Amidst the more than 20 electric and compressed natural gas passenger vehicles and trucks assembled at the 2012 SDG&E Energy Showcase is a massive, white Freightliner cab unlike any other in the nation.
Click open the hood of the white cab and you’re greeted by technology more akin to Star Trek than Detroit. Instead of the familiar engine block, radiator, oil and air filter there’s a large silver box sporting orange wires that lead to dual fuel cells. These cells, resembling rectangular black honeycombs, are encased in the dark recesses of what was once the “engine” compartment.
The letters on the hood read: Hydrogen Powered. Unlike the familiar groan of the diesel engine this semi makes no noise, has a range of about 250 miles and its only emission is water.
“This truck has an electric motor, that’s driven by a battery charged by a fuel cell and runs on hydrogen,” says Vic La Rosa, chief executive officer and president of Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI) of Los Angeles. La Rosa says the fuel cell’s life is about 8 to 10 years and that they must run on 99.9 percent pure hydrogen.
What’s inside the big silver box under the hood? Power inverters.
The hydrogen fuel source is available at four locations: Pacific Chevron in Harbor City; a Ralphs’s distribution Center in Compton that uses hydrogen to fuel fork lifts; Waste Management in Santa Fe Springs and Cal State University in Los Angeles.
Also, a company near TTSI called Air Products has a steam reformation plant in the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor area, which takes in natural gas and turns it into hydrogen. That hydrogen is then used by the refineries to produce gasoline. TTSI’s plan is to run an underground pipeline from the Air Products steam reformation plant across the street to an open lot that will be turned into a hydrogen fueling station. “The station will have the capacity to fuel 500 hydrogen trucks per day,” La Rosa said.
It takes about 62 pounds of hydrogen to fill truck’s tank. One pound of hydrogen is basically equal to one gallon of diesel, but the yield for hydrogen is greater. For instance, diesel runs at 50 percent efficiency while hydrogen’s energy yield is about 90 percent.
Thus far, the truck has pulled tractors, trailers and containers in the area.
The experimental hydrogen vehicle was a natural extension of TTSI’s alternative fuel vehicle fleet and was joined by a wide array of new alternative fueled vehicles at San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) 7th Annual Energy Showcase including: a luxury Fisker Karma sedan, a Honda Fit, an all-electric BMW ActiveE, an electric Mission Motors motorcycle, an electric Staples delivery truck and a sleek electric Fed Ex delivery van.
“This year’s Energy Showcase was a unique opportunity to view a wide variety of energy savings equipment, processes and clean fuel vehicles,” said Alex Kim, director of customer innovations for SDG&E. “In addition, we were pleased to host a seminar on the natural gas and electric vehicle market and award Clean Transportation Champion awards to the City of San Diego, Qualcomm and Car2Go.”