Toyota turns electric eye toward freight-hauling

Feasibility study explores use of fuel cells for heavy duty equipment

Published: April 20, 2017, 5:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:16 PM

Toyota Project Portal

If you’ve ever wondered why new car buyers are constantly bombarded by encouragement to buy electric vehicles, even though freight haulers like trains and heavy trucks continue to spew diesel exhaust for hundreds of km every day, then Toyota has two words for you — Project Portal.

The Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) feasibility study will explore the use of hydrogen fuel cells for heavy duty equipment, and it starts with a cell system for a transport truck. The project will start in summer 2017 out of the Port of Los Angeles, with which TMNA is partnering as part of the Port’s Clean Air Action Plan that has been working to reduce emissions from its operations since 2005.

“By bringing this heavy duty, zero emission hydrogen fuel cell proof of concept truck to the Port, Toyota has planted a flag that we hope many others will follow,” said Mary D. Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB). “CARB will be following the progress of this feasibility study with interest, as we look to develop the best mix of regulations and incentives to rapidly expand the market for the cleanest, most efficient big trucks to meet the need for dramatic change in the freight sector.”

Project Portal is the fully functional heavy duty truck that will be putting its 670 hp and 1,325 lb-ft of torque capacity to use as a short distance hauler, moving freight from port to close-by destinations (such as distribution warehouses). The practice is known as drayage and is fraught with disproportionately high costs in the supply chain, and it has been criticized by various interest groups, including environmentalists.

Project Portal appeases the latter because it counters the significant contributions to automotive emissions by emitting simply water vapour.

“The Port of Los Angeles is excited to collaborate with Toyota to explore the feasibility of fuel cell technology for port drayage operations,” said Tony Gioiello, Deputy Executive Director of Port Development at Port of Los Angeles. “Our port and industry stakeholders have demonstrated their leadership in reducing pollution from port-related operations, and we see the potential of Toyota's zero-emission heavy-duty truck technology as another solution to meet the long-term goals of the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan.”

The truck uses two Mirai fuel cell stacks and a 12-kWh battery, which is relatively small for class 8 load operations, but returns a range of 325 km despite its gross combined weight of 36,287 kg (80,000 lbs).

“With Project Portal, we’re proud to help explore the societal benefits of a true zero emission heavy-duty truck platform,” concluded TMNA Executive Vice President Bob Carter. “Toyota believes that hydrogen fuel cell technology has tremendous potential to become the powertrain of the future. From creating one of the world’s first mass market fuel cell vehicles, to introducing fuel cell buses in Japan, Toyota is a leader in expanding the use of versatile and scalable zero-emission technology.”