Look out diesel, hydrogen trucks are right behind you

Article Republished By Javier Troconis

ALBANY – After clambering up into the 5-foot high cab of his semi-tractor truck, driver Danny Gamboa buckles his seat belt and takes off. He steps on the accelerator and the massive truck surges forward with barely a sound. While this semi is designed to haul an 80,000-pound load, it rides more like a luxury SUV but with even less noise.

This Kenworth truck may look like the scores of semis one sees any day on an interstate highway. But rather than a diesel motor, this one is powered by hydrogen.

And while this is a prototype, Toyota Motor Corp. is confident it could someday supplant many of the traditional diesel-powered trucks that ply our nation’s highways and byways.

So confident, in fact, that they plan to soon start building these hydrogen truck systems at a plant in Kentucky. From there, they can be installed in any variety of heavy trucks such as the Kenworth or other large vehicles whose owners are looking for a cleaner and cheaper alternative to diesel fuel.

The truck, as well as a Toyota Mirai passenger sedan were on display Tuesday at the headquarters of the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, or NYSERDA.

As well as showcasing this new auto and truck technology, it also underscored NYSERDA’s bid to bring a federally funded hydrogen research hub to the region.

New York in March joined with Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey to compete for federal Department of Energy funds for such a hub that would further the development of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, said Doreen Harris, NYSERDA’s president and CEO.

Much of the initial attention on that competition centered on the use of hydrogen to fuel power plants. But hydrogen has long held promise, albeit elusive, of fueling vehicles with the only emissions being water that is produced when hydrogen molecules are mixed with oxygen.

Hydrogen power is similar to battery power in that it creates energy through a chemical reaction rather than the combustion that takes place in a gasoline or diesel engine. 

Hydrogen vehicles rely on fuel cells that allow the blending of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, which create a current that can power an electric motor.

Toyota is one of several auto and truck makers that have explored hydrogen as well as battery plug-in and hybrid vehicles.

As well as the truck Toyota had a Mirai passenger car on display and available for test drives. It looks and sounds like an electric vehicle – that is, it makes almost no noise.

The Mirai, which runs about $55,000, is already in use in California, where Toyota has sold about 10,000, said Robert Wimmer, the company’s director of energy and environmental research.
“It will cruise at 80 mph all day,” said Wimmer, who pointed out the car’s features to Harris and other state energy officials.

People who buy the car are typically “early adopters,” similar to those who purchased Teslas when they were first available. While there are only 53 hydrogen stations so far in California, the car has some advantages over batteries including a 400-mile range. And with no need to plug it in, the Mirai can be attractive to those who live in condominiums or apartment buildings where there’s no easy access to an electric source (most EV owners plug their cars in at home to charge them).

The truck offers some serious advantages, said Wimmer. The hydrogen cells are far lighter than comparable batteries needed to power a semi-truck, which is an advantage when gauging a vehicle’s cargo capacity.

And like battery-powered trucks and cars, there are almost no moving parts to wear out or break.

A few of the trucks are currently in use at the Port of Los Angeles where they haul cargo from the docks to loading terminals. As more hydrogen fuel stations are built Wimmer believes they could be a good alternative to both diesel and electric trucks.

“Our view is there is no single solution,” said Wimmer, who races cars as a hobby.
Harris said she’s optimistic about the Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey bid for a federal hydrogen hub for several reasons.

“We all have very ambitious clean energy policies,” she said.

And the states’ proximity to busy highways like I-95 means there is a real need and market for clean alternative transportation methods.

Some environmentalists are wary of hydrogen fuel, especially to run power plants. But they agree that hydrogen fuel could be a useful way to power vehicles that can’t easily be electrified. “We do think there is going to be a limited role for green hydrogen to play as we move to zero emissions,” said Conor Bambrick, the energy and air program director at Environmental Advocates of New York

Harris believes the fuel could be produced with largely renewable resources as well as nuclear power, which is also emissions-free.

And she wants to explore as many fossil-free fuels as possible.

“We’re pursuing all options,” she said.

Gamboa, who has driven traditional semi-trucks before joining Toyota, said he’s convinced that hydrogen could be the future of trucking.

“I won’t go back to the old ones,”  he said, referring to traditional diesel trucks. “They are slow, loud and they pollute.’’ 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU   

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