Japanese Global automotive giant, Toyota, has announced it intends to manufacture fuel cell modules at its massive Kentucky auto-assembly plant for use in zero-emission trucks and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, a move that will directly benefit its truck subsidiary Hino.
Toyota has targeted and has been seeking to commercialise hydrogen-powered electric vehicles for decades, seeing the zero emission technology as the solution for longer term clean transportation.
The company said it’s setting up a dedicated line at its Georgetown plant in Kentucky, which will begin assembling the electro-chemical fuel cells in 2023.
Toyota said the dual fuel cell modules produce 160 kilowatts of continuous electricity and are part of a propulsion system that includes a high-powered battery, electric motors and hydrogen tanks supplied by partner companies.
Toyota said it is working with its Hino on hydrogen-powered trucks, but will also supply fuel cell modules made in Kentucky to other manufacturers.
“We’re bringing our proven electric technology to a whole new class of production vehicles,” said Tetsuo Ogawa, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor North America.
“Heavy-duty truck manufacturers will be able to buy a fully integrated and validated fuel cell electric drive system, allowing them to offer their customers an emissions-free option in the Class 8 heavy-duty segment,” Ogawa said.
Along with Toyota and Hino, Hyundai, Volvo, Daimler, Cummins and startups such as Nikola, all plan to sell long-haul trucks powered by hydrogen within the next few years.
The companies say the technology is better-suited for heavy-duty vehicles that drive hundreds of miles per day than massive batteries, such as those required by Tesla’s long-overdue electric Semi, as the fuel cell powertrain is lighter and can be refuelled more rapidly.
Toyota, which has been operating fuel cell trucks at the Port of Los Angeles for several years, didn’t say how much it will spend to equip the Georgetown plant to manufacture the fuel cell modules.
The facility is the main production hub for Toyota’s top-selling Camry sedan.
General Motors is also preparing to produce automotive fuel cell systems at a plant in Michigan.
Fuel-cell and battery-powered vehicles are both electric, sharing the same motors and many other components.
The key difference is that batteries store the electricity and fuel cells make it onboard as needed, in an electrochemical process that extracts electrons from hydrogen forced through fuel-cell membranes. Aside from electricity, the only by-product is water vapour.
Beyond cars and trucks, hydrogen fuel cells haver been used by NASA for decades, as well as working as stationary electricity generators, while they are also being developed to power trains as well as ships and ferries.
Opponents say that hydrogen is not a carbon-free fuel since it’s traditionally been produced by using power generated by coal or natural gas and that powering a vehicle with hydrogen is less efficient than charging up a battery.
However, a shift toward “green hydrogen” made from sources including surplus renewable energy and water will make the fuel entirely carbon-free, while producing it from landfill gas and other waste products are also being touted as environmentally beneficial options.
Toyota says its fuel cell system for commercial vehicles can deliver more than 600 km of range for a 40 tonne single semi trailer using around 300kg of hydrogen, while demonstrating exceptional drivability, quiet operation and zero harmful emissions.