CARSON, Calif. — Is this thing running?
The fuel cell powertrain in the Hyzon Motors Class 8 Freightliner 2022 Cascadia-based demonstration truck is so quiet that a windows-down ride on Interstate 405 in Southern California allowed shouting-free conversation.
Oh, and the truck emits no pollution, tailpipe or otherwise. Post-drive water vapor under the parked truck doesn’t count. It could be consumed, but it would taste icky.
Hyzon, a recently public startup leveraging 18 years of fuel cell production from its Singapore-based parent Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, allowed FreightWaves the first exposure to its FCET8 conventional daycab on Sunday before this week’s Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach.
After a 15-minute ride around residential streets near the Velocity Truck Center south of Los Angeles, we took a short run on the 405 where a jounce came from poor roads and the lack of a trailer or cargo. Add a loaded trailer to the tractor and the bouncing would all but disappear.
Hydrogen kill switch
If not for a prominent kill switch to cut off the flow of highly flammable hydrogen in an accident or other mishap, the cab interior looks little different from a diesel model. A horizontal plate with Hyzon printed on it is a placeholder for an eventual digital information screen.
Pulling out of the guarded Velocity parking lot, Josh Resnick drove as the truck shifted through three of its four gears, a sound more resembling the whine of a turbocharger spooling than gears shifting. A typical Class 8 truck has an automated transmission that selects from 12 or more shifting points.
Externally, a baby blue paint job and decaling advertises FCET8’s advanced propulsion system.
A small door on the driver’s side accesses its twin vertical hydrogen tanks behind the cab. Those tanks are hidden from view in a large box-like encasement with vents at the top. Material used to secure hydrogen tanks from leaks and intrusions can consist of carbon fiber dense enough to repel a bullet fired from a gun at close range.
Under the hood, the Cummins X-15 diesel engine is replaced by a 120-kW fuel cell. A 320-kW electric motor is good for a continuous 429 horsepower and 1,180 continuous pound feet of torque with peak output of 1,770 pound feet. The FCET8 has a larger radiator because of the excess heat that a fuel cell generates in making electricity through an electrochemical reaction.
The conversion to hydrogen took five weeks at Hyzon’s Bolingbrook, Illinois, facility, according to Hyzon software engineer Scott Jaris, who joined the startup in April from Navistar International. A few more Cascadia retrofits are in the works. Our demo truck was hauled from Illinois to California because no hydrogen fueling infrastructure existed on the route.
Creating hydrogen fuel either through energy-intensive electrolysis or converting municipal waste and landfill gas — Hyzon likes the latter two — is one of the reasons hydrogen fuel cells are perpetually five years away.
“We have to help our customers access hydrogen, and it’s got to be affordable because this won’t be a viable substitute for fossil fuel trucking if it’s not affordable,” Knight said.
The modified Cascadia cab weighs in at less than 22,000 pounds compared to heavier battery-electric trucks, which can sacrifice freight capacity to extend the driving range from more batteries. The Tre battery-electric truck from Nikola Corp. weighs about 29,000 pounds.
The FCET8 will be turned over to logistics and drayage hauler Total Transport Systems Inc. (TTSI) after the ACT Expo.
“We configured this particular vehicle with TTSI to make sure it could do their most challenging drayage applications,” Hyzon CEO Craig Knight told FreightWaves. “Go up [to California’s Inland Empire] with a full trailer through the hills and come back empty.”
700 fuel cells planned for 2022
Hyzon plans to produce 700 fuel cell trucks globally in 2022 following the July conclusion of its $550 million special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) business combination with Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. Even as the blank check company merger wound to the finish line, Hyzon built its backlog of orders, mostly in Asia, Australia and Europe.
“It’s still a relatively small volume in the context of vehicles on the road, but we do believe that 2023 will be a threshold year where we move up into the thousands of units around the world,” Knight said. “That will hopefully be at a time when global supply chains aren’t as constrained as they are now.”
The Hyzon name was created by a mashup of hydrogen mobility and the Horizon name — Horizon remains a majority owner of Hyzon with more than 50% equity.
“That’s a linkage that’s important to us,” said Knight, who was among Horizon’s co-founders in 2003. ”Horizon co-owns the core IP [intellectual property], so it technically doesn’t matter who owns the two companies.”
Hyzon established a U.S headquarters in July 2020 at the former General Motors fuel cell engineering facility near Rochester, New York. Most of its component manufacturing is in Bolingbrook. Employment tops 130, four times the staff from a year ago. Most new hires are engineers.
When it’s time for U.S. and Canada production, Hyzon will rely on Fontaine Modification Services for contract manufacturing. As the U.S. market matures in fuel cell technology acceptance and a fuel infrastructure, Hyzon expects 30% to 35% of its trucks to be sold here.
‘Working on the right thing’
Knight cheered last week’s announcement by Toyota that it will begin assembling fuel cell modules in Kentucky for heavy-duty trucks in 2023. Toyota’s Hino subsidiary will show a Class 8 fuel cell truck at the ACT Expo. Kenworth Truck Co. operates 10 Toyota fuel cell-equipped truck demonstration units in the Los Angeles port.
“I was delighted when I read that Toyota was more willing to sell its modules because it’s been something for them that was a challenge,” he said. “The strategy was not entirely clear for a while. Their capabilities with the [Mirai] passenger car fuel cells does equip them well to definitely make an impact in heavy trucking.”
Startup Nikola Corp. is building early fuel cell trucks in Arizona that Anheuser-Busch will test. TTSI has signed up for a mix of 100 battery-electric and fuel cell trucks from Nikola in coming years.
“Competition to us is diesel engines,” Knight said. “So everybody that puts the shoulder to the wheel to help get as many trucks off diesel engines as possible is my friend.”
The growing cast of fuel cell truck developers, including Hyundai, Toyota, and the fuel cell joint venture between Daimler Truck and Volvo Group, all “proves we’re working on the right thing and we’re moving in lockstep with a transition that just has to happen.”
Enthusiasm for and investment in hydrogen fuel cells is growing. They offer refueling times of 15-20 minutes — on par with diesel. Battery-electric trucks — which depend on electric energy — require longer charging times but have a head start toward eventually displacing diesel.
The higher upfront cost of owning a medium-duty electric truck is less of a burden on a fleet when it is subsidized by state and federal grants. Parity will take longer for pricier heavy-duty daycabs targeted at regional haul, pickup and delivery, and drayage. And fuel cells are significantly more expensive than battery-electric trucks.
Some suggest the future of propulsion must be either batteries or fuel cells. The Hyzon truck is a fully electric truck by design, not a hybrid like the natural gas generator that will power the battery in Hyliion Hypertruck ERX that also will make its public debut at the ACT Expo.
“We need critical mass,” Knight said. “One vendor won’t help the market get to critical mass and to flip the switch.”