U.S Names Hydrogen Hubs to Help Convert Heavy Trucks to Fuel Cells

The U.S. government has identified hydrogen hubs that will be built across the country to drive adoption of fuel cells for heavy trucks, replacing most diesel.

David Kiley, Senior Editor

October 18, 2023

5 Min Read
U.S. Department of Energy funding development of hydrogen hubs.

The Department of Energy has allocated and identified recipients of almost $7 billion to build hydrogen production and distribution hubs coast-to-coast meant to support the replacement of diesel fuel for heavy trucks. The program will also create fuel supplies and infrastructure for stationary fuel cells.

While the government’s plan is designed to make the trucking industry cleaner and greener, the hope is that the hubs also will make hydrogen fuel-cell passenger cars more viable in the next decade. Ford, General Motors and Stellantis’s Ram brand, for example, also have fuel cell electric vehicle drivetrains in development for heavy-duty pickups that would benefit from an expanded green hydrogen network.

Where the Hubs Are Going:

  • Pennsylvania gets up to $750 million and will use existing oil-industry infrastructure to produce hydrogen from renewable and nuclear energy. Project partners include refiner PBF Energy and Air Liquide. Stationary FCEV generators at the Philadelphia port will be used to power ships during unloading and loading so they don’t have to run diesel engines portside.

  • $1.2 billion for a California-based project that will produce hydrogen exclusively from renewable energy and biomass and is aimed at decarbonizing public transportation, heavy-duty trucking and port operations. Project partners include Amazon and Air Products.

  • A hydrogen hub spanning parts of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, partnering with natural-gas producer EQT is receiving up to $925 million and will produce hydrogen using natural gas with carbon capture.

  • A Gulf Coast hydrogen hub centered in Houston and backed by companies including Exxon and Chevron is awarded up $1.2 billion.

  • A hub proposed by a coalition of Midwest states that would be partially powered by nuclear energy to provide hydrogen for uses including steel and glass production is awarded up to $1 billion. Project partners include utility Exelon and reactor operator Constellation Energy.

President Biden hails the investments as a boon for the economy, saying they will create good-paying union jobs and help the U.S. address climate change.

“I made it a goal for our country to get to net zero emissions from pollutants by 2050. It’s the only existential threat to humanity. Clean hydrogen is going to help us meet this goal. When it comes to charging our cars or powering our homes, all we need is clean electricity,” he says.

The hydrogen hubs are intended to reduce the cost of green (from renewable sources) hydrogen production — one of the biggest barriers to hydrogen’s widespread use — by 80%, to $1 per kilogram by 2030.

The Energy Department also announces plans to award $1 billion to stimulate demand for hydrogen to provide “market certainty” and ensure demand.

Hydrogen offers multiple industries the potential to wean themselves off fossil fuels: long-haul trucking, shipping, new-construction housing, buses, farm equipment, forklifts and even aviation.

Feds, California Driving Hydrogen Bus

Governments are pushing mandates to replace diesel to motivate investment in and development of hydrogen supplies. California, for example, is requiring the phase-out of diesel trucks. New big rigs and other trucks will have to be zero-emissions in 2040 under a proposed regulation unveiled in September by the California Air Resources Board. Effective last January 2023 diesel-fueled vehicles model years 2010 and older, with a gross vehicle weight rating of 14,000 lbs. or greater, were banned from California’s highways.

Under the proposal, manufacturers won’t be able to sell new medium- or heavy-duty trucks fueled by diesel or gasoline that operate in California – leaving them with electric models.  In addition, large trucking companies will have to convert their existing fleets to zero-emission vehicles by 2042.

The Hydrogen Movement is Global

The European Union also is pushing the advancement of hydrogen mobility. The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, in September approved up to €4.9 billion ($5.2 billion) in public funding for hydrogen projects, a move it says could unlock another €7 billion ($6.6 billion) of investments from the private sector.

The China Hydrogen Alliance (CHA) has established an initiative to raise hydrogen’s share of China's energy demand to 20% in 2060. That’s a long-haul strategy, but it would have a crucial role in China’s strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Nikola is one company dedicated to building FCEV-powered heavy trucks. Volvo, Freightliner and Daimler are among truck makers developing both FCEV and battery-electric powered big rigs, while Tesla has developed a battery-powered heavy truck.

Nikola's truck has a range of up to 500 miles (805 km), refuels in 20 minutes and maintains 645 hp. The cost runs between $200,000-$600,000 depending on range options and extras. Daimler Truck and Volvo Group formed Cellcentric, a joint venture to accelerate fuel-cell-powered truck development, and both companies intend to be producing fuel-cell trucks at scale in the second half of this decade. Kenworth Truck and Toyota are in a joint venture that plans to start rolling out fuel-cell trucks by 2025.

Other Investments Feeding Hydrogen Demand

  • Honda is developing a FCEV CUV, the’24 CR-V powered by hydrogen.

  • Hyundai, which sells the Nexo FCEV, has committed $6.7 billion to developing several hydrogen products and applications across the value chain. The Korean industrial group participates in stationary hydrogen power, maritime shipping and trucking.

  • Bosch is building a $200 million fuel-cell plant in South Carolina and has committed $1.3 billion through 2025.

  • Global chemical company INEOS has committed €2 billion ($2.1 billion) to green hydrogen production.

Hydrogen, while potentially the cleanest source of energy on the planet, is still controversial, even among environmental advocates and groups. Hydrogen takes large amounts of energy to produce — and when it’s made with electricity from coal or natural gas, it has an even bigger carbon footprint. Oil refineries, for example, produce a lot of “gray” hydrogen they sell off for industrial applications.

The Energy Department grants, though, are built around developing and scaling up renewable energy sources of hydrogen

About the Author(s)

David Kiley

Senior Editor, WardsAuto

David Kiley is an award winning journalist. Prior to joining WardsAuto, Kiley held senior editorial posts at USA Today, Businessweek, AOL Autos/Autoblog and Adweek, as well as being a contributor to Forbes, Fortune, Popular Mechanics and more.

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