DOE pledges to build industry-ready fuel-cell truck

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Updated Jun 24, 2020

A new $100 million hydrogen funding effort from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) includes plans for building an industry-ready heavy-duty fuel-cell truck.

Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, made the announcement Thursday during an online forum held by The International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE).

“We will set a five-year goal to prove our ability to have a fully competitive heavy-duty fuel-cell truck that can meet the demands of the durability, cost and performance requirements of the trucking industry,” Simmons said.

Simmons did not mention any OEMs or industry partners that may help build the truck. The other part of DOE’s latest hydrogen investment includes funding electrolyzer research and development.

Electrolyzers use electricity to create hydrogen and oxygen through a process called electrolysis. Besides being a renewable means of production, DOE and others, including fuel cell truck manufacturer Nikola, believe electrolysis has a shot at bringing down the cost of the fuel. The average cost of hydrogen, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, is $5.60 per gasoline gallon equivalent.

Simmons said costly hydrogen infrastructure challenges are a barrier to fuel cell adoption and that DOE aims to “diversify the hydrogen supply by lowering the cost of hydrogen production from electrolysis.”

Currently, the majority of hydrogen produced in the United States is extracted from natural gas, which is considered a fossil fuel.

“Last year, the U.S. was the largest producer of oil and liquid natural gas, and we currently produce about 10 million tons of hydrogen a year almost exclusively from natural gas,” Simmons said.

DOE’s goal of proving-out H2 technology in heavy-duty trucking as well as nurturing fuel production are two parts of its three-prong plan to stimulate the hydrogen industry, Simmons said.

In its third part, DOE plans to increase hydrogen demand by “developing new uses for it, such as with steel production, backup power at large data centers [and] blending hydrogen into natural gas pipelines,” Simmons said. “Collectively, we’ve made tremendous progress on fuel cells, electrolyzers and fundamental materials. But hydrogen infrastructure – the cost, the durability and widespread distribution – remains a critical barrier.”

This past January, DOE announced up to $64 million for new funding for its H2 at scale initiative “to encourage market expansion and increase the scale of hydrogen production, storage and transport,” Simmons said.

IPHE was founded in 2003 with the backing of DOE and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Its member countries include Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, European Commission, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Russian Federation, Republic of South Africa, South Korea, United Kingdom and United States.

On its website, IPHE states that its goals are to “foster international cooperation on hydrogen and fuel cell R&D, common codes and standards, and information sharing on infrastructure development.”