November 3, 2022

What is a hydrogen cell fuel truck?

We have been hearing the call for improved carbon emissions for years, and industries all over the world are taking note. As we all know, the need for improved sustainability measures leads to unparalleled innovation (thankfully), and one exciting venture is the hydrogen cell fuel truck.

Hydrogen, you say? But that’s dangerous! Lest we forget the headlines from May 7, 1937, “35 PERISH AS HINDENBURG EXPLODES - HORRIFIED CROWD SEE PEOPLE LEAP FROM INFERNO.” The Hindenburg disaster, along with the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger launch that killed all seven astronauts on board, has left an indelible fear in our society’s conscience for decades about the use of hydrogen power. This explains one of the reasons it’s taken so long for hydrogen power to be more widely adopted, though as always, the cost comes into play too.

No matter the reason for the delay in bringing hydrogen power to the forefront, the concept is still fairly new to many, so let’s take a moment to understand what exactly it is, and how it can help us achieve our sustainability goals.

What is a hydrogen cell fuel truck?

A hydrogen cell fuel truck is a heavy-duty work vehicle of any size that uses an all-electric propulsion system to power itself. Rather than being powered by fuel, hydrogen cells function as its primary energy source. Sounds pretty promising, eh?

How does it work?

All electric fuel cell vehicles run on electricity that is made by mixing oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity. When electricity is made that way a portion of the energy is used immediately and the rest is stored in a battery. Electricity can also be generated by recapturing brake energy that is then stored in the battery. One excellent feature of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is that the amount of energy stored is based on the size of the hydrogen tank, not the battery, which means batteries can be much smaller than an all-electric truck. Another plus is that hydrogen can be refilled quickly, maximizing its efficiency.

The US Department of Energy created this helpful infographic on how hydrogen cell fuel vehicles work.

How do they help with sustainability?

The International Transport Forum reported that international trade-related freight movement is responsible for about 30% of all transport-related CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, which is more than 7% of global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. This means we need to explore all the options possible to reduce carbon emissions. The hydrogen cell fuel vehicle is a valuable way of generating energy because it produces no harmful tailpipe emissions. That’s right, they emit only water vapor and warm air.

But is hydrogen power actually safe?

While echoes of the Hindenburg disaster bounce around in our heads, it’s important to focus on actual data. Hydrogen is safe to use for a couple of reasons. First, it needs a higher minimum concentration than most common fuels to burn. This means that when measured by percentage volume in the air, there needs to be 4% of hydrogen in the air for it to be flammable, whereas other fuels need far less:

  • 0.6% for diesel
  • 1.2% for propane
  • 1.4% for gasoline
  • 3.3% for ethanol

This also applies to the temperature needed to ignite. Without a flame present, temperatures need to be at 550°C to ignite hydrogen, whereas those of diesel, gasoline, propane, and ethanol, are 210°C, 260°C, 480°C, and 365°C respectively. We need to quell those Hindenburg fears, learn from that disaster, and make hydrogen work for us. Thankfully, many leaders are doing just that.

Are hydrogen cell fuel trucks expensive?

Like most new technologies, the cost for the development and upfront installation of hydrogen cell fuel engines is higher than traditional fossil fuels, especially in the early days. But we’re already at the point where the day-to-day operating costs of hydrogen fuel cell systems are generally lower than both internal combustion engines and full battery electric power, especially in heavy-duty work trucks. More importantly, the cost for operators is relatively low, especially when considering how much more efficient it is compared to a diesel or natural gas system. This means the cost of hydrogen fuel cells is no longer prohibitive, but comparable.

What does it all mean?

For starters, it means our prospects for a carbon-neutral future are possible, we just need to do the work to make it happen. For SemiCab, hydrogen cell fuel trucks represent a symbiotic relationship that can lead to even more network-wide efficiencies. While SemiCab is focused on  predicting and optimizing millions of loads for hundreds and thousands of trucks and eliminating empty miles, some of those trucks can someday be powered by hydrogen cells, reducing even more emissions.

No matter the kind of truck, SemiCab is dedicated to orchestrating collaboration between shippers and carriers to create network-wide efficiencies we can all benefit from. Want to be part of the change? Learn more about our platform today, by simply reaching out.


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