Friday, April 21, 2017

Another Truck Maker Throws their Hat in the Ring on the Future of the Industry

Toyota Reveals Secret Project that Has Been Under Development
Shipping News Feature
US – If the recent tweet by Elon Musk about Tesla's intention to soon field an all-electric semi-truck caused disruption amongst the share prices of traditional HGV manufacturers, it has also apparently inspired one major potential rival to reveal their own experimental concept zero-emission truck.

Toyota’s American development division has just revealed that they have had a top secret development program – codename ‘Project Portal’ – underway examining combining their hydrogen fuel cell drive technology that has just gone on sale in their Mirai sedan with a semi-truck. In fact the concept vehicle combines two of the Mirai’s fuel cells with a more powerful electric motor and shoehorns it all into a Kenworth 660 chassis.

So secret has the project been that even the suppliers for the program were in the dark as to what was going on and the whole thing has been compared to a project by the legendary Lockheed Skunkworks, who develop cutting edge military aircraft in utter secrecy.

Hydrogen fuel cells work by taking compressed hydrogen as fuel and passing it over a catalyst that strips some of the electrons, which creates an electrical charge. This then powers batteries and an electrical drive system, similar to a convention hybrid drive vehicle. The difference is that the leftover hydrogen then combines with oxygen in the air to form water, the only emission from running the vehicle.

It isn’t all plain sailing however. To produce the amount of hydrogen needed to run a worthwhile amount of vehicles would be massive, and that power still needs to be generated. The argument in favour of all-electric drive vehicles is that if you are charging vehicles straight for the grid you have less wastage in the power cycle; electric vehicles taking energy straight from the grid are more efficient than vehicles that use hydrogen and which use a fuel that has to be transported to fuelling points from factories where it first has to be produced with the consequent inefficiency in production.

It was these factors that led Elon Musk to state that he considered the concept of hydrogen fuel celled vehicles as ‘very silly’, however, fuel cells do have the promise at this time of providing both rapid refuelling of vehicles and better range between replenishments, currently major issues with electric vehicles. As was pointed out in our previous article, these factors are probably going to be the key decider in which way members of the road freight community go in their future planning and purchases.

It’s looking like we are approaching a VHS versus Betamax moment, where the market will have to choose which fuel source is going to power our freight vehicles for, well, certainly the foreseeable future. With stakes as high as that we can expect to see a rash of technological evolutions in the near future as the developers and manufacturers look to gain the higher ground and guarantee their own chosen vision of the future.