ANAHEIM, Calif. — Not long ago, hydrogen and fuel cell trucks were lightly regarded at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo. This year, they are capturing once unimaginable attention.

A parade of significant hydrogen-related announcements began even before what has become a must-attend event that outgrew its Long Beach, California, venue. Toyota Motor North America (TMNA), which doesn’t make commercial trucks, confirmed production later this year of a heavy-duty fuel cell system at its Kentucky manufacturing complex.

Kenworth, Peterbilt will offer fuel cell trucks in 2025

On Tuesday, Paccar Inc. said its Kenworth T680 and Peterbilt Model 579 would be Toyota’s first customers. Both brands are taking orders with $5,000 deposits. Deliveries are expected in 2025. 

That makes Paccar a leader among legacy manufacturers embracing the expensive zero-emission technology. Others, like Daimler Truck and Volvo Group, point to the end of the decade for meaningful numbers of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Volkswagen AG’s Traton Group remains enamored with battery-electric vehicles but even it has a few fuel cell projects.

Kenworth collaborated with Toyota on a demonstration pilot in the Port of Los Angeles involving 10 retrofitted T680s. That project that ended last year. Now it is having discussions with customers for the commercial T680 FCEV that will travel more than 450 miles between fill-ups, according to Sean Henebry, Kenworth powertrain marketing manager.  

“The T680 FCEV was engineered to offer one of the longest driving ranges of any zero-emissions trucks on the market,” Kevin Baney, Kenworth general manager, said in a news release. “With quick refueling, this broadens our zero-emission product offering to include round-the-clock operations in regional haul and demonstrates FCEV potential for long haul.”

The fuel cells coming to market offer about half or less of the driving range of diesel-powered trucks. Diesel is being regulated out of the California market by 2036. So even a moderate range moves the decarbonization of transportation forward. Future-generation fuel cells will get bigger and more powerful. Hyzon Motors is showing a 200 kWh fuel cell at the expo.

Hyundai has hydrogen plans beyond its Xcient fuel cell truck

Hyundai Motor Co. confirmed Tuesday that the first of 30 Xcient fuel cell trucks will begin arriving in the Port of Oakland, California, in the second half of the year. Five more Xcients are due in Southern California for trial use. Xcient launched in Switzerland, then moved to Germany, Israel and other countries. The trucks have accumulated 4 million miles in commercial use.

The U.S.-bound Xcient will be a 6×4 tractor instead of a rigid truck as it is in Europe. The truck is just an enabler to Hyundai’s broader hydrogen plans.

The Hyundai Xcient fuel cell truck will begin arriving at the Port of Oakland in the second half of this year. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

“We’re uniquely positioned to cover the entire hydrogen value chain,” said Ken Ramirez, Hyundai executive vice president of global commercial vehicle and hydrogen business. “We do it today in Korea through a waste-to-energy approach producing green hydrogen.”

Hyundai plans a logistics system based on hydrogen for its $5.5 billion Metaplant America electric vehicle plant under construction near Savannah, Georgia.

“We will manage the inbound and outbound logistics to ports with hydrogen-powered trucks,” Ramirez said. “We are pioneering the direction with the trucks, with the ecosystem. Logistics is a natural extension of that to go with our industrial operations.”

The company will continue to import fuel cell trucks from South Korea for the foreseeable future, he said.

Daimler Truck North America not ready to launch fuel cell trucks

Daimler Truck North America focused its ACT Expo activity on medium-duty battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). But CEO John O’Leary said hydrogen’s day is drawing closer even as BEVs take center stage.

“If you were to talk to customers two years ago about zero emission, it was pretty much a  battery-electric vehicle discussion,” O’Leary told a group of journalists on Monday. “And so again, 18 months ago, [there were] really no conversations taking place about hydrogen.

“You have batteries that are limited just from their pure physics at least. Unless there’s a massive breakthrough that nobody sees coming, you’re not going to run a battery a thousand miles, not with 80,000 pounds pulled behind it and going up and down mountains.”

Like underdeveloped charging infrastructure, the lack of hydrogen fueling slows adoption. Well-financed startup Voltera Power announced Tuesday that it would work with Nikola Corp. to build 50 hydrogen fueling stations as part of BEV charging installations it is developing. At $15 million to $20 million each, Voltera could spend about $1 billion on hydrogen stations.

A fuel cell technology demonstrator and hydrogen ICE ahead

DTNA’s O’Leary still sees wider adoption of hydrogen fuel cells around 2028-29, roughly the timing that its joint venture with Volvo Group called cellcentric begins selling fuel cell systems to both truck makers.

“We’ll have something before then in terms of a technology demonstrator,” O’Leary said.

He was referring to DTNA and engine and power distribution provider Cummins Inc. working on retrofitting Freightliner Cascadias with Cummins’ fuel cells. The two announced that partnership at the 2022 ACT Expo.

Daimler also follows Cummins’ conversion of its X15 diesel engine to hydrogen. Werner Enterprises placed an order with Cummins for 500 of its modified engines due in 2027. O’Leary said he expects a significant number of those will be Freightliners.

“We offer both Cummins and our own Detroit engines, and if they want Cummins, we put Cummins in,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of different things with them, and I could easily imagine that being the case.”

Related articles:

Nikola gets financial partner for 50 hydrogen stations

Toyota aiming for heavy-duty fuel sales this year

Werner signs for 500 Cummins hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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