In a world of increasingly interesting automotive alliances one of the most interesting team ups has seen the first fruits of an unlikely alliance with the first of 10 hydrogen-powered fuel cell heavy-duty Kenworth trucks to haul freight to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach being assembled at Toyota Motor Corp.’s research center in Michigan.

 The two companies also used Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently to make the announcement.

Toyota and Paccar are among several partners, including Shell Oil participating in a the $US 41 million grant program   from the California Air Resources Board. The CARB has a goal of zero emissions by 2035 for the 16,000 container trucks that move in and out of America’s biggest port complex daily.

“If we could change these 16,000 trucks into zero-emission vehicles, we could do a lot of good for the communities along the I-710 freeway corridor,” said Andrew Lund, chief engineer for product development for Toyota. 

The freeway leads north from the ports toward Los Angeles and is heavily traveled by trucks and other vehicles.

Diesel-powered container trucks waiting to pick up cargo spend long hours idling and emitting smog.

The Kenworth T680s with the Toyota hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains combine hydrogen gas and air to produce electricity for the electric motors that move the trucks. They also charge a 12-volt lithium-ion battery that powers air conditioning and other cab functions. The fuel cell emits only water vapour.

The driving range is about 500 km based on 60 kilograms of hydrogen, the companies said.

The 10 Kenworth T680 day cab trucks will be used in the ports for three months at a time over the next two years. They will join several other non-polluting, heavy-duty truck powertrains from other companies for the  tests.

Before collaborating with Kenworth, Toyota harvested the fuel cell systems from two Toyota Murai sedans to develop a heavy-duty fuel cell truck in its secret Portal Project betwee February 2016 and January 2017.

“The biggest learning was that our fuel cell can be scaled from a passenger car all the way to a heavy-duty truck,”  said Takehito Yokoo, Toyota’s senior executive engineer for advanced fuel cell, who led development of the  Alpha Truck.

The Alpha truck has amassed 20,000 km in port operations in the Los Angeles basin over the last year and has received good reviews from drivers,” he said.

“One of the things we have heard from drivers is they felt less fatigue than driving a diesel truck, and they go home less cranky,” Lund said.

Toyota’s Beta truck was revealed in Michigan in August 2018. It was created from a Kenworth T660 with the engine and under-hood components replaced by power electronics and electrified brake and steering systems and a unique cooling system, said Chris Rovik, Toyota executive program manager for advanced fuel cells and lead engineer on the Beta truck.

Kenworth, which partnered with Ballard Power to create a fuel cell truck, contributed the air brake compressor to the Beta truck. It will build the other nine fuel cell trucks at its assembly plant in Renton in  Washington state.

“We believe carrying energy in the form of hydrogen makes more sense than batteries for long-haul uses,” said Brian Lindgren, Kenworth director of research and development. 

“Fully loaded, these are thousands of pounds lighter than battery-powered trucks.”