Hydrogen Fuel Cell Truck Is Here To Help EV Batteries, Not Harm Them

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“The Fuel Cell is liberator of the battery, not its nemesis.” So says the London-based EV maker Tevva, which has come up with a formula for making love and peace between the clashing worlds of EV batteries and hydrogen fuel cell technology. The company’s newly launched battery-electric truck sports a fuel cell range extender to get it through the working day with maximum efficiency and lowest cost.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Truck Of The Future Not Ready For Prime Time, In 2016

tevva hydrogen truck
Image courtesy Tevva

Tevva sailed across the CleanTechnica radar back in 2016, when it came up with the idea of deploying EV batteries and diesel fuel to power an electric truck. The idea was to reserve battery range for urban areas and other sensitive locations, with a diesel range extender filling in the gaps for longer distances, in areas where traffic and congestion don’t enable diesel fumes to accumulate.

“The new range-extended electric truck comes in at around 7.5 tons, is manufactured by the Chinese company JAC, features an all-electric range of 130 kilometers (~80 miles), a much larger absolute-range once the diesel range extender is factored in, and can be recharged in roughly 3 hours using a 3-phase high-power outlet,” explained CleanTechnica’s James Ayre.

If that sounds like less than an ideal solution, it was. However, considering the state of both EV battery and fuel cell technology at the time, it was an improvement on the diesel-powered internal combustion scenario.

Here Comes The Electric Truck Of The Future, With A Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Well, that was then. Seven years later, Tevva Motors (formerly Teva Motors) is ditching the diesel angle in favor of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Tevva’s new electric trucks sports an electric motor developed in partnership with the company Advanced Electric Machines, which provides the company with a juicy green marketing angle. The new motor eschews rare-earth magnets, which relieves Tevva from association with the environmental impacts of rare-earth mining.

Tevva also cites the following benefits of its rare earth-free motors:

    • Cost – rare earth metals are both expensive and price volatile – Between March 2020 and March 2021, the cost of neodymium (the key rare-earth element used in motors) increased by 240%.
    • Motor complexity – permanent magnet motors containing rare earths have a much higher need for cooling than motors without rare earths and that leads to more complex design and higher costs.
    • Efficiency – a more efficient motor means more range from a given size of battery. The faster you can make a motor spin, the more efficient it will be. However, at higher speeds, motors containing rare earths run into difficulties in keeping them adhered to the fast spinning rotor.

Tevva also notes that rare earth motors require an offsetting electrical current to counteract the magnetic field. Combined with the other factors, the result of ditching rare earths is an efficiency gain of up to 12%.

Where Does The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Come In?

The hydrogen fuel cell angle surfaced on June 30, when Tevva announced that its new 7.5-tonne electric truck with a range of up to 500 kilometers will be the “first hydrogen fuel cell-supported heavy goods vehicle (HGV) to be manufactured, designed and mass produced in the UK.”

“Hydrogen has been used safely in buses and other vehicles in more than twenty countries for many years and has a higher energy density than lithium-ion batteries or even diesel,” Tevva noted. “Because of these properties, it is particularly attractive for use in larger, commercial vehicles.

“By adding a hydrogen fuel cell system to its battery-electric HGV design, Tevva is delivering zero-emission solutions that will work for the overwhelming majority of fleet operators across a range of industries and sectors. The fuel cell system tops up the battery, extending the vehicle’s range and allowing the truck to carry heavier loads over longer distances,” they explained.

Other truck makers are bringing trucks to market that rely exclusively on hydrogen fuel cells, but Tevva appears to have spotted an opportunity to cut costs by combining fuel cells and batteries.

“One advantage of using the fuel cell as a range extender, rather than the primary source of power, is that it allows Tevva to provide smaller, cheaper and lighter fuel cells and operate these at the highest possible efficiency,” they enthuse.

Another key consideration for the shipping and logistics industry is time. While EV battery charging times are dropping, they have yet to match the convenience of a quick fill-up with liquid fuel. The Tevva truck is designed to match the refueling time of a comparable diesel truck, which they estimate at 5-20 minutes.

Sustainable Hydrogen For The Fuel Cell Of The Future

If you’re wondering where all that hydrogen will come from, that’s a good question. As part of its customer service package, Tevva refers to “sustainable and affordable hydrogen supplies.”

“Tevva is on-boarding diverse hydrogen suppliers that can provide innovative and hydrogen services to cater to the needs of our growing customer base,” they explain.

Tevva CEO and founder Asher Bennett also alluded to sustainable hydrogen, stating that “We firmly believe that the post-fossil fuel future, which is quickly approaching, will see a new range of technologies and fuels take centre stage in the transport industry.”

Given that most of the global supply of hydrogen today comes from natural gas (and to some extent coal and industrial waste), that’s a pretty tall order.

On the plus side, the green H2 market is exploding. Europe is already a key epicenter of green H2 activity, and a green H2 movement is stirring in the Baltic Sea. Ukraine is also leveraging its potential as a green H2 exporter, to help incentivize its admission to the European Union.

Chances are that Tevva and other fuel cell stakeholders will have an ample supply of sustainable hydrogen in hand in the years to come.

All Hands On Deck For Hydrogen Fuel Cell Trucks

Who knows, maybe the fuel cell and green hydrogen markets will provide a pathway to come back home to the UK. Don’t hold your breath! In the meantime, the UK is determined to make headway on its own. The nation’s Advanced Propulsion Centre provided funding and collaborative resources to develop Tevva’s new truck, as part of its mission to lower the cost of carbon-free mobility devices.

“The launch of this truck, with its hydrogen fuel cell range extender, is an exciting outcome of the APC-funded project to completely eliminate CO2 at the tailpipe and lower the total cost of ownership compared to existing diesel vehicles,” said Zoe Hall, APC’s Head of Competitions and Projects. “This smart zero-emission vehicle, with rare earth metal free electric motors, has the potential to make heavy goods transport sustainable.”

You Too, USA

As for US automakers, a leading stakeholder in the industry once famously compared hydrogen fuel cells to bull poop, among many other headline-chewing prognostications. Nevertheless, it looks like the fuel cell / battery mashup is headed for the US.

The company behind the hydrogen fuel cell half of the equation is global firm Loop Energy, which followed up last week by announcing an agreement of more than $12 million to deliver its hydrogen fuel cell technology to Tevva through next year.

“As a result of the agreement, which extends through to 2024, Tevva becomes the first customer to move into the Full Production Phase of Loop Energy’s Customer Adoption Cycle,” Loop noted.

“The market for zero-emissions commercial vehicles continues to develop quickly, and this supply agreement with Tevva puts Loop Energy on the path to not only technology leadership, but fuel cell market leadership,” Loop added.

Loop already has a significant footprint in the US and Canada as well as Europe and the EU. If all goes according to plan, the new Tevva truck could make its way to US shores, bull poop or not.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: New electric truck with hydrogen fuel cell and battery, courtesy of Tevva via businesswire.com.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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