Toyota’s Fuel-Cell Conversion Kit Can Replace Diesel in U.S., EU

Toyota wins approval from California for its hydrogen fuel-cell conversion kit designed to replace diesel engines.

David Kiley, Senior Editor

May 15, 2023

3 Min Read
California certifies Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell conversion kit for heavy trucks.

Toyota announces its heavy-duty hydrogen-fuel-cell powertrain kit has received approval from the California Air Resources Board, opening the door for owners of Class 8 heavy trucks to replace diesel engines with zero-emission powertrains.

The heavy-truck industry is transitioning away from diesel and toward zero-emissions alternatives including hydrogen.

The kit is made up of fuel cell stacks, battery packs, electric motors, a transmission and hydrogen fuel tanks. Toyota worked with a team at Kenworth to develop the kit using the FCEV powertrain. The companies built 10 Kenworth T680s with the hydrogen powertrain installed.

"We believe hydrogen will play a significant role in the emissions reduction of heavy-duty transport while not sacrificing the distance, power or fueling times needed to keep these fleet and individual operators running," says Chris Rovik, executive program manager in Toyota Motor North America's advanced mobility division.



As part of its CARB certification, the trucks were put into service with customers for practical field development and data collection. They were deployed to carry cargo between the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, for example. Shell Oil provided refueling support for the program.

CARB is driving the elimination of diesel in California, and several states plan to follow suit. Under a CARB proposal, expected to become law in California, new big rigs and other trucks will have to be zero-emissions in 2040.

Under the proposal, manufacturers couldn’t sell new medium- or heavy-duty trucks fueled by diesel or gasoline that operate in California, instead turning to electric models powered by batteries or fuel cells. In addition, large trucking companies would have to gradually convert their existing fleets to zero-emission vehicles, buying more over time until all are zero-emissions by 2042.

"Fuel-cell technology is scalable, and we believe it will take an increasingly visible and important role in our collective fight to reduce and eliminate carbon as we move towards a hydrogen society," Rovik says.

Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell modules are also being integrated into heavy-duty trucks made by Hyliko for the European market. 

Trucks account for 72% of cargo movements in the U.S., and 77% in Europe. The industry generally views hydrogen fuel cells as a better substitute for diesel than batteries. The lower mass of hydrogen systems allows for heavier payloads, while the fast refueling of hydrogen is essential for heavy commercial transport.

Hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains have been around for decades, but scaling the technology has always been thwarted by lack of refueling infrastructure. Additionally, most hydrogen is actually produced from fossil fuels, negating the benefits of running vehicles on hydrogen.

The landscape is changing, though. The Inflation Reduction Act signed into law last year includes $8 billion for a program to establish six to 10 regional “hydrogen hubs” around the U.S.

Hydrogen Impact

Heavy trucks are being considered for conversion from diesel to hydrogen fuel for several reasons:

  • Environmental benefits: Hydrogen fuel cells produce zero emissions, which can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. Heavy trucks are some of the biggest polluters on the road, and transitioning them to hydrogen can help mitigate the environmental impact of these vehicles.

  • Energy efficiency: Hydrogen fuel cells have greater energy efficiency than internal-combustion engines, which means they can provide more power for the same amount of fuel. This makes them a potentially more cost-effective option for heavy trucks, which require a lot of power to transport heavy loads.

  • Regulatory pressure: Many governments are implementing regulations to reduce emissions from heavy trucks, and hydrogen fuel cells can help companies meet these regulations.

  • Reduced dependence on fossil fuels: Hydrogen can be produced using renewable sources of energy, such as solar or wind power, in turn reducing the dependence on fossil fuels for transportation.

  • Potential for longer driving range: Hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to provide longer driving ranges compared to battery-electric vehicles, an important consideration for heavy trucks that need to travel long distances without stopping for recharging.

Overall, the conversion to hydrogen fuel for heavy trucks is a promising solution for reducing emissions and improving the sustainability of transportation.

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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