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HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS may make it easier for the trucking industry to meet ever-more-stringent emissions regulations. An electric-powered truck would make today’s diesel semis look like soot-spewing dinosaurs. However, technology continues to challenge long-haul applications of battery-electric trucks.
On the other hand, this proposed hydrogen fuel-cell truck has a potential range of 1200 miles between fillups and zero emissions, even on a total well-to-wheel basis, that is, in everything from sourcing of the fuel to its propelling the truck.
Nicola Motors is an electric truck startup firm with headquarters in Salt Lake City, its name honoring electrical wizard Nicola Tesla. Nicola’s initial plan was to use a natural-gas-fueled turbine generating electricity for the truck’s propulsion. However, a turbine, even fueled by natural gas, isn’t particularly clean. And a hydrogen fuel cell’s “emissions” are nothing more than heat and pure water.
The proposed Nicola One would operate with a custom-built fuel cell, envisioned as capable of giving a Class 8 big rig a range of 1200 miles between hydrogen fillups and fuel economy equivalent to 20 mpg.
Ah, but there’s a grabber: A conventional big rig’s 250 gal. of diesel consumed at its 5.5 mpg works out to 1375 miles. And there’s diesel fuel at every Interstate truck stop.
To counter this, Nicola has a vertical business model providing the fuel from a string of its own 56 solar-powered hydrogen farms located around the country. Each would perform electrolysis of water to generate the hydrogen.
All this may sound far-fetched, but Nicola says an initial batch of stations, three in California, four in Texas and one in New York, will be operational by the time its first trucks roll off the production line in 2020.
What’s more, the attraction of 100-percent clean transport, from well to wheel, could make for a compelling message from the trucking industry.
On another front, the U.S. Army and GM are scheduled to unveil a prototype fuel-cell truck in October, 2016. It’ll be based on the Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup and likely will feature fuel-cell technology evolved from GM’s Project Driveway program of 100 Chevrolet Equinox SUVs in private hands over three years.
The U.S. Army’s involvement is through its Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. The military has already identified potential benefits of a fuel-cell vehicle, including its electric-motor’s prodigious and instantaneous torque, the powertrain’s stealthy quiet operation and the vehicle’s capability of generating electricity and clean water in field conditions.
Skeptics continue to question the concept of fuel-cell transportation for the rest of us. However, others have recognized special niches such as these long-range trucking as well as military field operations.
Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Mobility for the 21st Century, by William J. Mitchell, Christopher E. Borroni-Bird and Lawrence D. Burns, 2010, argued that optimized mobility depends on the mission, with size and distance being crucial parameters.
Note the preferred propulsion of the bus and heavy truck. Incorporate the additional dimension of efficient off-grid power generation, and FCEVs (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles) continue to have a lot of future potential. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016