UPS Unveils World’s First Fuel-Cell Delivery Truck

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“What can Brown do for you?” Very soon, deliver your packages via hydrogen-electric truck.

As online shopping continues to increase in popularity, delivery services become even busier. All of those trucks mean a lot of emissions and high fuel costs. But UPS thinks they’ve found a way to reduce both with their new high-efficiency delivery truck prototype.

Unveiled this week at the 2017 Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, the van is the first of 17 hydrogen fuel cell vans UPS plans to put into action by the end of 2018. It’s part of a $10 million plan run by the U.S. Department of Energy and funded in part by the state of California. With some of the most strict air quality regulations nationwide, it’s no surprise that California is a major proponent of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Although the vehicle looks very much the same from the outside, the interior contains a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain. It operates by converting compressed hydrogen gas into electricity. Unlike other systems, the van can run entirely on hydrogen — and the only byproduct of this process is water.

The vans will go into service later this year in Sacramento. The rest of the fleet will be used throughout California after approximately 5,000 hours of performance testing. They’ll be limited to the Golden State as it contains the largest hydrogen infrastructure. Many states don’t even have hydrogen fuel-cell filling stations.

“We want to let [California legislators and regulators] know where the hard-earned dollars went,” said UPS fuel cell systems chief engineer Michael Britt to Trucks.com.

While studies have found there’s a good case for using fuel cell systems in commercial transport, not everyone is on board — at least not with smaller UPS vehicles or ones that are used less frequently.

Michael Held, a director of AlixPartners, an automotive and transportation consulting firm, has questioned whether fuel cell-powered vehicles are really the best economic choice. The price of diesel fuel is currently quite low, and it’s also 25% to 35% more energy-rich than gasoline. In some cases, it still might make better business sense to use diesel-powered vehicles.

However, UPS seems determined to find out whether these hydrogen-electric vehicles will be the best option for their largest trucks.

In a statement, Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of engineering and sustainability, said, “The challenge we face with fuel-cell technology is to ensure the design can meet the unique operational demands of our delivery vehicles on a commercial scale. This project is an essential step to test the zero tailpipe emissions technology and vehicle on the road for UPS and the transportation industry.”

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