What on earth have we seen unleashed in the truck-making world? Everybody and his third cousin twice removed has launched a new truck or soon will. If not a new truck, then a new kind of powertrain.
Companies with names we’ve never heard of seem poised to nibble away at the market that was once the exclusive domain of the big boys.
But it’s obviously not the same market at all. It’s changing rapidly, and will only continue that way, pushed forward at an ever-increasing pace by the need to save the planet. Don’t expect any of the traditional OEMs to disappear. Far from it, but when it comes to alternative power sources and even automation, there are many seemingly well-funded little guys hungry for a piece of the action. Or hoping they’ll be bought by one of the giants and cashing in on their good engineering ideas.
It’s been a long while since various moments of consolidation thinned the herd and we lost brands like Hayes and Brockway and White, as well as giants like Ford and GM. Now we’re going in the opposite direction and it’s pretty fun to watch. Suddenly we have names like Hyzon and Sea, and in Europe others like Quantron and Volta. One really big company, China’s BYD, spans the globe. Some of them buy cab-and-chassis strip-downs from the old standards while others like Quebec’s Lion Electric design and build their own, a significant undertaking.
None of the newbies makes a traditional truck with a diesel-based drivetrain of the sort we’ve been used to for decades. That’s the key here. In the medium- and heavy-duty spheres we’ve got battery-electric, hydrogen fuel-cell-electric, and at least one very interesting sort of dual-fuel hybrid. That’s one you could buy into right now if you run trucks in northeastern B.C., and elsewhere in the province, or even the country soon.
I wrote about Hydra Energy of Delta, B.C. a couple of years back, and more particularly about how it can easily and reversibly convert a standard diesel engine to run on 40% hydrogen (with no warranty disruption, no performance differences). And then automatically run on diesel alone if the hydrogen runs out. The only catch is the weight of the hydrogen tank – 1,000 kg – but in B.C. that’s dealt with by a special gross weight allowance.
The idea is coming to fruition after 200,000 km worth of pilot testing, but its key is not so much the technology as the business model.
The company calls it HaaS, standing for Hydrogen as a Service. And the benefit is claimed to be a fixed fuel cost 5% lower than diesel, or at worst equivalent, while also offering a substantial emissions reduction of as much as 40%. With no upfront investment cost at all. In fact, Hydra will build a fueling station at no cost to the fleet. The proviso is that the customer commits to a long-term hydrogen-supply contract, something like 5 years.
Note that word “fixed”. Even if it’s just 40% of the total fuel bill, who wouldn’t like that predictability?
Hydra sources low-carbon hydrogen from chemical producers that would otherwise harmlessly send it into the atmosphere as a waste product. It recently secured funding to finish development of its first hydrogen-capture plant in Prince George, B.C., working with sodium-nitrate producer Chemtrade, and it has its first customer there. Family-run Lodgewood Enterprises now has the first of 12 trucks to be retrofitted with Hydra’s dual-fuel technology. It’s a broadly capable fleet working closely with the mining, logging, and large-scale construction industries, offering general freight, specialized transport, and heavy hauling services.
I’ll be watching this one closely.
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