Kenworth hydrogen hybrid almost road-ready

SEATTLE, WA — Kenworth is the latest player in the battle to get to zero emissions, testing a T680 electric hybrid day cab with a hydrogen fuel cell.

The Kenworth T680 ZECT hydrogen hybrid is being tested in Seattle.

The US $7 million Class 8 regional hauler has been in the design phase since October 2016, working to be an alternative-fuel drayage vehicle for ports like Long Beach and Los Angeles in California — where emissions are being restricted — and an inner-city delivery truck for places like London, England, where emissions are set to be banned outright by 2050.

The truck is being funded primarily by the United States Department of Energy, as well as the South Coast Air Quality Management District under the Zero Emission Cargo Transport (ZECT) program. Other partners on the project include the California Energy Commission and the Center for Transportation and the Environment. Ballard Power is partnering on the project to build the fuel cells.

Kenworth research and development manager Brian Lindgren says the way the hydrogen technology works is “a little bit of magic”, mixing the fuel in the 30-kilogram hydrogen tanks with air to charge the 100 kilowatt-hour battery mounted under the cab, and producing nothing but water vapour in return.

The four-speed automated transmission with a dual-rotor traction motor output of 565 horsepower (or just over 400 kilowatt hours of power) has an initial range of 150 miles (240 kilometers). Fully loaded the truck can run under battery power alone for 30 miles (48 kilometers) before the hybrid system kicks in.

The six 5-kg hydrogen tanks on the Kenworth T680 have all been crash-tested and reinforced to prevent ignition.

In testing, the Class 8 has been hauling a Gross Vehicle Weight just shy of 80,000 pounds (36287 kilograms), making it equal to current diesel models on the market, according to director of product planning Stephan Olsen.

The six, five-kilogram hydrogen tanks take about 10 minutes to fill with a nozzle, not unlike those on trucks using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), meaning drivers won’t be left standing around when they need to refuel. And unlike CNG, no off-gassing is needed for the hydrogen, producing no excess emissions and not losing fuel when the truck isn’t running.

The hydrogen tanks have been reinforced and crash-tested, ensuring their contents pose no ignition hazard in case of a collision.

The battery — complete with heating and cooling systems to regulate temperature and mounting brackets — weighs 3,500 pounds (1587 kilograms), pushing the total weight of the truck to 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms). Lindgren says that is about 6,000 pounds more than a diesel-powered truck of similar size. The company says that weight differential will come down by about 50% once the truck goes into production.

The temperature control systems surrounding the battery are designed to keep it from overheating in warmer climates, and from shortening the range of the truck in colder climates, although Lindgren says the truck isn’t designed to be operated in area where conditions can become too extreme, he guessed it would have no issue operating in California heat or Canadian cold.

The battery is estimated to last six to 10 years before it will need replacing.

Lindgren shows where the battery is located on the Kenworth T680

In addition to the hybrid hydrogen charging, the truck comes with a smart plug that can be hooked up to any outlet for overnight charging. The plug isn’t necessary to have, but Lindgren said it gives drivers another option for convenient charging.

As the first-ever truck to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show on January 9, Kenworth expects the T680 will continue the testing phase in Seattle for another four to six weeks before the truck will be moved to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to be tested in a real-world environment by Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI).

TTSI takes control of the truck at the end of March, a timeline Lindgren says the company can meet, although he admits it will be tight. The truck has come a long way from concept to track testing, but still needs refinement.

Taking 10 journalists for a spin around the PACCAR test-track in Mount Vernon, Washington, the truck started its day at less than 50% charge and completed more than 20 short trips in and around the facility with only one 20-minute break needed to re-fuel and recharge.

During this phase of testing, Lindgren says the truck’s kilowatt-hours have been limited by about 100 kWs — reducing horsepower to just over 300 for the timebeing. The limit throttled the truck’s ability to really get-up-and-go, but it still reached speeds of more than 55 miles-per-hour (88 kilometres per hour) — close to the truck’s top speed of 65 miles per hour (105 kilometres per hour).

The truck stalled and needed to be restarted several times throughout the day, indicating it was reaching its kilowatt-hour limit as it was being put through its paces. That problem should disappear once the limit is removed, engineers said.

Drivers both in and outside of the truck may be alarmed to see steam pouring out of the hood — something the engineers discovered during the test day. The harmless water vapour indicates no engine problems, nor poses any more risk than steam coming off a cup of hot tea, but Lindgren says the system will be sealed to prevent the steam from being visible before the truck heads south to eliminate even the perception of trouble.

The hydrogen fuel cell developed by Ballard Power for the Kenworth T680.

Marketing the new technology will be as much about managing perceptions and education as anything else.

While the T680 uses a significant number of tried and tested parts – axles, Bendix air disk brakes, wheels, and suspension, for example – the engine is all new. Something engineers on the project say they never dreamed they’d be working on when they began their careers more than 25 years ago.

Other options exist for hybrid Class 8 trucks, however, Kenworth chose the hydrogen option because it is truly zero-emissions, unlike CNG or diesel hybrid options that offer near-zero emissions.

Olsen says he doesn’t think there is just one alternative-fuel solution to the necessary task of cleaning up the air in metropolitan areas. The company’s other projects include a near-zero 9-litre CNG hybrid to be released in April and able to handle longer distances, and an entry participating in the Super Truck II project that was started in October 2017 and will be completed in 2022.

“Kenworth needs to be prepared.”

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