Toyota has developed a second-generation hydrogen fuel cell system to power heavy-duty trucks.
The automaker said the new system would be used in the latest prototype Class 8 tractors using a Kenworth T680 chassis and a cab and chassis from Toyota’s Hino truck subsidiary.
It is based on the fuel cell system Toyota is launching in the next generation Mirai passenger sedan, which goes on sale as a 2021 model later this month.
The Kenworth T680 model prototypes will run drayage routes hauling containers at L.A. and Long Beach ports to see how they operate in real-world conditions. But Toyota said the system is flexible and can be used with chassis from multiple truck builders.
Toyota is just one of several companies developing hydrogen fuel cell trucks. Daimler Trucks and Volvo Group have an agreement to co-develop fuel cell systems for Class 8 trucks. But they will use them in their own branded products and will compete against each other. Daimler owns the Freightliner and Western Star brands in the U.S. Volvo sells under its name and the Mack label.
Earlier this year, Hyundai launched a cargo-hauling service using its fuel cell trucks for two large retailers in Switzerland. It plans to grow the business to 1,600 trucks over the next several years.
Truck builders see hydrogen fuel cell Class 8 tractors as the likely substitute for diesel trucks on long haul routes as global environmental regulations wean the industry off fossil fuel. They leverage the electric drive technology already developed for battery-electric trucks. But they also have the advantage of filling quickly like a diesel tractor.
Daimler and hydrogen supplier Linde and Daimler Truck just reached an agreement to jointly develop the next generation of liquid-hydrogen refueling technology for fuel cell trucks. Their efforts will focus on a new process for handling liquid hydrogen that will offer higher storage density and faster refueling.
But there still is a dearth of hydrogen filling stations. The small number of fuel cell passenger vehicles isn’t enough to support an extensive network. However, Hyundai estimates it would take only 10 to 15 trucks fueling daily to make a hydrogen station profitable. That creates a business case for building a network along the major U.S. highways. Toyota’s trucks will fuel at a station in the Gardena suburb of Los Angeles and another at its Toyota Logistics facility at the port.
Toyota unveiled its first fuel cell tractor in 2017 using a system based on the previous generation Mirai. The new Toyota fuel system uses a smaller hydrogen storage cabinet behind the cab. It contains six hydrogen tanks with the same capacity as previous prototypes. Toyota also has upgraded the truck with a more powerful lithium-ion battery that smoothes the power flow to the electric motors.
The new system has a range of more than 300 miles at a full load weight of 80,000 lbs., Toyota said.
“This is an important step in the transition to emissions-free heavy-duty trucks,” said Andrew Lund, chief engineer at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development. “Our first prototype trucks proved that a fuel cell electric powertrain was capable of hauling heavy cargo on a daily basis. These new prototypes not only use production-intent hardware, but they will also allow us to start looking beyond drayage into broader applications of this proven technology.”