Does the future of heavy-duty hauling involve hydrogen cells? Too early to say for now, but it is not impossible. In fact, this possibility is being researched on by one of the pioneers of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles in the world – Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor Corp.
Interestingly, Toyota’s first fuel cell vehicle now out in the auto market is called Mirai, which is derived from the Japanese term for “future.” In a sense, the Mirai jumpstarts Toyota’s battle-cry for the future of mobility. The Mirai also expresses the carmaker’s confidence that consumers would accept hydrogen as a clean fuel alternative in the next five years.
The Mirai employs the so-called Toyota Fuel Cell System (TFCS) that boasts of the combination of fuel cell technology and hybrid technology, making use fuel cell (FC) stack, high-pressure hydrogen tanks and FC boost converter. This FCV could be completely refilled with hydrogen in around three minutes and that already allows the Mirai to travel up to a distance of around 300 km or 186 miles.
Then, the carmaker applied the TFCS to a whole new level, by creating Fuel Cell Bus (hydrogen-powered bus). This Fuel Cell Bus gets its hydrogen supply from 10 high-pressure tanks that could contain a total of 600 liters (132 gal) of hydrogen at around 700 bar. The fuel cell system then supplies electricity to two motors that delivers a combined 306 hp (228 kW) of output and 670 Nm (494 lb.ft) of torque and is good for around 124 miles of range.
Just recently, Toyota announced that it would commence sales of the Fuel Cell Bus for the 2017 model year. Toyota’s move could part of the buildup for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by the Japanese government, which wants to make the event as green but as technology advanced as possible.
Now, Toyota is expanding the usage of its hydrogen fuel cell to semi-trailer trucks in the United States. Toyota said that it is exploring a semi-trailer truck application for a California-based feasibility study. It added that a heavy-duty truck sized fuel cell vehicle could be a possible zero-emission freight transportation solution for the future. The Japanese carmaker added that it would disclose further details on the study in the coming months. That’s a lot of thinking ahead for the Japanese carmaker.
Toyota, however, first needs to hurdle a few challenges with regards to adopting fuel cell technology to semi-trucks. Take the TFCS used on the Toyota Fuel Cell Bus, for instance. Its torque level does not amount to even half of what is provided by the conventional engines found in today’s semi-trailer trucks. In addition, its range of around 124 miles is merely a trickle of the distance usually travelled by heavy haulers. Nonetheless, Toyota is a known innovator and it could find a way to further evolve its fuel technology to make it suitable for long-distance heavy-hauling transports.