If that truck in the photo looks like a Kenworth that is because it is, but that is about where the resemblance ends. Underneath this PAACAR produced truck is all Toyota because the Japanese automotive giant is using this prime mover as a test bed for its latest hydrogen fuel cell technology which it believes is the future of long distance heavy road transport.
While the new head of the US EPA has closed the loophole on glider trucks we are pretty sure the environment agency won’t be too disgruntled by the nature of Toyota’s shot at creating a glider.
Toyota revealed what it calls “Project Portal” a prototype fuel cell electric truck in the USA this week hinting strongly at future commercialisation of the hydrogen fuel cell concept.
Toyota which already markets a production fuel cell car in its home market, the tiny Mirai says it is using the same central components from the Mirai for its giant prototype Class 8 fuel cell truck.
The new model, called the Beta truck, is built as we said on a glider version of a Kenworth T680 tractor.
Why Toyota used a Kenworth glider to produce this truck is not really clear, particularly since Toyota controls truck maker Hino which is also on a path for cleaner low emission solutions, having signed an MOU for joint research and development with Volkswagen earlier this year.
However the fuel cell powered glider is 900kg lighter, has a range of 480 km on a single fill of hydrogen, which is about 160 km farther and is about 10 per cent more powerful than Toyota’s Alpha prototype which the company unveiled last year.
Andrew Lund, Toyota’s chief engineer for the fuel cell truck program says the Beta model is also much more commercially viable.
The truck was unveiled during the Centre for Automotive Research’s annual Management Briefing Seminars in Michigan.
Toyota isn’t saying too much about its future plans for the fuel cell truck, but it has previously stated that it has a strong corporate commitment to fuel cell technology.
The fact that Toyota has stated that it plans to build the world’s largest hydrogen production plant and fuelling station at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, where its fuel cell truck demoprogram is based.
Fuel cell vehicles are driven by electric motors from power generated on-board in a fuel cell stack from hydrogen and oxygen.
Toyota’s hydrogen fuel station has been designed partly to allow for its Mirai fuel cell cars to be fuelled before dispatch to US dealers but will also handle fuel cell trucks and has been future proofed and designed to serve many more fuel cell vehicles than are currently on the road today.
During the unveiling in Michigan Toyota indicated that it is also developing fuel cell system kit that could be easily shipped and installed in ‘glider’trucks.
“This definitely helps with commercialisation. Toyota is a major player, and that gets everyone’s attention,” said Cory Shumaker, development specialist with the California Hydrogen Business Council.
“But there still need to be a serious market case, and financial incentives,” he said.
Major truck builders such as PACCAR say they want to see at least two years of roadworthiness and component reliability testing before they’ll move forward with fuel cell technology.
Toyota began Project Portal in 2015, and the Alpha truck, designed by Toyota, was built in late 2016 at Michigan based company, Ricardo’s Detroit Technology Center. It was tested and refined for several months more at Toyota’s test facility in the Arizona desert before being unveiled publicly in April 2017.
When the Beta truck joins the initial prototype around November this year Toyota believes the pair will generate valuable operational data.
The Alpha truck uses the fuel cell systems from two of Toyota’s Mirai sedans to drive a 670 -horsepower electric motor. It is powerful enough to give the tractor better acceleration and the same hauling power as the original diesel engine in the Kenworth T680 they used for the prototype. The same system, with a few modifications, is used in the new prototype.
The second-gen truck features a tall, narrow cabinet behind its low-roof sleeper cab which houses a 12-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and six carbon-fibre wrapped tanks which hold 60 kg of compressed hydrogen gas which is enough for 480 km range, 50 per cent more than the Alpha truck’s 320km range.
Lets wait and see if a Hino Fuel Cell truck is on the agenda for Toyota.