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Kenworth part of $82 million project at Port of Los Angeles for zero-emissions trucking

Prototype of Toyota’s fuel cell truck ( Photo: Toyota )

Project could see prototypes of hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks on road by 2020.

Kenworth’s zero-emissions trucks may get a step closer to commercial deployment thanks to a grant from the state of California.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) says it has made a preliminary grant of $41 million to the Port of Los Angeles a project aimed at reducing emissions from drayage trucking.

The grant will fund the development of ten zero-emissions, Class 8 trucks from the Kenworth division of Paccar (NASDAQ: PCAR), along with related infrastructure.

Toyota (NYSE: TM) is collaborating Kenworth on the trucks, which will be based on Kenworth’s T680 platform and will use hydrogen fuel cell-electric technology.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the Port of Los Angeles, Kenworth and Toyota to work together to both explore and drive advanced zero emission technologies that will play a critical role in the clean trucks of the future,” said Mike Dozier, Kenworth general manager and Paccar vice president.

Oil major Shell (NYSE: RDS) will build two hydrogen refueling stations, one near the port and one inland. Toyota, Shell and Paccar will also contribute another $41 million toward the project.

Chris Cannon, who heads the Port’s environmental office, says the first trials of hydrogen fuel cell-electric trucks could being in late 2019 or early 2020.

“Our partners are very excited about the project,” Cannon said. “We have every expectation that they will be committing funding to the project.”

He says the hydrogen fuel cell-electric technology has the support of drivers thanks to a refueling time comparable to that of regular diesel trucks. That compares to the four-hour recharging times for all-electric trucks.

Hydrogen fuel cells will also have a longer operating range than electric trucks.

Cannon says about half the project’s cost will be for the trucks, along with additional cargo handling equipment. The other half will be for the construction of hydrogen refueling stations.

Cannon says the infrastructure component of the project is one of the biggest hurdles facing zero-emissions trucking. Other tests of zero emissions trucking have not been able to scale up due to the limits of finding refueling stations.

Shell plans to develop two additional hydrogen refueling stations on its own, independent of the project, Cannon says. In total, he says Southern California will be served by five heavy-duty hydrogen refueling stations by the project’s expected start.

“It can’t be emphasized enough how important the infrastructure is to this project,” Cannon said. “We’ve been testing hydrogen fuel cells for a number of years. But with no wide distribution for hydrogen fuel, there’s no support for the technology.”

Two California-based dray carriers could be among the first to start commercial trials of the new trucks. Total Transportation Services will operate two trucks and Southern Counties Express will operate one. Toyota Logistics Services will operate four of the trucks while United Parcel Service will operate three.

This year, Kenworth debuted two versions of the T680, one using hydrogen fuel cell and one using compressed natural gas. Kenworth is also working with UPS on a Department of Energy Funded project. Kenworth has been road testing the trucks, but they have not been commercially deployed as yet.

Earlier this week, CARB also offered the Port of Long Beach a $50 million grant, contingent on matching financing, to lower emissions at its port.