Hyundai's XCIENT Fuel Cell Trucks Hitting the Road in California in the Largest Deployment of the Technology in the U.S.

Hyundai's XCIENT Fuel Cell Trucks Hitting the Road in California in the Largest Deployment of the Technology in the U.S.

Author: Eric Walz   

As most of the auto industry works on electrification for passenger vehicles, South Korea automaker Hyundai Motor Co is actively developing hydrogen fuel cell powered Class-8 trucks for the trucking industry. 

On Tuesday, Hyundai announced that its fuel cell-powered XCIENT trucks are hitting the road in California as part of two publicly-funded projects in the state to improve air quality.

Hyundai plans to deploy 30 XCIENT fuel cell trucks in northern California by early 2023 as part of its public and private partnerships in the U.S. It will be the largest commercial deployment of Class 8 hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks in the U.S. 

Hyundai's NorCAL ZERO project, also known as Zero-Emission Regional Truck Operations with Fuel Cell Electric Trucks, will deploy the fleet of Class 8 XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks.

Hyundai said it will leverage insights gained from these public projects to develop it's zero-emission commercial fleet business in the U.S. using fuel cell trucks, as well as establish local partnerships across the value chain.

Glovis America, a logistics service provider, will be the fleet operator of the trucks. 

The demo trucks that Hyundai will bring into the U.S. are based on Hyundai's XCIENT Fuel Cell, the world's first mass-produced, heavy-duty truck powered by hydrogen. The zero-emissions fuel cell electric trucks produce only water as a byproduct. 

The XCIENT fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen in an electrochemical reaction to produce electricity. Maximum power output is 180kW, produced by two 90kW fuel cell stacks. The energy for the electric powertrain is stored and delivered via a 72 kWh battery pack. The truck's electric powertrain has a maximum output of 350kW.

For long-haul shippers, hydrogen is the best solution for Class-8 trucks. The fuel cell trucks have a short refueling time and can travel a longer distance than a battery-powered truck. The XCIENT Fuel Cell truck can be refilled with hydrogen in just 8-20 minutes, much faster than it would take to charge a fully-electric truck's massive battery pack.  

The U.S. truck model provides a maximum driving range of 500 miles, or roughly 800 kilometers. The hydrogen can be stored in greater quantities in onboard tanks rated at 700 bar of pressure (10,000 psi), which gives the trucks a longer range. 

The XCIENT trucks were first deployed in Switzerland in October of last year, which marked Hyundai's official entry of Hyundai's commercial vehicles in the European market. Hyundai said its fuel cell technology has been tested through more than one million kilometers of driving in real-world conditions, so the technology is tested and ready for commercial deployment. 

To fund the operation of the 30 Class 8 XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks in California, a consortium led by the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) and Hyundai Motor were awarded $22 million in grants from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC). 

The consortium also plans to establish a high-capacity hydrogen refueling station in Oakland, California that will be able to support as many as 50 trucks with an average fillup of 30 kilograms.

The stakeholders also received $7 million in additional grants from the Alameda County Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which is a public agency that regulates sources of air pollution in the nine counties of California's San Francisco Bay Area.

"We are proud to fund this hallmark deployment of 30 hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks and improve the air quality in Northern California," said Hannon Rasool, Deputy Director of Fuels and Transportation Division at the California Energy Commission. "These investments will support zero-emission trucks and infrastructure development and deployment as part of the US market ecosystem. Public and private project partners have come together to take a big step forward in decarbonizing freight and goods movement, as part of CARB and CEC's clean air initiatives."

Hyundai was also awarded a $500,000 grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD) to demonstrate in Southern California using two Class 8 XCIENT Fuel Cell heavy-duty trucks. The project is largely funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hyundai and its fleet partner plan to begin operating the two trucks in August. 

The two fuel cell trucks will be used for long-haul freight operations between warehouses in southern California for a 12-month period. Hyundai said it will also work with hydrogen refueling station operator First Element Fuel (FEF), to utilize three hydrogen refueling stations in the region to refuel the trucks.

"We look forward to seeing this important fuel cell project from Hyundai come to life," said Ben J. Benoit, South Coast AQMD's Governing Board chair. "The development of long-haul zero-emission truck technology is key to reducing emissions that will provide immediate benefits to our air and our communities."

Hyundai is one of the few automakers actively developing fuel cell technology along with battery-powered vehicles. Last year, Hyundai announced its plan to deliver 1,600 XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks to Europe by 2025. 

Based on the experience gathered from the initial demonstrations in California, Hyundai said it will accelerate its plans to launch its zero-emission commercial trucks in North America. The automaker is already in talks with multiple logistics and commercial companies that are interested in leveraging hydrogen technology for their freight delivery services in the U.S.

Last year, Hyundai said its expects to have more than 12,000 fuel cell trucks deployed on roads in the U.S. by 2030. 

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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