There are nearly one million vehicles used for short-distance freight and local deliveries on California roads. Although those trucks—many powered by diesel—represent just three percent of registered vehicles, they produce nearly one-quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the California Energy Commission. In addition, the corridors where freight traffic is the heaviest represents the state’s regions with the poorest air quality. And yet, unlike rules for passenger vehicles, there is no California mandate for manufacturers to produce zero-emission trucks. The California Fuel Cell Partnership (CAFCP) explored these issues in a webinar on Tuesday—following publication of an action plan for trucks published in October.
“This is the start of the conversation, because there are no other strategy documents that I’m aware of for trucks,” said Nico Bouwkamp, the CAFCP technical analyst who led the webinar. “There’s a lot to discuss.”
In July, a set of state-based interagency partners—including the California State Transportation Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board—targeted 2030 for deploying more than 100,000 near-zero emission freight vehicles and related equipment. “We assume a timeline of seven to 15 years for developing new truck platforms,” said Bouwkamp. “It’s expected to take longer than other vehicle development, because new propulsion and powertrains will be necessary.” Among the challenges would be to establish the reliability and cost effectiveness of fuel-cell trucks.
While a handful of truck manufacturers have explored using electric powertrains, none of them to date have concrete plans to build a commercial fuel-cell truck. The CAFCP recommended focusing on medium-duty delivery trucks—like the ones used by Fedex and UPS—and drayage trucks commonly used for rail loading and warehouse destination tasks.
Bouwkamp, in the webinar, said that lessons learned from the deployment of fuel-cell buses could be transferred to trucks. California is the home of two of the largest fuel-cell bus programs in the country: in Alameda-Contra Costa counties and the SunLine Transit Agency in Riverside County.
The timeline for fuel-cell trucks in many ways follows what has happened for fuel-cell passenger cars and SUVs, which have taken more than a decade to progress from evaluation to deployment. Arguably the biggest obstacle for passenger vehicles has been a lack of hydrogen fueling stations. But there was progress in 2016, with 21 retail stations now open in the state and six more expected before the end of the year—and with nearly 50 fueling hydrogen locations expected before the end of 2017.
Unfortunately, as revealed in the webinar, hydrogen stations established to refuel passenger cars—such as the Toyota Mirai—are not suitable for freight trucks. “The space for getting in and out of stations are not designed for facilitating trucks in terms of layout and filling,” said Bouwkamp. He said trucks would require the use of higher canopies and wider driveways compared to what’s found in retail hydrogen stations. The California Fuel Cell Partnership is calling for ongoing workshops and discussions with stakeholder groups to establish standards and codes, as well as sustainable business models.
When asked about the prospects for zero-emission mandates for trucks—the driving force that has spurred mass production of fuel-cell electric as well as battery-electric cars—Bouwkamp replied, “That’s a good question. We should have a conversation about that.”