Truck, fuel cell manufacturers work with distributors, customers to get zero emissions trucks rolling

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Updated Dec 8, 2023
A hydrogen Hyzon-branded truck drives down the road.
Hyzon Motors

After 120 years of diesel-driven development, Benjamin Happek from Hyundai says no one can expect to flip a switch and magically, seamlessly switch to an alternative fuel like hydrogen.

“Compromises will need to be made,” says Happek, a senior research engineer. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

[RELATED: ACT Research: Half of commercial vehicles to be zero emissions by 2040]

And in the marathon, truck manufacturers, such as Hyundai, fuel cell manufacturers, fuel distributors and truck operators must work together to get zero emissions vehicles running.

The Center for Transportation and the Environment hosted a webinar on Thursday outlining how these four groups work together for long-haul alternative fuel commercial trucking.

Happek represented Hyundai and truck manufacturers. Steve Boyer, vice president of commercial for Hyzon, was there for fuel cell makers. Bill Zobel, Pilot’s director of alternative fuels, outlined distribution; and Tony Williamson, the director of compliance and sustainability for logistics company TTSI talked about the end user’s experience.

[RELATED: Read our special report on clean trucks]

Hyundai deployed Xcient, its fuel cell truck, in Switzerland before the U.S. They put 49 trucks on the road in that country, and those trucks have driven more than 5 million miles thus far.

Habbek says users found the trucks were reliable, with fuel cells lasting longer than predicted. Of course, it only worked because of a country-wide refueling infrastructure.

Stateside, the company is in the middle of deploying its first hydrogen trucks in California. Thirty vehicles have been delivered and have been running since July. The fueling station isn’t yet operating; the project, NorCAL ZERO, has been using mobile fueling at the Port of Oakland. The stations and the trucks were deployed simultaneously.

“I think that’s exactly what you have to do,” Habbek says.

He also explained 15 commercial vehicles running on hydrogen fuel cells is the equivalent of 700 fuel cell passenger cars, making trucks key to building a more green fuel infrastructure.

“They really are a key enabler for a hydrogen refueling business case,” Habbek says.

Hyzon is building the fuel cells for the trucks.

Boyer says the company deploys its fuel cells on a Freightliner Cascadia chassis in U.S. markets. The company has seen somewhat better performance with fuel cells over battery electric, Boyer says, pointing to increased range, lower weight and better cold weather performance.

[RELATED: Hyzon moves closer to release of 200KW fuel cell system]

However, fuel cell trucks are expensive and the technology is still being worked out. He expects that to change. Quickly.

“We’re seeing a lot of production potential and new facilities coming online in the next 12-18 months,” Boyer says, adding the company expects total cost of ownership parity with diesel by 2025 and says operators will see advantages by 2028.

Pilot’s Zobel agreed. With more than 850 locations across the U.S. and Canada, Pilot serves more than 70,000 trucking fleets across the continent. That’s a lot of potential hydrogen stations.

“We’re active in that market today,” Zobel says, adding the company emphasizes reliability and redundancy to support reliability at its hydrogen stations. Its first two refueling stations, in California, are expected to serve 120-160 trucks per day.

Some of those trucks might belong to TTSI, a third-party logistics company running greener trucks since 2007.

Today, its fleet includes a total of 118 alternative fuel vehicles across the country, including battery electric and CNG. Williamson says, as a user, he’s concerned about the cost of the trucks. Given they’re exponentially more expensive than diesel trucks, he says he would like to see the batteries and fuel cells last longer.

“We would love to see the battery life is north of six years,” he says, continuing that TTSI would prefer to run on hydrogen fuel and operate it much the same as diesel.

[RELATED: NACFE: Hydrogen part of the zero-emissions solution]

TTSI has a proposal to bring 20 fuel cell trucks online in 2024, Williamson says, with plans to add even more depending on customer demand.

And demand is there. Shippers concerned about sustainability goals and their carbon footprints are asking about zero-emissions options, Williamson says. Zobel says Pilot is getting interest as well.

“It’s coming,” he says. 

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