Hydrogen-Powered Kenworth Semi Trucks Are Being Deployed in Los Angeles and Long Beach

Toyota and Kenworth are launching a fleet of 10 fuel-cell trucks to test the technology in the real world.

byStephen Edelstein|
Car Tech photo

At CES 2019, Toyota and Kenworth announced plans to deploy 10 hydrogen fuel-cell semi trucks at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California. The first of those trucks are now entering cargo-hauling service, but the companies won't discuss plans for more just yet.

Toyota launched its Project Portal fuel-cell testing program in 2017 and has been using two prototype trucks in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports ever since. The trucks, codenamed Alpha and Beta, have logged more than 14,000 miles according to a Toyota press release. Now Toyota is ramping things up with 10 trucks based on a similar design to the prototypes.

Like the Beta prototype, the new trucks will be based on the Kenworth T680 semi truck. The stock diesel engines are replaced with hydrogen fuel-cell stacks, which generate electricity to power electric motors. It's essentially an upsized version of the setup used in a Toyota Mirai sedan. Toyota previously said the trucks will also have backup lithium-ion battery packs, and that range would be around 300 miles in normal operating conditions.

The Project Portal prototype trucks operated in "drayage" service, moving cargo within the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Toyota said the 10 new trucks would venture outside the ports, hauling cargo to nearby inland areas. Toyota will operate four of the trucks itself, with the remainder going to other logistics companies. One will be UPS, which is slated to get three trucks.

Shell will open "large-capacity" fueling stations in Wilmington and Ontario, California, to provide the fleet of trucks with hydrogen. They will augment three existing stations in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area, according to Toyota, and all hydrogen for the stations will be generated using renewable sources.

Toyota admitted that 10 hydrogen fuel-cell trucks are just a "drop in the bucket." Over 16,000 trucks currently work at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the automaker estimates, and that number is expected to grow to 32,000 by 2030. Over 43,000 drayage trucks are currently operating at ports around the United States, and converting them to fuel-cell power would significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Toyota and Kenworth haven't discussed plans to mass produce fuel-cell trucks, however. Startup Nikola Motors does plan to sell hydrogen-powered semi trucks in large volumes but, as is the case with all automotive startups, it's unclear if Nikola can meet its ambitious goals. Other companies, including Tesla and Daimler, are working on battery-electric semi trucks.