Los Alamos National Lab works on hydrogen-powered trucks

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LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – There’s been a big push in recent years to make roads a little greener – now Los Alamos National Lab has big plans for those big rigs.

Recent data estimates diesel-powered trucks spew more than 200 tons of CO2 into the air every year. That’s why Los Alamos National Lab is working on a new project to replace the diesel-powered trucks – with hydrogen-powered ones.

"As you try to get all of the carbon out of transportation infrastructure, you gotta do both light-duty vehicles, and heavy-duty vehicles,” said Rob Borup, a researcher at Los Alamos National Lab.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are –by definition– an electric vehicle — but there’s no battery inside. Instead– they use a fuel cell to combine hydrogen gas with oxygen to make electricity.

"Your only emissions are water because the reaction is hydrogen plus oxygen and that gives you H2O. So it is a zero emissions vehicle,” said Borup.

Borup said there is a catch.

“Hydrogen has to come from someplace and today it comes from natural gas, but today fuel cells are much more efficient than burning inside an internal combustion engine, so just by going to a fuel cell and hydrogen from natural gas, you can get a 40-50% reduction in CO2,” he said.

According to Argonne National Laboratory, there were just about 6,500 hydrogen-powered cars on the road in 2019 and zero trucks.

Experts said the technology is there, but the infrastructure still needs to catch up,

that’s why researchers are focused on trucks.

"Heavy-duty vehicles tend to run a more limited route, so you can have a more limited hydrogen-refilling infrastructure to get heavy-duty vehicles on board,” said Borup.

Researchers said they expect hydrogen-powered trucks will hit the road in as little as 5 years but the clock is ticking.

"So you really have to decarbonize the infrastructure now, to prevent what’s worse in climate change,” said Borup.

Los Alamos isn’t the only group working to get more hydrogen vehicles on the road, Hyundai announced this week it wants to develop hydrogen fuel cell versions of all its commercial vehicles, in the next seven years.