Leaps and bounds for fuel cell trucks in the United States

Fuel cell trucks have yet to break into the US market, but it looks like things are about to open up. Last month, Bosch announced a $200 million investment to upgrade a fuel cell manufacturing plant in South Carolina for heavy-duty trucks, and now here’s Ford Motor Company with a pilot test for its new work truck at F550 fuel cell prototype chassis. If all goes according to plan, the pilot test could open the door to an all-new fleet of fuel cell trucks for Ferguson Enterprises and other stakeholders.

A giant leap of $200 million for fuel cell trucks in the United States

Clean Technica Joe Borras covered Bosch News last week, noting that “Bosch has been in the hydrogen fuel cell business since at least 2019, when the company partnered with Powercell to develop fuel cells for vehicles like the semi- Electric Nikola.”

“Bosch subsequently withdrew its partnership with Nikola following SEC fraud allegations against company CEO Trevor Milton,” Borras added [note: Milton’s jury trial began this week].

This fraud scandal upset many plans. AB InBev’s Anheuser-Busch branch, for example, was set to order 800 Nikola fuel cell trucks in 2018. GM has also been eyeing Nikola to help revive its fuel cell truck business in 2020, to drop the idea like a hot potato. after allegations of fraud surfaced.

One small step for fuel cell trucks

No wonder US automakers are hesitant to produce fuel cell heavy-duty trucks for the mass market. Automakers in Europe and elsewhere are not so timid. Volvo is betting on fuel cells for construction vehicles and other heavy-duty applications. BMW, Toyota and Hyundai are among other companies diving into fuel cell truck waters, and a battery-fuel cell hybrid mashup from startup Tevva is also in the works.

Still, some US automakers have embarked on fuel cell R&D, and it has caught the eye of Ferguson Enterprises, a major distributor of plumbing supplies and heating equipment in the US and Canada. Earlier this week, the company announced it would be testing Ford’s F550 prototype fuel cell work truck in its North American fleet for six months.

“This pilot program aims to evaluate how fuel cell technology will perform within the Ferguson fleet while providing real-world usage data to Ford. Ferguson will provide Ford with vehicle data and feedback on the technology to help Ford to better define technical requirements for commercial vehicle duty cycles,” says Ferguson.

Specifically, the pilot project aims to explore whether or not fuel cell technology can solve certain problems in the zero emission zone for heavy trucks. In shipping and logistics, the time spent charging a battery electric vehicle can be a hurdle. Fuel cell electric vehicles can be refueled around the same time as a gasoline or diesel vehicle, an attribute that makes them attractive when time is at stake.

“This data will be used to address current industry challenges in the medium and heavy-duty vehicle segments, such as battery range and payload capacity, which have prevented faster conversion to more environmentally friendly options. environment,” says Ferguson.

If you want to spot this new truck, keep an eye out for Charlotte, North Carolina. Ferguson says he is planning “temporary infrastructure equipment for the duration of the pilot project” in this city, which presumably means a hydrogen refueling station.

Meanwhile, Ferguson is hedging his zero-emission bets. The company is also launching a pilot program that involves a total of 30 battery electric trucks covering classes 6, 7 and 8.

Fuel cell truck baby steps are piling up

Ford’s F550 fuel cell prototype work truck could be the net before the fuel cell truck flood, if the U.S. Department of Energy’s Super Truck 3 grant program materializes. Last year, Super Truck 3 awarded a total of $127 million in grants for five R&D projects aimed at reducing vehicle emissions from medium and heavy trucks, including four fuel cell projects and one battery project.

Among the fuel cell winners was Ford, which got nearly $25 million to demonstrate five Class 6 Super Duty trucks equipped with fuel cells. Ford was instructed to “target cost, payload, towing and fueling times equivalent to those of conventional gas-powered trucks.”

Daimler Trucks North America has also secured a share of the funding, for the development of two Class 8 fuel cell trucks. Daimler is tasked with achieving range and capacity equivalent to a diesel truck.

General Motors has a multi-level mission. It will develop stationary hydrogen fuel cell fast charging stations for battery electric vehicles (yes, fuel cells to charge electric vehicle batteries are a thing), as well as green hydrogen from water electrolysis.

The angle of electrolysis is a key element. It provides a more sustainable supply of hydrogen than the current benchmark source, which is natural gas. On top of that, GM is expected to demonstrate four hydrogen fuel cell trucks and four battery electric trucks in Classes 4, 5 and 6.

The fourth fuel cell grant went to PACCAR Inc., one of more than 20 trucking players who joined the National Zero-Emission Truck Coalition in 2020. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, PACCAR is the parent behind the familiar Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF ranges. PACCAR will apply its Super Truck 3 grant to develop 18 Class 8 battery and fuel cell trucks, plus a charging station, under the Kenworth and Peterbilt nameplates.

For the record, the five truck-centric R&D projects are complemented by a battery-electric Class 8 semi-trailer being developed by Volvo Group North America, as well as a new truck-sized charging station. .

Meanwhile, back to the fleet

As for the age-old question of batteries versus fuel cells for zero-emission mobility, fleet owners are on the lookout for new technologies that allow them to reduce emissions from their carbon footprint. Ferguson, for his part, is keeping an open mind. They are also aware that their purchasing power could help accelerate the market for zero-emission trucks.

“As we reviewed our fleet emissions, we realized that our scale in the industry presented us with an opportunity to invest in and test new technologies. Participation in Ford’s pilot program will provide further learnings as that we are working to convert Ferguson’s fleet more efficiently,” explained the company’s vice president for environment, social and governance, Denise Vaughn.

“Ultimately, Ferguson’s investment in new technologies will set the industry standard for private fleet conversions, driving an expansion of the nation’s refueling infrastructure,” she added.

Ferguson CEO Kevin Murphy also weighed in on the topic of tech diversity.

“We are pleased to announce this innovative collaboration with Ford to help improve alternative fuel options in their fleet of medium vehicles, in line with our overall sustainability strategy to reduce our scope 1 and 2 emissions,” a- he declared.

As for Ford, it seems ready to ride the wave of fuel cell trucks.

“This collaboration with Ferguson is a great example of how our Ford Pro business and the potential for fuel cell propulsion systems could fill application gaps that battery electric vehicles simply cannot,” said said Jim Buczkowski, executive director of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

“The potential of hydrogen, the most abundant element on the planet, combined with fuel cell technology, has enormous potential to power larger and heavier commercial vehicles while producing zero tailpipe emissions. “, he concluded.

If you’ve noticed that everyone is emphasizing the application to trucks rather than passenger cars, it’s no coincidence. Although fuel cell cars are starting to catch on in some parts of the world, the US market still has a long way to go. If you have any thoughts on this, drop us a note in the comment thread.

follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: This could be the first of many fuel cell trucks to roll off Ford’s assembly line (photo courtesy of Ferguson)

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