Can fuel-cell conversions help clear long-distance diesel tracking?

In addition to building new zero-emission trucks, what will happen if old diesel trucks are converted to hydrogen fuel-cell power? Two such initiatives were announced earlier this week.

Daimler Truck North America and diesel-engine maker Cummins will update older Daimler-built Freightliner Cascadia semi-trucks with Cummins-supplied fuel-cell powertrains, two companies announced Wednesday.

The companies plan to make the first trucks by 2024 Meanwhile, Daimler is also hoping to boost production of the battery-electric Eucascadia, which was unveiled in production-ready form on the day of the fuel cell announcement.

Freightliner Cascadia semi truck

Freightliner Cascadia semi truck

Startup Hyzon Motors is pitching its own fuel-cell conversion program as a way to get cleaner trucks on the road faster. The company said in a press release that due to supply-chain problems, the current waiting time for a new truck chassis is up to 16 months. Existing chassis provides a shortcut to conversion.

Hyzon plans to offer 110-kw and 200-kw fuel-cell stacks. It says further examples will begin testing by the end of 2022, followed by a commercial launch. The stacks will be made at the Illinois factory in Hyzone.

Hygen Motors Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Stack

Hygen Motors Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Stack

Other companies have expressed interest in building new fuel-cell trucks. In 2021, General Motors and Navistar announced plans to build 2,000 fuel-cell semiconductors “in the near term.” Toyota and Kenworth have been demonstrating “Project Portal” prototypes in dredge services at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports for several years now.

Perhaps the most ambitious is the California Fuel Cell Partnership Trade Group, which plans to put 70,000 fuel-cell trucks on the road by 2035, supported by 200 newly-built hydrogen stations.

But while commercial trucks are seen as a more efficient alternative to fuel cells than passenger cars at the moment, it is possible that that window of opportunity is also closing. Battery-electric vehicles will probably have enough range for all long-distance applications, a recent analysis claims, leaving fuel-cell trucks as a small niche.

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