The Class 6 fuel cell delivery van UPS will begin testing late this summer using not only a unique hydrogen-powered electric drivetrain, but also an unusual type of electric motor.
Most electric-drive vehicles use motors that rely on permanent magnets and require single-speed “gear reduction” transmissions to harness the motor’s power.
UPS, however, has decided to try a “switched reluctance” motor that uses fewer parts and is less costly to manufacture than a permanent-magnet motor.
Additionally, a reluctance motor doesn’t need a transmission at all. Its power output can be regulated electronically through software designed to keep it operating in the most efficient modes under all types of loads, Michael Britt, head of UPS’ fuel cell vehicle development program, told Trucks.com.
“We think we can get more efficiency out of it,” Britt said.
The motor is manufactured by Nidec Motor Corp. to meet UPS’ specific needs. So-called reluctance motors typically are used for simpler applications than powering commercial trucks.
Other pieces of UPS’ fuel cell and electric powertrain system include the fuel cell itself, an off-the shelf, 31-kiloWatt model manufactured by Canadian fuel cell developer Hydrogenics; a pair of 5-kilogram, high-pressure hydrogen tanks; and a 45-kiloWatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that will store and release the electricity produced in the fuel cell.
The truck will be subject to the normal UPS duty cycle – 10-hour days of package delivery – and will be expected to deliver at least the same performance as one of the company’s diesel vans, Britt said.
The weight and mass of the fuel cell electric system don’t offer much in the way of weight savings or increased room for cargo on the familiar brown UPS commercial van, he said.
“But the center of gravity of the truck changes, and it handles and rides a lot better,” which is a boon for the company’s drivers, he said.
Additionally, UPS expects the system to save money in long-term fuel, maintenance and repair expenses.
The savings come from simplicity and ease of repairing and replacing items. An electric motor designed for a vehicle typically has 20-30 moving parts, he said, versus more than 1,500 in an internal combustion truck engine. Removing and repairing an electric motor is much quicker, easier and cheaper than removing and repairing a diesel engine.
In Phase 2 of the $10-million fuel cell delivery van program – which will be overseen by the federal Department of Energy – UPS will field 16 more of the vans. The project will be funded jointly by UPS, DOE and several California air quality agencies. The vans will be divided between the company’s Sacramento and inland Southern California region and will be used to develop operating data for at least 5,000 hours of in-service duty.