Houston as a Hydrogen Haven?

The prototype trucks will have a range of 200 miles, with a top speed of 60 mph.

The prototype trucks will have a range of 200 miles, with a top speed of 60 mph.

What comes to mind when you think of Houston? Perhaps a vision of a large city built around the petro-chemical industry and one of the largest ports in the country?

Here’s another vision for you to consider when it comes to Houston – a leader in zero-emission cargo transport technologies. While Houston is not there yet, this is what EDF envisions Houston could be, and we’re not alone.

EDF is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), U.S. Hybrid, Richardson Trucking, and the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics in a three-year demonstration project at the Port of Houston to show goods movement can be clean, efficient, and cost-effective by using zero-emission fuel cell technology.

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Could drayage trucks one day no longer be the dirtiest in the city?

Seaports like the Port of Houston are major hubs for the import and export of goods, and moving freight requires lots of heavy-duty equipment and vehicles. Traditionally, this equipment is powered by diesel engines that emit dangerous pollutants during their decades in service.

The worst of the worst for spewing toxic diesel emissions is typically the heavy-duty onroad trucks that are used in local drayage (the moving of goods across short distances). They are high horsepower, may idle for extended periods, and are generally older models that do not meet current engine standards with more stringent pollution controls. At the Port of Houston, for example, approximately 3,000 trucks are used in local drayage, accounting for 35 percent of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 12 percent of the particulate pollution from port operations.

A new type of truck

But there are alternatives to these high-polluting trucks. Our project will outfit three drayage trucks with zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell technology to show alternatives to diesel engines are available and work well. The heavy-duty, Class 8 trucks will be configured with a fuel cell – electric hybrid power system with a 320kW electric motor. Hydrogen will be generated and dispensed on-site to fuel the trucks, further reducing the emissions footprint of the project.

The tremendous benefit of this technology is the absence of harmful emissions. These fuel cells emit only water vapor. That’s possible because fuel cells work by an electro-chemical process, rather than the traditional mechanical process used in engine combustion. And since there’s no combustion, there is almost no engine noise. Instead of using a petroleum fuel, such as gasoline or diesel, fuel cells are powered with hydrogen that can be provided from various sources.

Fuel cells have been successfully deployed in passenger vehicles and forklifts, but not widely for applications requiring heavier load capacity (e.g., vehicles that weigh more than 60,000 lbs.). For a company like Richardson Trucking, the fleet partner on the project, it is critical the trucks perform well in the rugged, real-world applications of drayage, where a job may occur on unpaved and paved roads, on steep grades, such as the Sidney Sherman bridge that crosses the Houston Ship Channel, in areas with limited maneuverability, such as port terminals and railyards, and in and out of traffic.

With U.S. Hybrid and GTI leading the efforts on developing the truck technology and providing hydrogen fuel over the course of the three-year project, project data will be collected and analyzed by the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics. Richardson Trucking will participate as the fleet partner to demonstrate the trucks in real-world operations. DOE and H-GAC are responsible for funding and sponsoring the project, respectively. EDF’s role will be to provide outreach and complete a case study of the effort; we also helped H-GAC prepare the original proposal that was selected for $3.4 million of funding. In addition to federal funding, project partners are committing over $3 million in cost-share to implement this project.

Our collective goal for the project is to show that clean technologies can transform goods movement, improving the quality of the air we all breathe without compromising freight efficiency at the Port of Houston.

Accelerating the commercialization of clean technologies

Demonstration projects with real-world applications are critical for fast-tracking the development of new technologies, and effective demonstrations help reduce some of the risks associated with getting them to market. Another advantage is they provide opportunities for improvements – both technological and operational – by enabling those who work with a technology day-in and day-out to be a part of the innovation process. EDF is looking forward to helping highlight new, cleaner paths forward for freight transportation.

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