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Honda engineers retrofitted a Peterbilt Model 579EV battery-electric tractor with three new Honda fuel cell (FC) systems. The truck debuted at the 2024 ACT Expo on May 20. (Ryan Gehm)

ACT Expo: Honda shows Class 8 hydrogen fuel-cell truck concept

The operational commercial truck starts a new demonstration project as Honda seeks business partners to help produce fuel-cell-powered products for North America.

Honda debuted a Class 8 hydrogen fuel-cell truck concept — a Peterbilt Model 579EV battery-electric tractor retrofitted with three new Honda fuel cell (FC) systems — at the 2024 Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo on May 20. Honda announced plans for the proof-of-concept truck in January when production began at General Motors’ and Honda’s joint venture Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, LLC (FCSM) facility in Brownstown, Michigan.

Honda says the commercial truck kicks off a new demonstration project aimed at expanding production of fuel-cell-powered products for the North American market. The OEM is seeking collaborations with medium- and heavy-duty truck manufacturers, as well as partners and customers in other domains that show potential for fuel-cell applications. Honda did not partner with Peterbilt on the concept truck.

“Commercial vehicles, including Class 8 trucks, where fuel cells offer the best zero-emission replacement for existing diesel applications, are a key part of Honda’s broad hydrogen business strategy,” said Ryan Harty, assistant vice president, sustainability and business development, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. During a keynote to kick-off the Ultra Clean Heavy-Vehicle Summit at the ACT Expo on May 22, Harty said that Honda has more than 200 “serious inquiries” from companies looking to integrate its fuel cells into their products.

“To be clear, we are not planning to build Class 8 trucks ourselves,” he said. “Our purpose here is to inspire new and existing truck OEMs to enable their decarbonization plans using Honda’s fuel cells. So, our important message this week [at ACT Expo] is that our order book is open, and Honda is actively seeking new business partners to help bring these hydrogen fuel-cell solutions to market here in North America.”

Hydrogen has unique advantages compared to batteries, Harty said, such as higher energy density and faster refueling time. “This makes hydrogen a good power source for products with long use schedules,” he said.

Honda has identified four core domains for the initial utilization of its new FC system: fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) for personal mobility, commercial fuel-cell vehicles, stationary power stations, and construction equipment such as excavators and wheel loaders. Honda hopes to stimulate greater demand for hydrogen by expanding the applications of its FC system beyond passenger vehicles.

Operational demonstration truck
The Class 8 demonstration truck revealed at ACT Expo is operational, Harty assured. Estimated driving range is 400 miles (644 km) at 37,273 kg (82,173 lb) gross combination weight (GCW).

The tractor’s target weight is 12,918 kg (28,479 lb) with a load weight of 24,355 kg (53,694 lb). Top speed is an estimated 70 mph (113 km/h).

Co-developed by Honda and GM over the past decade, the Honda FC system advances performance and doubles durability while reducing cost by two-thirds compared to the previous generation. “Honda’s been elevating the performance of our fuel-cell systems by addressing key issues such as downsizing and low-temperature performance,” Harty said. “We’ve made a more refined fuel-cell system with quieter operation, and we’ve achieved significantly faster startup even at minus 30 degrees Celsius. These are really important barriers to the commercial adoption of fuel cells, and we’re making marked progress in our development.”

Total output for the fuel-cell system in the Class 8 demonstrator is 240 kW (80 kW for each FC unit). Output voltage for each fuel cell ranges from 275-600 V, and Honda states a maximum efficiency of 58%. Each fuel cell weighs 206 kg (454 lb) in a package size (excluding the design cover) of 732 x 1070 x 620 mm (28.8 x 42.1 x 24.4 inches).

High-pressure tanks (700 bar or 10,153 psi) hold 82 kg (181 lb) of hydrogen onboard the truck, which also employs a 120-kWh high-voltage battery and the stock 500-kW motor. Honda says the truck can be refueled in 20 to 30 minutes.

Honda already has some experience in the commercial-vehicle domain. It has teamed with Isuzu to co-develop the GIGA Fuel Cell heavy-duty truck that debuted at the Japan Mobility Show 2023. The two companies have begun demonstration testing of a prototype model on public roads in Japan in December 2023, with plans to introduce a production model in Japan in 2027.

Future generation: Cost parity with diesel
Initial production of fuel cells at the FCSM facility will be used to support Honda’s internal initiatives and FCEV sales, but the company plans to begin external deliveries of FC system modules “in the near future.” Honda expects initial sales of 2,000 units per year, expanding to 60,000 units/year from 2030 and a few hundred thousand units/year from 2040 as a future-generation FC system is developed and becomes available.

“We’re already independently developing our future-generation hydrogen fuel-cell system, which will achieve further cost reduction and improved performance – and more importantly, a big expansion in volume. But I’ll save the details about that fuel cell for a later date,” Harty said. “Our target for this future generation is diesel cost parity. This is a challenging target, but we’re up for it.”

Companies interested in collaboration and partnership with Honda’s hydrogen business can contact hydrogen@na.honda.com.

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