Hydrogen as a clean fuel for heavy vehicles is gaining more and more attention from governments and auto manufacturers. In March, a bipartisan Hydrogen Infrastructure Initiative bill was introduced to spur the adoption of hydrogen fuel within energy-intensive sectors. And in May, Volvo Trucks tested its hydrogen-powered electric trucks on public roads in the north of Sweden for the first time.
To make the tests more challenging, the truck maker test-drove the trucks in extra-difficult conditions of a frigid climate above the Arctic Circle.
Volvo trucks generate no exhaust emissions, using hydrogen to make their electricity onboard. This makes them suitable for long-haul trips. Hydrogen can recharge its batteries, providing the extra power needed when traveling through areas without charging stations, such as rural land.
“Trucks are operating seven days a week and in all types of weather. The harsh conditions on public roads in northern Sweden, with ice, wind, and lots of snow, make an ideal testing environment,” said Helena Alsiö, vice president of powertrain product management at Volvo Trucks. “I am pleased to say that the tests are going well, confirming tests we carried out beforehand, both digitally and on our confined test track close to Gothenburg.”
The company plans to make these fuel-cell electric trucks available in the second half of this decade. The trucks will use two fuel cells that provide 300 kilowatts of electric power. In addition, Volvo partnered with Daimler to produce custom-made fuel cell systems for heavy-duty vehicles.
Volvo currently has six battery electric trucks in series production with zero exhaust emissions. It also provides trucks that run on renewable fuels such as biogas.
Among the top 10 hydrogen fuel cell truck companies in 2023, the majority were Chinese, according to Blackridge Research & Consulting. More familiar names are South Korean Hyundai Motor Company, Nikola Corporation in Phoenix, and Rochester, New York-based Hyzon Motors.
However, several partnerships among large automotive makers are also pursuing hydrogen energy innovation.
For example, General Motors plans to use its Hydrotec fuel cell technology to provide energy to work sites, electric vehicles, and other power-intensive uses. Toyota also recently completed a project at the Port of Los Angeles using hydrogen-powered trucks used in heavy-duty trucking and movement of port freight.
In partnership with Kenworth, Toyota deployed ten fuel cell electric T680 trucks in their near-zero and zero-project. The companies plan to provide these fuel-cell modules starting this year in Georgetown, Kentucky.
“Heavy-duty fuel cell trucks are expected to dominate the global fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) market during the forecast period due to promising aspects of fuel cell technology in the long-haul heavy-duty vehicle segment compared to the passenger vehicle segment,” wrote the authors of a recent Blackridge report on global hydrogen fuel cell truck market.
They cite the main advantage of hydrogen fuel cell technology as keeping the air cleaner and lowering risks to lung health while giving heavy-duty truck drivers and owners an operational range that is as good or even better than traditional fossil fuels.
“We need to act now in order to stop global warming,” said Roger Alm, president of Volvo Trucks. “Regardless of the transport assignments or where in the world our customers are operating, waiting is not an option. In a few years, our customers will be able to completely eliminate CO2 exhaust emissions from their trucks.”