Hyundai is well-known at this point for its passenger cars and growing selection of SUVs, but it’s also involved in commercial fleet vehicle manufacturing. The automaker’s heavy-duty XCIENT line is actually the world’s first hydrogen-powered mass-produced semi truck platform. After successful testing in Switzerland throughout the year 2020, the first U.S. models are scheduled to appear on Southern California roads in August of 2021.
Improving SoCal air quality with hydrogen power
With financial backing from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the South Coast Quality Management District awarded Hyundai a grant of $500,000 to test its XCIENT hydrogen trucks with a 12-month pilot program. The project is intended to improve air quality in Southern California by reducing harmful emissions. According to the EPA, heavy-duty trucks produce the bulk of NOx emissions that originate from a mobile source.
The automaker credits public funding and support to its extensive and successful testing in Europe. Over the course of 11 months, the fleet of 46 trucks in Switzerland has logged a total of 620,000 miles and is estimated to have reduced CO2 emissions by 630 tons.
Long range for long hauls
Over the 12 month test period, the fuel cell trucks will make long-haul runs throughout the region and utilize three stations owned by First Element Fuel to replenish their hydrogen tanks. Hyundai quoted the maximum driving range for U.S. models at 500 miles, and they’ll be able to haul as much as 37 tons.
“We look forward to seeing this important fuel cell project from Hyundai come to life,” said Ben J. Benoit, South Coast AQMD’s Governing Board chair. “The development of long-haul zero-emission truck technology is key to reducing emissions that will provide immediate benefits to our air and our communities.”
What’s next for Hyundai’s hydrogen technology?
Hyundai is also planning an even larger deployment of hydrogen semi trucks in Northern California, the NorCAL ZERO Project, in partnership with a consortium led by the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE). The group obtained $22 million in grants from the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The Alameda County Transportation Commission and Bay Area Air Quality Management District provided an additional $7 million in local funding for the project, which is scheduled to begin in mid-2023.
“We are proud to fund this hallmark deployment of 30 hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks and improve the air quality in Northern California,” said Hannon Rasool, Deputy Director of Fuels and Transportation Division at the California Energy Commission. “These investments will support zero-emission trucks and infrastructure development and deployment as part of the US market ecosystem. Public and private project partners have come together to take a big step forward in decarbonizing freight and goods movement, as part of CARB and CEC’s clean air initiatives.”
The Northern California fleet will consist of 30 Class 8 Hyundai trucks with a 6×4 axle arrangement underneath. The automaker has partnered with logistics service provider Glovis America to manage operations, and the vehicles will be leased through Macquaries’s Specialized and Asset Finance.
With Hyundai XCIENT trucks actively testing on two continents, hydrogen fuel cells appear to be gaining traction in the heavy-duty truck segment. At the same time, rivals like Tesla in the battery-electric space have their own solutions in the works. Time will tell if hydrogen power succeeds in becoming a viable technology, or if electrification will continue to dominate the alternative powertrain market.