The current development program by Hyundai Trucks, in terms of hydrogen powered truck innovation is looking to develop a new fuel cell stack which is capable of producing 200 kW of power, and then fitting two of these in each truck. This produces a final power output of 350 kW of power altogether, which equates to 475 hp. This would be plenty of power for the part of the truck market in which Hyundai currently plays.
“The advantage of the fuel cell is that you can use the same components in the technology for commercial vehicles as well as passenger cars, ” says Dr Sae Hoon Kim, Senior Vice President Hyundai Fuel Cell R&D. “You just add fuel cell stacks, we are using two fuel cells from our car in the Xcient fuel cell truck. People are looking for a truck to be able to go one million km, so what we are doing is a developing a new membrane and catalyst, which will be more durable. We are working on getting to the point where we have a fuel cell truck which is comparable to a diesel fuel truck by 2023 or 2024.
“Today, we have a continuous improvement plan because today we are using the components that currently exist, the fuel cell was developed within our company but there is also motors, converters, inverters and many other components. What we need to develop are new components that are dedicated for fuel cell trucks. Currently, we are using off-the-shelf products, which are not designed specifically for our system.”
The growth in both electric power and fuel cells means that there will be many new, better and more specifically designed components becoming available virtually on a regular basis into the future.
Hydrogen fuel cell trucks will take off when one of a couple of opportunities occur. One is a situation where the business case for a fuel cell truck gets to the point where it is either comparable or even cheaper than the whole of life cost for a diesel truck. The second possibility, and this is occurring in some countries already, is that national regulations limit the use of diesel trucks and incentivise hydrogen trucks.
When PowerTorque asked about for more detail about the trucks we might see on our roads, the team did not get into specifics, but were adamant about the fact that a fuel cell truck would be close to and, in some cases, better than the current diesel trucks, but with zero emissions. One issue is bound to be tare weight.
“I think the future prime mover will be in the same weight range as a current prime mover,” said Martin Zeilinger, Executive Vice President Hyundai CV Development Tech Unit. “At the beginning we might have a slight disadvantage, but with further industrialisation of the fuel cell technology we can expect to be the same or less weight than the current technology.”
To increase the range of a truck you simply add another bank of hydrogen tanks. The current truck can achieve a range of thousand kilometres with three rows of hydrogen tanks. Not only can the size of the tanks be increased but, also, the pressure within those tanks can be increased, if a longer range is required.
The current fuel cell trucks which Hyundai are running in Switzerland use a tank pressure of 350 bar, but the company’s fuel cell cars are fitted with tanks which are at 700 bar, suggesting that higher pressures to increase range is not a major issue. If the current tanks on the trucks in Switzerland were able to use liquid hydrogen as a fuel source, a range of well over 1000 km would be possible.
The reason that the hydrogen is currently stored at 350 bar is because this makes building a hydrogen refuelling station much cheaper. It could well be that the initial infrastructure for refuelling will be the cheaper option, but capable of being upgraded to higher pressure at a later date. Filling up time for the current trucks at a service station, with a hydrogen system which runs at 350 bar, takes around 15 minutes.
Some industry experts have predicted that parity between a heavy duty diesel powered truck and a heavy duty fuel cell truck will happen around 2030. Any government policy which encourages the use of renewables, in a country, will bring that parity date forward.