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Hydrogen: The Next Fuel for Trucking?
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Hydrogen: The Next Fuel for Trucking?

Staff

The hydrogen truck is becoming more of a reality. For some time now, several manufacturers have been competing for the development of the first hydrogen-powered trucks. They represent a true revolution in freight transportation, with the potential to raise the sustainability bar even higher.

Hydrogen as a Fuel

Hydrogen, the first chemical element of the periodic table, can be found mainly in the form of gas. This is absolutely colorless, odorless, and tasteless, but it is highly flammable. Also, for this reason, it has often been used in aviation, both as fuel and as a light gas to fill airships. 

Recently, as demonstrated by the numerous prototypes of hydrogen trucks and cars, this element has begun to be used for transport. It is a type of power supply based on so-called fuel cells, which generate electricity through chemical energy, specifically hydrogen.

How Does a Hydrogen Truck Engine Work?

The operating principle of the engines that power hydrogen trucks is similar to that of a battery, with the exception that the battery stores energy within it, whereas the combustion battery converts the chemical energy present in a tank via an electrochemical process. In this case, the hydrogen contained in a special tank passes through the combustion battery, where it separates from the electrons via various methods, supplying electrical energy to the electric motor. Obviously, various separation systems have been tested over time, beginning with proton exchange membrane cells and progressing to solid oxide cells (not very suitable for transport due to the fragility of its ceramic components), direct methanol cells, and direct-ethanol cells.

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The engine of a hydrogen truck, therefore, is an electric motor. This generally draws power from both the combustion cells and the batteries that are installed on board the truck. When the truck does not require energy from the combustion cell – or at least the surplus – it recharges the batteries, thus increasing the autonomy of the truck itself. Hydrogen trucks such as these can cover from 400 up to 1,000 kilometers of autonomy, depending on the amount of hydrogen contained in the tanks and the capacity of the batteries themselves.

The Advantages of Hydrogen Power Supply

Hydrogen fueling, as we have seen, is a complex technology that is requiring great efforts in research and infrastructure development. So, what are the advantages of hydrogen trucks? Without a doubt, the main advantage is the environmental sustainability that hydrogen-powered vehicles provide. In fact, the chemical reaction of a combustion battery produces only water as a final result. This means completely eliminating the polluting emissions that are characteristic of other types of engines, such as diesel engines.
Another significant advantage of hydrogen trucks is their short refueling time. A hydrogen truck takes only a few minutes to refuel with all the hydrogen it needs to "fill up," whereas an electric truck can take several hours to recharge its batteries. Furthermore, the presence of a fuel cell and a battery pack allows the vehicle's autonomy to be significantly increased when compared to a truck equipped only with batteries.  The technology of the hydrogen truck, therefore, is the most mature to be used while waiting for the batteries of electric trucks to be able to significantly reduce charging times.

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