The commercial trucking industry is gearing up to comply with increasingly stringent fuel efficiency norms and greenhouse gas (GHG)/CO2) emissions regulations. Across major markets, truck OEMs have returned to the drawing board in a bid to move away from their traditional reliance on diesel and transition to alternate powertrains. Simultaneously, efforts to boost fuel efficiency improvements are gaining momentum.
Over the next decade, we will see a clear shift in powertrains. Our research projects global diesel penetration in the heavy-duty trucking industry to reduce to almost 60% from current levels of 93% by 2030.
In line with such fundamental shifts, Eaton’s Vehicle Group recently received a research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop “highly efficient hydrogen fuel cells capable of powering heavy-duty machinery.” As part of this initiative, Eaton will partner with fuel system manufacturer Ballard Fuel Cell Systems and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). This is to develop heavy-duty truck fuel cell technology using its Twin Vortices Series (TVS) supercharger technology.
Technology that Increases Power and Efficiency
The efficiency of most hydrogen fuel cells tends to be compromised because of issues related to the pressure and control of airflow. The presence of TVS supercharger technology aims to provide fuel cell manufacturers with a precise amount of controlled air to increase power and efficiency, according to Karl Sievertsen, vice president, and chief technology officer, Eaton’s Vehicle Group. In short, it targets improved fuel cell efficiency and significantly lowered air system power consumption for heavy-duty truck applications. According to the terms of the grant, a subscale prototype will be designed and tested in a laboratory before presumably being further developed for real-world deployment.
Step Towards Developing a Favorable Hydrogen Ecosystem
Our recent research into Global Fuel Cell Trucks Growth Opportunities highlighted hydrogen fuel cells as a promising alternative to fossil fuels for commercial vehicle applications. The U.S. Department of Energy and Eaton’s latest partnership reflects such thinking. It falls into the more significant global trend of increasing interest and investments in hydrogen research, production, and application. More generally, it aligns with the increasing effort to build synergies between government and industry to push toward cost-effective, decarbonized transport systems.
Progress in technology, infrastructure, strategy, and cost are still required before commercial-scale deployment of fuel cell trucks can be achieved. In turn, this will require coordinated efforts between governments and the private sector to develop a favorable hydrogen ecosystem.
In the context of Eaton’s current mandate, our research indicates that long-haul, heavy-duty fuel cell trucks are likely to achieve critical total cost of ownership (TCO) parity with diesel within the next 7-8 years in North America. However, a caveat: while research initiatives like the Eaton-Ballard-NREL partnership represent early steps in the journey to hydrogen and fuel cell technologies trucks, the move from the laboratory to commercial scale deployment will require supporting incentives and continued public funding. Technological advances will languish unless accompanied by incentives motivating fleets to switch over to fuel cell trucks.
For more insights into the latest developments in alternative powertrains in the commercial vehicle market, please read: Global Fuel Cell Trucks Growth Opportunities and Truck OEM Strategies for GHG/CO2 Regulation Compliance, 2020-2030
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