Friendlier Trucking Through Fuel Cells, Hybrid Engines

No matter what direction the fuel economy grows in, there is always going to be a need to ship large quantities of items from one side of the country to the other. Government departments and private companies are already trying to figure out how to match the demands of the shipping market with the potential changes in engine technology in order to save fuel and lower emissions on U.S. roads.

Peterborough, New Hampshire – July 29, 2004 [] The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) established an Office of FreedomCar and Vehicle Technologies in 2000, and a specific program called the Advanced Heavy Hybrid Propulsion System Program in 2002. Eaton Corporation, Oshkosh Truck and Allison Transmission have all won contracts through the DOE program to work on electric hybrid engines for heavy vehicles from class 3 to class 8. Heavy vehicles include trucks of various types and uses, buses, and numerous off-highway vehicles such as equipment used for construction, farming and mining. Approximately 80 percent of goods included in the gross domestic product are transported by various classes of trucks, according to information on the DOE’s Web site. According to 1997 figures, the millions of Class 3 through 8 commercial trucks on the road used approximately 22.9 billions gallons of fuel annually. This contributes to the nation’s reliance on imported foreign oil, and hybrid technology for heavy vehicles developed through the government program should reduce U.S. dependence on imported foreign oil. Hybrid engines have gained in popularity for economy cars, so the step into the heavy vehicle market isn’t surprising. The development of fuel cell technology for trucks seems just as futuristic as the hydrogen economy, but two companies have joined in a research and development venture to try and ensure that the trucking world stays in line with fuel technology. Hydrogenics, a clean power generation company, and Deere & Company, known for its machinery from lawn tractors to construction equipment, entered into a five-year agreement to develop fuel cells that can power commercial vehicles. The companies have already outfitted some Deere vehicles with the HyPM fuel cell power module, and they believe that fuel cells will be easier to adapt to the heavy vehicle market than the commercial automobile market. “Broadening our relationship with Deere is an important milestone towards achieving fuel cell commercialization,” Hydrogenics President Pierre Rivard said. “Through this agreement we expect to transition our products from R&D prototypes, or demonstration units, to robust commercial products.” Eaton is working with International Truck and Engine on the DOE program, and will try to meet the goal of commercialized heavy hybrid propulsion vehicles before the end of this decade. A side benefit of hybrid diesel engines for heavy trucks would be increased fuel efficiency and meeting the 2007 emissions standards of the Environmental Protection Agency.