to begin hauling groceries in Switzerland in April, representing the first of 1,600 fuel cell electric trucks that the manufacturer plans to put on highways in the Alpine nation by 2025.” (Source)

These tests help project what kind of fueling network is best, not just proof of performance for the fuel. “Long-haul operators could build a series of hydrogen fueling depots, 400 or 500 miles apart, along heavily traveled routes.” (Source)

Hydrogen is not a silver bullet fuel. Unlike the past with just hydrocarbon-based fuels for vehicles, several major energy source for vehicles will emerge: Hydrogen/fuel cell and electric battery.


Want to learn more? Here’s a packed, short article about the Kenworth hydrogen efforts from Fleet Equipment magazine: Kenworth Talks Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Battery Electric Trucks And Where Both Fit In

From the article: To have enough battery to go 300 to 350 miles a day is going to take probably 20,000 lbs. of batteries, and that takes a big bite of the payload that the truck can haul. It’s probably one-third of the current payload that would get eaten up just in battery weight.

So there are some applications where that could work and still pay, but a lot of the truckers will say ‘I need to be able to plan on hauling at least 50,000 lbs. per trip on any given trip.’ Not that they will haul that on every trip, but on any given trip they might need to. So, having a big battery that eats away into their payload capacity would be a challenge for them.

With hydrogen, the amount of weight that you have on the truck to go 300 to 350 miles is more like 3,000 to 4,000 lbs. more than the equivalent diesel truck instead of the additional 20,000 lbs. more than the equivalent diesel truck.


Feature image from Nikola Motor Company media