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CanadaNewsSustainable Freight

Hydrogen trucks to get road-tested in Canada’s oil country

Two tractor-trailers powered by hydrogen electric fuel cells will hit the highways of Alberta in a pilot program to test the viability of doing heavy-hauls over long distances in the western Canadian province.

Freightliner trucks outfitted with three 70 kilowatt Ballard Power Systems (TSX: BLDP) fuel cells will be able to travel up to 430 miles before refueling. The 64-metric ton b-train tractor trailers will enter service with Alberta-based carriers Bison Transport and Trimac Transportation, as part of the Alberta Zero-Emissions Truck Electrification Collaboration (AZETEC.)

“This initiative is primarily about moving freight on Alberta’s highways with zero emissions, but it is also about the future of the Alberta economy. Alberta is in the transportation fuel business, and that business is changing,” said Chris Nash, President of the Alberta Motor Transport Association, which is leading the AZETEC program.

The C$15 million (a Canadian dollar equals US$0.74) program received about half of its funding from the provincial government’s Emissions Reduction Alberta agency.

Unlike the forthcoming Nikola Motors hydrogen fuel cell trucks, the Alberta pilot program involves assembling Freightliner glider kits with Ballard FCmove-HD cells. Nordresa in Quebec is integrating the fuel cells into the Freightliners.

“If this works, it could be expanded into something bigger. Maybe a hydrogen corridor with hundreds of trucks, with carriers and shippers involved.”

Jessica Lof, analyst, Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research Initiative, University of Calgary

The trucks are being paired with the double b-train trailers in line with the needs of Alberta’s transportation industry, said Jessica Lof of the University of Calgary’s Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research Initiative, which helped conceive the AZETEC program.

“There are unique demands in Alberta. We wanted a technology that would work for that,” said Lof, an energy systems analyst.

Lof said she hopes it will lead to a larger hydrogen-based transportation initiative in Alberta.

“If this works, it could be expanded into something bigger. Maybe a hydrogen corridor with hundreds of trucks, with carriers and shippers involved,” Lof said.

Hydrogen also is potentially more palatable in the heart of Canada’s oil sands country. The province’s newly elected premier, Jason Kenney, plans to scrap its carbon tax by the end of May.

In her research, Lof has noted the viability of using existing oil and natural gas supplies for hydrogen conversion.

“If there is an energy transition away from diesel to zero-emissions fuel, it would be in Alberta’s economic interest to be able to supply this new market, while continuing to supply oil for the remaining diesel fuel market,”  wrote Lof and Professor David Layzell, who heads the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Initiative.

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Nate Tabak, Canada Correspondent

Nate Tabak is a journalist, editor and producer in Toronto. He covers Canada for FreightWaves, with a keen interest on the cross-border economic relationship with the United States. Nate spent seven years working as an investigative editor and reporter based in Kosovo. He covered everything from corruption to the country’s emerging wine industry. He also reported across the Balkans and investigated Albania’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Nate grew up in Berkeley, Calif. He enjoys exploring Toronto with his wife and is always looking forward to his next meal.
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