In the transportation sector, fuel cell technology has long been on the brink of breaking through for a variety of medium- and heavy-duty applications. We’re still not quite there yet, the experts say – but the promise continues.
“Increasingly, the toughest remaining challenges for heavy-duty fuel cell trucks relate to the hydrogen fuel they run on,” said Jon Leonard, senior vice president at Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (www.gladstein.org), a clean transportation and energy consulting company. “Like compressed natural gas vehicles, most fuel cell vehicles run on compressed hydrogen [CH2] that must be carried onboard the vehicle using heavy, expensive, high-pressure tanks. Although this presents tradeoffs on cost, range and other factors, onboard CH2 storage is robust and proven.”
Other challenges include the high cost of the hydrogen fuel and its limited availability due to a paucity of hydrogen fueling stations. “Moreover,” Leonard added, “the limited number of existing hydrogen stations are largely geared for light-duty vehicles like the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity, etc. The only hydrogen stations that can accommodate heavy-duty vehicles are mostly found on transit properties.”
All the same, there is forward movement. Light-duty fuel cell vehicles manufactured and sold by the likes of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are proving their worth – and inspiring the promise of other, heavier-duty applications in the future.