Western Canada’s provincial governments continue to fuel interest in hydrogen for commercial vehicles.
British Columbia is just the latest jurisdiction to invest in the fuel, as it looks to kickstart the use of hydrogen-powered trucks with a $16.5-million Pilot Hydrogen Truck Project. That will involve procuring six heavy-duty fuel-cell trucks and retrofitting fueling infrastructure under the direction of HTEC, which designs, builds, and operates hydrogen production facilities.
“It marks the first-ever deployment of heavy-duty hydrogen fuel-cell-electric trucks for a diverse range of fleet operators in the province,” HTEC president and CEO Colin Armstrong said in a news release. “This pilot project symbolizes a remarkable leap toward a sustainable future.”
This June, a fifth HTEC retail hydrogen station in Kelowna joined a network of four existing stations to support hydrogen-electric vehicles in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
Velocity and fleets
The hydrogen truck project brings together prominent Western Canadian trucking companies such as Bison Transport, and alternative-energy-minded Velocity Truck Centres.
Velocity president Rod Graham is especially buoyant about the future of hydrogen-fueled trucks, noting his company is partnering with HTEC to open B.C.’s first “hydrogen-compliant, heavy-haul transportation technicians’ bay”.
The Western Canadian interest in hydrogen is not limited to B.C.
Bison, along with Trimac Transportation, is participating in the $7.3-million Alberta Zero Emissions Truck Electrification Collaboration (AZETEC), under which two long-range hydrogen fuel cell trucks will be designed, manufactured, and tested on runs between Calgary and Edmonton.
Graham doesn’t see hydrogen as a solution for every truck. But it will be part of a portfolio of fuels with certain applications for certain regions, he says.
Blue, grey and green hydrogen
Alberta, for example, has plentiful natural gas that can be used to create so-called grey and blue hydrogen, the latter of which involves carbon capture and storage. That could also be used to generate electricity to power battery-electric trucks.
“In B.C., 98% of their power is clean, with the opportunity for green hydrogen,” Graham added, noting the province is well positioned for battery-electric, CNG, and hydrogen-powered vehicles alike.
“As a truck dealership, part of where we wanted to go was to introduce hydrogen as part of that portfolio.” The caveat, he said, is that the economies of scale don’t yet exist, and the infrastructure itself is “nascent”.
Bison Transport vice-president – maintenance Mike Gomes echoed that sentiment. “The proof of concept of hydrogen-fueled trucks is solid, but raises [the] chicken and egg question: Do you build the infrastructure and hope the technology becomes viable, or do you build a select few tractors?”
Portable fueling cells
Instead of building pipelines, today’s focus is on using portable fueling cells to test the vehicles. “Which makes sense,” Gomes said. “I don’t believe there’s an economic model today for hydrogen technology and commercial trucking.”
It’s for that reason that HTEC will upgrade a hydrogen-fueling station in Tsawwassen and a maintenance facility in Abbotsford, in addition to purchasing six different heavy-duty fuel-cell trucks.
Gomes said this is part of the “call to action” in the transition toward greener power in the trucking industry.
An intermediate step, Graham added, could be “dual-fuel” equipment that runs on both hydrogen and diesel “until you ultimately get to a technology for producing pure hydrogen.”
But meeting the larger goals for a green transition is unlikely to occur without additional government investments, Gomes and Graham stressed. Here, a government subsidy will be an important bridge until the price differential between diesel and hydrogen closes.
“We’d like to see that subsidy in and around parity,” Graham said.
Any major advance toward hydrogen is going to require government funding, and private investments by carriers and their customers, Gomes said.
“It has to make economic sense.”
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