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Hydrogen fuel cells are another power option for the trucks of the future

Oct. 23, 2019
Most often when people talk about future technology for alternative fuel vehicles they are referring to battery electric vehicles.

Most often when people talk about future technology for alternative fuel vehicles they are referring to battery electric vehicles. And while I certainly see a place for commercial battery electric vehicles  — heck we’ve written several Guidance Reports on them — they are not the only option available.

As part of Run on Less Regional, we held a webinar on hydrogen, where a panel of expert talked about whether hydrogen is a viable truck fuel.

The consensus was that especially in long-haul applications, hydrogen fuel cells make sense for a host of reasons — not the least of which is the abundant supply of hydrogen. In addition, fuel cells have a long range, and refueling with hydrogen is very similar to refueling with diesel.

Our panelists from Ballard Power Systems, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Nikola Motor Co. and Shell all agreed that we will see hydrogen-powered trucks being tested in fleets in the next several years with many production trucks to follow.

Bill Cherry, director of national accounts, Nikola Motor Co., reminded listeners that fuel cell technology is not new. Alan Mace, market manager, heavy duty at Ballard Power Systems said,  “When it comes to fuel cell technology nothing new needs to be invented; rather work needs to be done on integrating fuel cells into trucks.”

Matthew Blieske, global hydrogen product manager, Shell said, “The drivetrain itself is easy to integrate into a chassis so we are a seeing a lot of small players saying ‘I can take a fuel cell and do that, I know how to do power management.'" 

In fact, in other parts of the world this is happening on a wider scale than in the U.S.

“We know how to make hydrogen cheaply. We can deliver low carbon hydrogen to these operators but we need demand,” he added.

And speaking to that demand, Michael Peters, hydrogen systems researcher, National Renewable Energy Laboratory said, “What I hope for in five years is to see more trucks on the road — in the hundreds or even breaking a thousand at that point. Then from the infrastructure side, I really want to see the U.S. getting connected via hydrogen stations and potentially a cost drop as a result of that momentum.”

In 20 years, the panelist believe we will see more hydrogen trucks on the road, a well-developed infrastructure for fueling and that hydrogen fuel cells will be viable option for fleets.

While no one can predict the future, it’s a safe bet that 20 years from now fleets will have more options when it comes to powering their vehicles. And NACFE will be right in the thick of providing unbiased well-researched information on all the options along with thing we have not even thought of today. You can bet on that.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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