Correction: Toyota says these hydrogen kits are for equipping newly built trucks, not converting existing diesel trucks already on the road, as stated in an earlier version of this post. The updated post appears below.
Toyota is often pilloried by the press for investing R&D into hydrogen instead of going all-in on battery electrics. However, their efforts may be paying off. Toyota’s Zero Emissions Powertrain, or ZEP, has just been given the go-ahead for commercialization by the state of California. The kit seeks to put hydrogen fuel cell power plants in newly built heavy-duty Class 8 vehicles like semi trucks and buses.
Even the most hardcore evangelists for battery electrics admit that hydrogen fuel cells might make more sense for long-haul trucking. Not only do they allow trucks to refuel faster to maximize all-important uptime, but their lighter weight allows for more payload. A hydrogen fuel cell truck also out-drag races a conventional diesel.
Toyota’s ZEP kit is a hydrogen fuel cell solution that produces electricity and water, not a hydrogen-combustion engine that Toyota has experimented with on some race cars. The kit includes hydrogen fuel storage tanks, fuel cell stacks, batteries, electric motors and transmission, and the latest generation is more efficient in terms of energy use and packaging than previous iterations.
Toyota began testing hydrogen fuel cell trucks at the Port of Long Beach near Los Angeles in 2017. At least some of that fuel was supposed to have been generated via cow poop. Those first- and second-generation trucks covered 14,000 miles of drayage duty at the second-busiest port in the U.S. First-gen trucks were capable of 200 miles per fill, while second-gen trucks had extended the range to 300 miles. Toyota also collaborated with Kenworth to build 10 prototype trucks using the Kenworth T680 as a base, hauling cargo from Long Beach to Los Angeles and San Bernadino.
According to Toyota, truck manufacturers using Toyota’s ZEP may also be eligible for other incentives, such as the California Air Resource Board’s (CARB) Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP), the Clean Truck Fund (CTF) introduced last year by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and certain federal incentives.
Now that the ZEP is certified, production is scheduled to begin at Toyota’s Kentucky manufacturing plant.