GM hydrogen unit to supply fuel cells for Autocar’s heavy vehicles

By Nick Carey

(Reuters) – General Motors’ and Autocar Industries have agreed to jointly develop hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles powered by the No.1 U.S. automaker’s fuel cell unit Hydrotec, the two companies said on Thursday.

The first of the new zero-emission vehicles which are traditionally powered by diesel engines – such as cement mixers, dump trucks, refuse trucks, road maintenance vehicles and terminal tractors – are expected to go into production in 2026 at Autocar’s plant in Birmingham, Alabama.

“We want to enable zero tailpipe emissions solutions for the largest, highest energy consuming vehicles, and fuel cells are ideal for the most energy intensive applications,” Hydrotec executive director Charlie Freese said in a statement.

Hydrotec will provide “power cubes” consisting of more than 300 hydrogen fuel cells, along with “thermal and power management systems and proprietary controls.” The power cube provides 77 kilowatts of power.

Interest in hydrogen fuel cells to power trucks and vans has grown as fleet operators seek a more practical alternative to electric vehicles.

While most of the world’s combustion engine cars and short-distance vans and lorries should be replaced by battery electric vehicles (BEVs) over the next two decades, fuel-cell proponents and some long-haul fleet operators say batteries are too heavy, take too long to charge and could overload power grids.

The same applies for heavy vehicles like cement mixers, which would require enormous batteries to move any distance.

“As regulations change, we see Hydrotec fuel cells as an additional avenue for our customers to meet their EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requirements with zero tailpipe emissions vehicles,” Autocar president Eric Schwartz said in a statement.

Vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells, in which hydrogen mixes with oxygen to produce water and energy to power a battery, can refuel in minutes and have a much longer range than BEVs.

(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Mark Potter)