The cell, which processes hydrogen to generate electricity, can produce more than 1.4 kilowatts, 120 volts AC or 12 volts DC.
In a demonstration Century Class S/T tractor at a meeting of the National Intelligent Vehicle Initiative in Washington, D.C., last week, the fuel cell powered an 8,000 Btu/hr. air conditioner that kept the cab cool despite outside temperatures in the low 90s. The device was practically silent.
Freightliner still is a long way from making the fuel cell a specification item for its trucks. Executive Engineer William Gouse guessed that the price tag at this stage would be in the six figures.
But considering the fuel that’s expended by engine idling – a gallon per hour, said Gouse – not to mention the emissions and the noise, Freightliner has a powerful incentive.
The system is being developed by Freightliner and XCELLSIS, a joint venture partly owned by Freightliner parent DaimlerChrysler AG.
The heart of the system is a pair of Ballard fuel cells fed by a 52-gallon tank of liquid hydrogen, all mounted on the left side of the truck. As Freightliner explains the process, hydrogen in the cells is split into positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. The protons pass through a membrane but the electrons cannot – thus building up voltage in the cell.
Besides electricity, the process produces water.
Gouse said there are major technical and economic obstacles to overcome before the system is commercially viable. Among other things, there is no commercial infrastructure for distributing fuel for the cell.
It will take from three to five years to bring the system to market, the company said.