New alliance targets deployment of heavy-duty hydrogen vehicles

Roxana Bekemohammadi dreams of hydrogen ports.

“Here’s a bit of my ideal scenario,” Bekemohammadi told FreightWaves: “An ocean vessel docking at a port, with a mobile crane powered by hydrogen [hoisting cargo] onto a drayage truck powered by hydrogen and getting on a highway corridor supported by hydrogen infrastructure.”

This hydrogen-saturated vision feeds into an ambitious game plan eyed by a new industry alliance launched Thursday. 

Comprised of heavy hitters and startups alike in the hydrogen fuel cell industry, the Western States Hydrogen Alliance (WSHA) will focus on a rapid increase in development and deployment of heavy-duty fuel cell electric technology across multiple commercial sectors in 13 Western states.

Founding members of the alliance include Ballard Power Systems, Capacity Trucks, El Dorado National, Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, Hyundai, Plug Power and The Protium Company.

“There is a lot of momentum in the heavy-duty sector, and it’s time to be proactive,” said  Bekemohammadi, WSHA’s executive director. 

Regulators tend to take a carrot-or-stick strategy to transitioning away from fossil fuels, explained Bekemohammadi, an engineer who previously worked as a hydrogen expert with the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

But there are strategies that don’t fit into those binary categories, she said, and that’s where the alliance comes in.

WSHA will focus on technical, policy and funding initiatives aimed at maximizing the rollout of vehicles and infrastructure.

The alliance is supported by an advisory board made up of current elected and appointed officials from the Western U.S. who will help steer the organization’s policy activities and serve as a bridge between industry and government.

Bekemohammadi said the organization will announce several additional members in the coming days, along with a list of initiatives the group will be spearheading throughout the West.

Hydrogen has had an on-again-off-again history in the clean fuel industry over the past few years.

After seemingly being shunned by OEMs in favor of battery-powered electric vehicles, a growing number of industry partnerships have emerged in the hydrogen vehicle and infrastructure categories. 

Last spring Daimler Trucks and Volvo Group announced they would work together on hydrogen fuel cell technology for heavy-duty trucks.

At CES 2020, Toyota Motor Corp. announced it will build a 175-acre hydrogen fuel cell-powered city of the future at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan.

Toyota is partnering on a Southern California demonstration project with PACCAR Inc.’s (NASDAQ: PCAR) Kenworth Truck Co. to build 10 Class 8 fuel cell trucks and is building one of the largest fuel cell power plants in the world at the Port of Long Beach.

California, unsurprisingly, is the epicenter of hydrogen fuel cell activity. The alliance hopes to increase that market while developing a regional opportunities for commercial vehicles in other parts of the West.

Also included in WSHA’s plan is to reach out to traditionally hard to electrify applications such as locomotive and air transport.

The association includes a strong equity component, targeting neglected geographic regions like rural Western communities and the Hawaiian Islands, both of which present unique logistical challenges to decarbonization. 

“Fuel cell technology has the opportunity to solve many of our society’s air quality and climate change woes,” said Sanjay Shrestha, CSO at Plug Power, in a press statement.

“It will only do that with a concerted effort on the part of industry, government and each of us. WSHA is aimed at fostering the rapid deployment of zero-emission fuel cell vehicles across multiple heavy-duty and commercial sectors.”

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