Hydrogen Fuel Is Gaining Traction With Truckers

Some operators say it allows trucks to drive farther and faster, but the technology is far behind development of battery-cell electric vehicles

Jim Gillis is making a big bet on hydrogen-powered big rigs.

Gillis, president of the Pacific region for Collierville, Tenn.-based IMC, will take delivery in the coming weeks of his first hydrogen electric fuel-cell Nikola trucks long before the technology is proven and a refueling network is set up.   Nikola says it is working with a third-party provider to develop a network of 50 hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. over the next five years. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“I am always worried about first-generation technology,” said Gillis, who expects to be running 50 of the sleek rigs by the end of 2024. “As fancy as it all looks, I know going into it that we are going to have some problems.”

The company is among many looking to overhaul their fleets to meet impending requirements for zero-emissions commercial trucks in California. Many of those truckers are focused on battery-cell rigs that essentially bulk up electric-vehicle technology from the passenger-car industry for 18-wheelers. Hydrogen is gaining a following, however, among some heavy-duty truck operators who see it as the industry’s best path toward zero-emission technology, especially for rigs traveling long distances. 

Hydrogen offers longer trips and faster refueling than battery-cell technology, supporters say, while allowing trucks to haul heavier loads because they aren’t carrying industrial-scale batteries. 

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Nov. 15, 2023 2:35 pm ET