National labs M2FCT researchers outline prospects and challenges for hydrogen fuel-cells in heavy-duty transportation
In 2020, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) launched the Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck Consortium (M2FCT) to leverage the potential opportunity fuel cells in the heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) market and to align with the H2@Scale vision for clean and affordable hydrogen across multiple sectors in the economy. (Earlier post.)
With $50 million funded by DOE HFTO over five years, a team of five national labs co-led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have set out with a 2030 goal of demonstrating systems that have a 25,000-hour, or 1-million mile, lifetime for long-haul trucks.
The M2FCT team outlined the current and future prospects and challenges of hydrogen fuel cells for heavy-duty vehicles, including trucks, buses, trains, and marine applications, in a recent Nature Energy study. Co-authors included scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), LANL, and Berkeley Lab.
The heavy-duty vehicle market could be an avenue to get fuel cell technology deployed quickly. This will encourage building the needed hydrogen refueling infrastructure with less infrastructure investment since trucks travel predictable routes.—LANL Program Manager Rod Borup, the co-director of M2FCT
Berkeley Lab scientist Ahmet Kusoglu, corresponding author of the study, notes that heavy-duty vehicles make up a small fraction of the vehicle fleet in the US and travel only 10% of the total annual vehicle miles driven, but, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, contribute to 23% of transportation emissions of greenhouse gases in the US. Moreover, HDVs account for almost one-quarter of the fuel consumed annually in the US.
The sudden growth in interest in hydrogen as a fuel for HDV necessitates a rapid expansion in research and development (R&D) aimed at extending the durability of fuel-cell components.—ORNL scientist David Cullen, the study’s first author
In late 2019, DOE’s HFTO and Vehicle Technologies Offices released technical targets for hydrogen-fueled Class 8 long-haul trucks. These targets set in motion the work on which the M2FCT researchers are now embarking by guiding early stage R&D. The study recently released by M2FCT uses Class 8 long-haul trucks as a case study to show how different design characteristics impact efficiency and durability, as well as how the advancements made for light-duty vehicles can be leveraged to meet heavy-duty vehicle requirements.
To meet DOE’s targets for hydrogen-fueled long-haul tractor trailer trucks, M2FCT researchers have identified the key differences between designing hydrogen fuel cells for light-duty vehicles versus heavy-duty vehicles.
Challenges, according to ANL chemist Deborah Myers, are that heavy-duty vehicles require a higher cell voltage to achieve optimal efficiency in addition to the three to five times longer required lifetimes compared to light-duty vehicles, placing greater demands on the performance and durability of the fuel cell materials.
Solutions to this include materials research that explores how existing fuel-cell component materials operate and degrade under different temperature and humidity levels and at higher cell voltages, and development examines how the integration of new materials can meet these challenges.
The M2FCT consortium brings together different areas of expertise related to fuel-cell efficiency and durability and harmonizes activities with industrial developers. While the initial focus of this study is on how to meet the targets for hydrogen-fueled long-haul tractor trailer trucks, M2FCT researchers are also optimistic about the potential adoption of hydrogen fuel cells in other, more demanding heavy-duty applications including trains, maritime, and even aviation.
The energy, power, and lifetime demands of these applications make fuel cells a very compelling route for their decarbonization, assuming the use of renewably sourced green hydrogen, and should increase the utilization and deployment of hydrogen in multiple sectors.—Berkeley Lab scientist and M2FCT Co-Director Adam Weber
This study was supported by DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office through the Fuel Cell Performance and Durability (FC-PAD) and Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck (M2FCT) consortia.
Cullen, D.A., Neyerlin, K.C., Ahluwalia, R.K. et al. (2021) “New roads and challenges for fuel cells in heavy-duty transportation.” Nat Energy. doi: 10.1038/s41560-021-00775-z