Kenworth, Toyota join to develop trucks with fuel cells

John G Smith
Andrew Lund, Toyota’s chief engineer for Project Portal, describes features of the Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Kenworth and Toyota are joining forces to develop a test fleet of 10 Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles, building on research that both had been conducting independently.

While Kenworth will build the chassis and electric powertrain, Toyota will focus on the fuel cells and storage. In fact, the fuel cells are the same technology currently available in Toyota Mirai cars – a model expected to be offered in select Canadian markets later this year.

Shell will offer the research fleet’s all-important fueling stations, with one at the Port of Los Angeles and another location likely near the airport in Ontario, Calif., says Brian Lindgren, Kenworth’s director of research and development.

Toyota’s logistics operation in the Los Angeles Basin will run six of the units, while UPS will use two to deliver freight from the port to the Los Angeles Airport, says Toyota spokesman Russ Koble. The other two will be split between yet-named drayage contractors.

The joint research is being funded through a grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), supporting a Port of Los Angeles target of allowing only emissions-free trucks by 2035. There are currently 16,000 diesel-powered trucks serving the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach.

Drawing on 420 kW of power from a pair of carbon fiber fuel cells, the Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle will maintain about 50 km/h on a 6% grade, and deliver enough torque to start on a 20% grade, managing the motion with a four-speed automated manual transmission. It will have a range of about 480 km between charges.

The energy is stored as hydrogen, but converted into electricity that’s held in 12 kWh batteries to actually drive the electric motors, said Andrew Lund, Toyota’s chief engineer for Project Portal.

A new fuel cell

Kenworth’s first prototype – the Zero Emissions Cargo Transport (ZECT) — was based on fuel cells from Ballard Power Systems.

“Both of them use PEM [Proton-Exchange Membrane] fuel cell approach, so from a chemical standpoint both of them provide hydrogen on one side of a membrane and compressed air on the other side. The electrons chase around,” Lindgren said. Although, the construction, voltages and power management differ.

Toyota’s first two fuel cell trucks known as Alphas already had a connection to Kenworths. They had been built on Kenworth glider kits. “We started talking and said, ‘Maybe we could do something here,” Lindgren added. The truck on display during a press conference at the annual Consumer Electronics Show was actually a repainted Alpha.

The research doesn’t preclude either manufacturer from working with other companies in the future.

There are certainly lessons to learn. Thermally managing the fuel cells, batteries and power electronics have all been a bigger challenge than expected, Lindgren says as an example. Coolant that runs inside the fuel cell needs to be made with deionized water and can’t be shared for other uses.

“One of the lessons we learned with our ZECT truck is we have to heat the batteries when they get really cold. Right now, January, we’re doing some testing in our technical center in Mount Vernon, and the batteries don’t like it when it’s cold — so we have to heat them up so we can apply energy batteries in a hurry when we need to make a shift. For example, the fuel cell wants to generate energy all the time. You have to stop that for a minute when you make a shift. And if you can’t put it into the battery, what do you do with it?” he says.

Lindgren describes California as a “Goldilocks area” for such research at the moment. “It’s not too hot. It’s not too cold if you’re on the coast. If you can stay in the 50 Fahrenheit to 100 Fahrenheit [10 to 38 Celsius], that’s pretty easy to handle,” he said. The system is being designed to handle temperatures from just below freezing to above 45 Celsius.

The goal is to build trucks that weigh the same as diesel models, yet be thousands of pounds lighter than battery-electric competitors.




John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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