Ever since Elon Musk tweeted about the Tesla Semi last week, news of heavy trucks that use something other than diesel engines has been coming in flurries. First, Piper Jaffray analyst Alex Potter warned investors that electric trucks could drive stock prices for legacy truck and component manufacturers lower. Now comes an announcement that Toyota will introduce fuel cell trucks to haul cargo from the busy ports in southern California to distribution centers located inland.
The Toyota initiative is called Project Portal and it is strongly supported by the California Air Resources Board and local regulators. Today, so called drayage trucks — tractors designed expressly for short haul movement of heavy cargo — are powered almost exclusively by diesel engines. The flood of manufactured goods from Asian countries coming into ports in and around Los Angeles means those drayage trucks are busy 24 hours a day.
The cloud of diesel emissions and pollutants they spew as they go has caused air quality in the area to be some of the poorest in the nation. The emissions from those trucks in a week would exceed all the illegal emissions from diesel Volkswagen cars, yet no one is suing the fossil fuel companies for putting millions of people at risk. Curious.
CARB and the South Coast Air Quality Management District are desperate to clean up the polluted skies and have dedicated $43 million to the purchase of low or zero emissions trucks to replace the diesels. BYD recently announced an expansion of its factory in Lancaster, California to manufacture electric trucks, some or which could be used in drayage operations.
Toyota’s fuel cell trucks will use two of the fuel cell stacks used in the Mirai in conjunction with a 12 kWh battery. They will have 670 horsepower and 1325 pound feet of torque available. The concept’s gross combined weight capacity is 80,000 lbs. Estimated driving range is more than 200 miles in normal drayage operation conditions.
The “Project Portal” feasibility study is set to begin this summer. “As they did with the Prius and the Mirai, Toyota is taking a leap into the future of technology. By bringing this heavy duty, zero emission hydrogen fuel cell proof of concept truck to the Port, Toyota has planted a flag that we hope many others will follow,” said Mary D. Nichols, Chair, California Air Resources Board (CARB). “CARB will be following the progress of this feasibility study with interest, as we look to develop the best mix of regulations and incentives to rapidly expand the market for the cleanest, most efficient big trucks to meet the need for dramatic change in the freight sector.”
“The Port of Los Angeles is excited to collaborate with Toyota to explore the feasibility of fuel cell technology for port drayage operations,” said Tony Gioiello, Deputy Executive Director of Port Development, Port of Los Angeles. “Our port and industry stakeholders have demonstrated their leadership in reducing pollution from port-related operations, and we see the potential of Toyota’s zero-emission heavy-duty truck technology as another solution to meet the long term goals of the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan.”
Toyota is partnering with Shell to increase the number of hydrogen refueling stations in California. “Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles play a role in California’s efforts to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, improve air quality, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Janea A.Scott, commissioner of the California Energy Commission. “That’s why the California Energy Commission is investing in the refueling infrastructure needed to support adoption of these vehicles. The Commission applauds Toyota for putting this cutting edge technology to use a heavy duty freight proof of concept. This demo will show how fuel cells can help support the heavy-duty sector’s efforts to increase efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase competitiveness.”
The idea of hydrogen powered fuel cells appeals to many because the only byproducts are water and heat. But manufacturing hydrogen in a sustainable fashion and building enough hydrogen refueling stations are practical road blocks on the way to the dream of a zero emissions, hydrogen powered future.