Among all the growing calls for sustainability in the United States, hydrogen fuel cells have seen relatively little progress in the past few decades. While trucks have seen some electric and battery-powered updates, fuel cells are still behind.
However, that all may change soon. With progress from big automotive names, fuel cell trucking could be the industry’s next big thing.
After years of companies promising progress to no avail, the industry seems to now be finally getting its footing with fuel cell trucks. Historically, a lack of hydrogen fuelling stations and limited mileage have been the main issues. Companies like Nikola and Toyota are seeking to provide solutions.
In Arizona, Nikola is planning a launch later this year of its Tre Cabover fuel cell prototype. While the battery-electric version of this heavy-duty truck will be efficient and durable as well, the fuel cell version is the one to watch. The company is aiming for a 500-mile range, which is an extra 200 miles on top of what the electric model offers.
Moreover, with more fueling stations, drivers will be able to fill up their trucks much faster than a battery-powered charge typically lasts. Though both models are environmentally-friendly and much safer options compared to combustion engines, drivers want fast and efficient stops.
In addition, having batteries onboard can be impractical if they take up too much cargo space and weigh too much. Fuel cells offer a clean, smooth transition to sustainability.
Nikola’s unveiling is sure to kick more innovation into gear, and drivers will start to see more practical solutions, like fast fueling and innovative designs. Production of Nikola’s vehicles will likely begin in 2024.
Other big names like Toyota and Daimler are also pushing the industry towards hydrogen fuel cell trucking. Using the design of the Mirai, Toyota and Hino Trucks are bringing a demo of their fuel cell trucks to the United States at some point soon.
Daimler AG, the manufacturer for Mercedes-Benz, has been working on fuel cell projects for years. Now, the company is seeking to begin trials of the Mercedes-Benz GenH2 Truck in 2023.
The Benefits of Fuel Cells
Through these new developments, the industry is finally moving forward with fuel cell trucking. On top of the company’s actions, though, a few other forceful factors play a role — the government and the climate crisis.
Apart from the harmful emissions and negative impacts on the environment, fossil fuels are inefficient. Hydrogen fuel cells are 80% effective, while standard combustion engines have only a 25% efficiency rate. Making the switch soon will help with return on investment (ROI) savings as well as reducing emissions.
Due to the inefficiency of combustion engines and the growing focus on sustainability, federal and state governments in the U.S. are solidifying regulations. Some states are deregulating the energy sector by giving residents more power to choose their own supply resources.
Elsewhere, state governments are cracking down on emissions. For instance, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared the state will phase out gas-powered cars by 2035 and focus on renewability and sustainability instead. Other states are now following suit.
Thus, fuel cells are not only a viable option but a necessary one, too. As the country turns away from harmful trucking practices, hydrogen fuel cells become the solution. They’re effective, healthy, and reliable. With more development and adoption, they can cover the vast distances drivers must travel, carrying cargo without interruption.
How Close Is a Fuel Cell Reality?
Smaller steps in the past have now led to a more tangible fuel cell reality. Though mass integration may still be several years away, the strides of brands like Nikola, Toyota, and Daimler are prominent examples of progress.
Now, with government and societal pressure, the automotive industry will have to catch up through making sustainable changes, bringing fuel cell trucking to the States even sooner.
Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. Jane covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, green technology, renewable energy and more.