While Washington chases Wall Street’s obsession with vehicles that get their juice from a plug, we’re glad to see that at least some of the biggest automakers aren’t forgetting the potential that hydrogen holds for transportation — and for humanity.
Hyundai raised the stakes on the hydrogen game last week, displaying an array of concept vehicles, headlined by an autonomous Trailer Drone. It served as a reminder that long-haul shipping can probably be cleaned up better by feeding electricity to big rigs with fuel cells rather than with a charger.
Toyota is preparing its manufacturing complex in Kentucky to make fuel cell modules for heavy trucks in 2023. General Motors has plans to supply Navistar with a fuel cell system for an emission-free long-haul pilot program next year — with commercial production slated for 2024 models. GM also has an arrangement to supply fuel cells for Nikola, though the prospects of that one bearing fruit look slimmer.
The appeal of fuel cells for semis is in skipping the big battery: no heavy brick of rare-earth metals to carry and far less time spent reloading it. The GM pilot aims for more than 500 miles of range with less than 15 minutes spent refueling.
While we’re pleased that the Democrats’ green infrastructure spending plans include some support for hydrogen production research, they do little to address distribution, which is rare outside of select California markets and a crucial shortcoming for hydrogen’s viability.
Plug-in EVs and those that get their charge from an onboard fuel cell system share many components and characteristics, including electric motors, high-end batteries and lightweight materials. But while fuel cell vehicles such as Toyota’s Mirai and Hyundai’s Nexo are a long way from scaling up to rival the Prius or Tucson, fuel cell-powered heavy trucks are much closer to economically competitive and the technology is a better fit for how the vehicles are used.
In the quest for a better future, keeping America competitive on hydrogen technology is the right bet.
Source: Automotive News.