Japan's Toyota Motor Corp & Hino to Develop a Class-8 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Truck for North America
With much of the auto industry focused on developing electric passenger vehicles, the world's shipping companies are looking at the potential application of hydrogen fuel cell technology as a way to reduce emissions in Class-8 trucks. As a result, vehicle manufacturers around the world are working on fuel cell technologies, including Daimler Trucks, Volvo Trucks, and Hino Motors, the truck division of Japan's Toyota Motor Corp.
Now Toyota and Hino USA announced on Monday an agreement to jointly develop a Class 8 fuel cell electric truck (FCET) for the North American market. The two companies will combine the newly developed Hino XL Series truck which normally runs on diesel fuel with Toyota's proven zero emissions fuel cell technology.
This collaboration expands upon the existing agreement announced in March to develop a 25-ton FCET for the Japanese market, which was announced earlier this year.
"Expanding upon our proud heritage of the Hino powertrain, Toyota Fuel Cell Technology offers our customers a commercially viable, extended range, zero emissions vehicle in the near term,' said Glenn Ellis, Hino's Senior Vice President Customer Experience.
The first demonstration fuel cell truck is expected to arrive in the first half of 2021.
Fuel cell trucks are a bit different from purely electric vehicles. The technology uses a hydrogen-powered fuel cell to generate electricity to charge the truck's battery, which in turn is used to power the truck's electric motors. The only byproduct from converting the hydrogen to usable electricity via a fuel cell is plain water.
The trucks store the hydrogen in onboard tanks, which can be refilled in about 15 minutes at a hydrogen filling station, much faster than current electric vehicle batteries can be recharged. For commercial trucks, using hydrogen instead of batteries also reduces downtime and increases utilization, an important goal of the trucking industry to reduce costs.
Outfitting large trucks with fuel cell technology is more practical passenger vehicles as the trucks can carry more hydrogen on board than a smaller vehicle. In addition, hydrogen filling stations, which there a few of today, can be more easily installed at existing truck stops along busy highway routes that are currently dispensing diesel fuel.
"A fuel cell powered version of the Hino XL Series is a win-win for both customers and the community. It will be quiet, smooth and powerful while emitting nothing but water," said Tak Yokoo, Senior Executive Engineer, Toyota Research and Development. "Toyota's twenty plus years of fuel cell technology combined with Hino's heavy-duty truck experience will create an innovative and capable product."
The partnership between Toyota and Hino is the second big partnership on fuel cell technology for commercial trucks announced this year.
In April, Daimler Truck AG and the Volvo Group announced a new 50/50 joint venture for development and large-scale production of fuel cells for applications in heavy-duty vehicles, including long-haul semi trucks.
The two companies signed a preliminary non-binding agreement to establish a new joint venture. Daimler said it will consolidate all its current fuel cell activities in the new joint venture with Volvo.
Toyota has been an industry leader in the development of fuel cell technology. The company has continued its research and development of hydrogen fuel cells while other vehicle manufacturers have abandoned the technology in favor of fully-electric vehicles powered by batteries.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology made headlines this summer after the CEO and founder of fuel cell truck startup Nikola Motors Trevor Milton was accused of misleading investors. Nikola went public in a reverse merger with New York-based VectoIQ Acquisition Corp in early June.
Nikola's problems began when well-known short seller Hindenburg Research published a scathing report just after U.S. automaker General Motors invested $2 billion in the company equaling an 11% stake in early September. The deal was for GM to manufacture Nikola's fuel cell powered Badger pickup truck.
Hindenburg Research said it had collected evidence to show Nikola Motors and Milton made false claims about the company's proprietary hydrogen fuel cell technology to form partnerships with large automakers.
"We have never seen this level of deception at a public company, especially of this size," the report warned potential investors.
Among the evidence of fraud are leaked photos of Nikola's fuel cell components, including a power inverter, which the company claimed was developed entirely in-house. The inverter in question was photographed with black tape hiding the manufacturer's logo, which was actually German supplier Bosch.
Nikola was viewed by many as having the potential to disrupt the trucking industry with its innovative hydrogen powered and battery-electric trucks, the same way Tesla did to the auto industry when the electric Model S was introduced in 2012.
Despite the misgivings surrounding fuel cell vehicles, the technology remains a viable alternative to battery-powered trucks for the shipping industry and also a way to reduce harmful emissions.
In June, Toyota announced a separate partnership to develop fuel cell technology. The automaker announced a venture with Chinese automakers FAW Group, Dongfeng Motor, Beijing Automotive, GAC and hydrogen fuel cell developer Beijing SinoHytec.
The joint venture is named United Fuel Cell System R&D (Beijing) Co., Ltd. (FCRD). FCRD's primary business will be the development of fuel cell systems for commercial vehicles in China, which is the world's biggest auto market.
In order to meet Toyota's emission reduction goals, major improvements in fuel cell technology will be required to equal the performance of diesel and gas-powered heavy-duty trucks, which account for about 60% of the total CO2 emissions from commercial vehicles in Japan, according to Toyota.
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