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Pickup Trucks: Toyota Tests Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Semitruck Concept

It wasn't that long ago that Toyota became the first manufacturer to sell a mass-produced fuel-cell car, the Mirai, and we were wondering how easy they were to refuel.

But now, with Nikolaand Teslapreparing to produce electric big-rig tractor trailers, Toyota is jumping into the game, too. If it goes well, you can bet Toyota will bring that technology to full-size and possibly mid-size pickup trucks.

Toyota just announced that it has engineered a concept semitruck with a pair of Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell stacks and a 12-kilowatt-hour battery pack to study real-world applications. The concept truck produces an equivalent of 670 horsepower and 1,325 pounds-feet of torque, and is reported to be significantly faster to 55 mph than a traditionally equipped commercial diesel big rig. Toyota says the concept has a range of more than 200 miles under normal road conditions.

The experiment, called Project Portal, could be the beginning of a completely different way of thinking about heavy-duty trucks and the amount of carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere. The study will take place at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — two of the busiest in the country — this summer. Cargo-carrying big rigs move a lot of tonnage around the country, so if there was infrastructure in place to support zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, the clean air benefits could be huge.

"Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles play a role in California's efforts to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, improve air quality, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels," said Janea A. Scott, a member of the California Energy Commission, in a statement. "That's why the California Energy Commission is investing in the refueling infrastructure needed to support adoption of these vehicles. The Commission applauds Toyota for putting this cutting edge technology to use in a heavy-duty freight proof of concept. This demo will show how fuel cells can help support the heavy-duty sector's efforts to increase efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase competitiveness."

There's no doubt this could decrease the trucking industry's carbon footprint, but with gas prices still relatively low, a lack of fuel-cell repair shops, limited battery capabilities and nonexistent truck-stop hydrogen fueling stations, it's difficult to imagine this happening in the next decade. A better option could be adapting the system to work-oriented full-size, half-ton or other types of work-oriented pickups. Personal-use fuel-cell pickups could use the growing number of hydrogen fueling stations popping up in California's major cities (there are almost two dozen in Los Angeles), but clearly more needs to happen before electric pickups, let alone hydrogen-powered electric pickups, become a reasonable economic choice for everyday consumers.

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