Navistar and GM Developing Heavy-Duty Hydrogen Fuel Cell Truck

January 27, 2021 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Navistar International Corp. is jumping into a collaboration with General Motors Co. to develop hydrogen fuel cell trucks for long haul trucking. 

The partnership will use Navistar’s International RH tractor with GM’s Hydrotec Fuel Cell Cubes to create a hydrogen-powered variant of the truck. Motor carrier J.B. Hunt will begin tests of the vehicle next year. 

Navistar expects to launch commercial production in 2024, said Persio Lisboa, the Lisle, Ill., company’s chief executive. 

“Hydrogen fuel cells offer great promise for heavy-duty trucks in applications requiring a higher density of energy, fast refueling and additional range,” Lisboa said.

Both truck builders and automakers see hydrogen fuel cell transportation as an increasingly attractive green technology that can satisfy environmental regulations that are becoming more stringent, both in the U.S. and globally. Navistar agreed to be acquired by Volkswagen’s truck division last year, a deal expected to close in the coming months. 

Late last year, Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled a second-generation hydrogen fuel cell system to power heavy-duty trucks. It is based on a system the Japanese automaker uses in passenger cars. 

Toyota already is testing hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty trucks on distribution routes in Southern California. 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.

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.

Last 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.

Nikola Inc. also is developing a fuel cell truck. A deal to work with GM on the project fell through last year, although GM still might supply its fuel cell technology to Nikola depending on the outcome of ongoing negotiations. Paccar, the Kenworth and Peterbilt brands owner, and Cummins are also working on heavy-duty fuel cell trucks. 

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. 

“These trucks don’t make money unless the wheels are turning,” said Charles Freese, executive director of GM’s global fuel cell business.

Fuel cells offer another advantage over battery-electric trucks. They don’t have to carry as heavy a battery, which lowers the amount of cargo a truck can haul.  

The Navistar fuel cell truck will weigh more than a conventional diesel tractor but less than a battery-electric truck, Navistar said.  

Lisboa said that most of its metrics would be comparable to a conventional diesel tractor. It will fuel in less than 15 minutes and have a range of more than 500 miles. 

Navistar is also working with OneH2, a Long View, N.C hydrogen fuel production company, to build a fueling network. OneH2 is already developing hydrogen fueling infrastructure for trucks in California through a California Air Resources Board grant. Navistar has taken a minority stake in OneH2. 

The fueling company will help market the Navistar trucks and has a target of incorporating 2,000 International RH fuel cell tractors into existing fleets. 

Hunt will use initially use the trucks on pre-selected routes where OneH2 can provide fueling at hubs and depots.  

“As we serve our customers and communities, the combination of hydrogen fuel cell technology and refueling capability will enable us to reduce emissions along with energy consumption, fulfilling our environmental sustainability commitment to our customers and the communities we serve,” said John Roberts, J.B. Hunt’s chief executive.

Jerry Hirsch December 14, 2020
The economics of operating heavy-duty electric trucks remains behind their diesel-fueled counterparts but is improving, according to Goldman Sachs.

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