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Toyota hydrogen fuel cell kit for Semi truck ready to roll in 2023


After a highly successful demonstration of the technology, the Toyota hydrogen fuel cell kit will start to be produced in 2023, and the semi truck rolling down your interstate could start emitting water vapor out of its tailpipe before you know it.

The Toyota hydrogen fuel cell semi project began a few years ago in the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Engineers took basically two Mirai fuel cell cars and put that technology into a Kenworth semi. This test project did so well, Toyota plans to start producing a kit for Class 8 semis starting next year at their Georgetown, Kentucky, assembly plant.

What is a Toyota hydrogen fuel cell kit?

In simple terms, it is a plug-and-play kit meant to replace the diesel engine with electric motors fueled by hydrogen fuel housed in a tank replacing the diesel fuel tanks.

This kit, developed with partners Kenworth and Shell, was initially developed for running drayage trucks up and down the ports. A drayage semi truck is the name for the job they do hauling transport containers off cargo ships to processing centers where the cargo is then loaded onto either trains, planes or other long-haul semi trucks.

During the test period, Toyota worked with Kenworth to build 10 of these trucks, and Shell provided three fueling stations for them in the ports.

The test results were a smashing success.

Why would you want a hydrogen fuel cell semi?

Hydrogen has long been the forgotten alternative to full battery electric vehicles with critics attacking it as a pipe dream and politicians putting more emphasis on battery electric technology.

As we have learned though, a battery electric truck isn’t for everyone with towing range, charging times and high prices being real drawbacks to the technology. Hydrogen addresses some of those concerns.

For example, in the case of a semi, those drivers need to be able to put on 300 to 600 miles a day, have a fast fill-up time and provide enough power to haul their loads often at 30,000 pounds.

With BEV technology, the batteries take a long while to charge even with the latest fast chargers, they are also really heavy, which cuts down on how much weight a semi can haul and just won’t be able to provide the same range as a diesel engine.

Enter hydrogen. While heavier than a diesel engine, it is considerably lighter than a BEV meaning semis can hit close to that 30,000 pounds number.

Plus, recent advancements in fueling mean a semi could refill its hydrogen tanks in about 25 minutes which is about the average stop time of 15-20 minutes for semi drivers.

Finally, hydrogen meets the future emissions regulations globally with its only emission being water vapor.

While this all sounds exciting, Toyota hasn’t publicly said, at this time, how many of these kits they are building and who the intended customers are. Plus, we don’t know how many hydrogen stations Shell, and other energy companies, are planning to build to support this roll out.

Where are the hydrogen stations?

Infrastructure concerns dog hydrogen just as much as they do for battery electric vehicles. And the current largest group of hydrogen fuel stations exists in California. There are very few stations outside of California.

However, this could change quickly.

The advantage hydrogen has is you can load it into massive tubes and then park them outside of gas stations. With a quick connect setup, similar to a propane bottle on a grill, you can literally provide hydrogen to customers in minutes without needing massive energy grid upgrades.

Plus, since hydrogen is safe, the fueling station can integrate the hookups along with diesel and gas pumps.

The bottom line

Once commercial shipping companies start to see the benefits of hydrogen for their drivers — such less fatigue, quiet cabin, smooth ride and the ability to run the air conditioning without worrying about idling laws — the hope is demand will create more supply of the fuel and a reduction in price. So, we could see hydrogen fuel cell demand explode.

There’s always a lot of speculation about all these future fuels, but as someone who has ridden in the Toyota hydrogen fuel cell semi, it makes so much sense once you go for a ride. It is a simple solution to the complex issue on air quality and you don’t have to change your life to make it work for your needs.

Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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1 Comment

  1. George November 27, 2022

    Need to make this more available for small companies such as my own. We have no opportunity of taking advantage of these products because the price is probably so ridiculous no way I’ll ever be able to afford one. I just paid off my diesel truck and it’s a dandy. Now everything is gonna change to battery power and I’m gonna have to let weeds grow up around mine besides being able to use it because it’s destroying the environment.


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