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Toyota equips Kenworth Class 8 truck with updated fuel cell

Project Ocean trucks going to customers in Southern California

Toyota Motor Corp. is using second-generation fuel cell stacks from its 2021 Mirai passenger car for internal testing in production-intent Kenworth Class 8 trucks.

Editor’s Note: Clarifies details of trucks in 7th graf

Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) is using second-generation fuel cell stacks from its 2021 Mirai passenger car for internal testing in production-intent Kenworth Class 8 trucks. Meanwhile, the Japanese automaker is handing off heavy-duty fuel cell trucks revealed in 2019 to customers for demonstration use.

The new fuel cell electric system adapts a Kenworth T680 chassis for a more compact hydrogen storage cabinet containing six hydrogen tanks behind the cab. A more powerful lithium-ion battery pushes the driving range to more than 300 miles with an 80,000-pound load.

“Our first prototype trucks proved that a fuel cell electric powertrain was capable of hauling heavy cargo on a daily basis,” Andrew Lund, Toyota Motor North America research and development chief engineer, said in a press release Thursday. “These new prototypes allow us to start looking beyond drayage into broader applications of this proven technology.”

Said Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons: “We have to run a little bit of a demo kind of burn in on these. We have to see how this new fuel cell stack and this new design functions in a real-world environment. Drayage is such a great opportunity to accelerate your evaluation.”

Project Ocean

Toyota and Kenworth collaborated on a program internally called Project Ocean. The name slyly refers to water vapor is as a fuel cell’s only emission. 

The more formally named Zero and Near Zero Emissions Freight Forwarding (ZANZEFF) project was funded by a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant. It used $41 million from cap-and-trade fines for excessive vehicle pollution.

After showing the trucks at the Port of Los Angeles in April 2019, Toyota quietly began port testing three trucks. Each accumulated thousands of miles in drayage runs. Two were early proof-of-concept prototypes. The third truck, part of Project Ocean, was returned to Kenworth in Renton, Washington, for tweaking ahead of a customer getting it.

“It is kind of expected on any early version like this that you’re going to need to make some upgrades from time to time,” Brian Lindgren, Kenworth director of research and development, told FreightWaves.

Software, new parts for 48-volt direct-current-to-direct-current (DC-DC) converters, motor seals and transmission shifting all received attention.

“We learned quite a bit,” Lindgren said. “They are all running much better now. We didn’t design these to go over the [sometimes treacherous Interstate 5] Grapevine. But for running in the LA area and the Inland Empire, they are working really well.”

Toyota Logistics Services and drayage operator Southern Counties Express are getting the first two trucks followed in 2021 by three more for Toyota Logistics, three for United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS) and two for Total Transportation Services.

“We have been involved with Toyota’s hydrogen truck project since the beginning, and we are excited to see the latest models now being released for further testing,” said Gordon Reimer, president of Southern Counties Express.

PACCAR brands exploring

Toyota is developing the next-generation “Gamma” trucks on its own dime instead of relying on state support. It continues to use the T-680 as the host body for the advanced fuel cell technology. 

Lindgren was careful to avoid giving the impression Kenworth is planning fuel cell trucks in the near term. 

“We’re not ready to put these out for sale yet,” he said. “And it might be some years yet before we’re ready for commercial sale. But we’re certainly working toward that.”

Kenworth parent PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) sees fuel cells as a long-haul trucking play, CEO Preston Feight said on the company’s most recent analyst call. Electricity-dependent hydrogen fuel is expensive compared to batteries. But it avoids the weight and cargo-reducing penalty created by having thousands of pounds of batteries on board.

PACCAR’s DAF Trucks subsidiary is working with startup Hyzon Motors on fuel cells in Europe, where cabover models present packaging challenges.

“They’ve got a lot more space constraints than we do here in the states,” Lindgren said. “They’re challenged to get the full range they want in the space they have. They’re looking at some pretty novel ways to store fuel.”

Toyota’s quiet approach

In addition to working with Kenworth on retrofits, Toyota plans to demonstrate fuel cell trucks from its Hino Trucks subsidiary in North America in 2021.

The internal testing of the second-generation fuel cell won’t get a lot of attention, any more than the Project Ocean trucks did in the 20 months since they were revealed.

“Some people have the impression that we have slowed down or stalled,” Toyota spokesman Ed Hellwig said. “As typical for Toyota, we like to announce things after they have been validated. These projects have not slowed down at all.”

Toyota is all-in on fuel cell powertrains. It continues to develop fuel cells ahead of battery-electric vehicles, though the Japanese automaker practically created the hybrid-electric car market with its Prius.

Hino, Toyota bringing fuel cell truck to North America next year

Singapore spinoff Hyzon Motors makes US fuel cell trucking play

CES 2020: Toyota plans fuel cell-powered city of the future

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.