The second tier of feasible alternative propulsion, apart from the current trends involving battery packs and hybrid powertrains, includes the fuel cell – FC in engineering shorthand – which essentially uses electrolysis to separate hydrogen, an energy carrier, from water, using an anode and a cathode separated by an electrolyte. At the cathode, hydrogen ions then combine with electrons for form hydrogen gas. It’s a potentially groundbreaking way to extract renewable energy on a nearly zero-emissions basis. Much of the current research into FC powertrains involves their potential use in trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles. Toyota is now using one of its U.S. plants to move this emerging powertrain technology closer to real-world production.
Beginning in 2023, Toyota will establish a dedicated line at its assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, for volume production of integrated FC modules for installation in heavy trucks that are undergoing evaluation by several producers, including Toyota itself. Toyota is exploring partnerships with other manufacturers on EV production – the forthcoming Subaru Solterra hybrid, which uses Toyota battery technology, is one example – on bringing FCs to the Class 8 heavy-duty truck segment as well. Each such module, as shown here, weighs about 1,400 pounds and can deliver up to 160 kW of continuous, emissions-free power. Theoretically, that should give your typical 80,000-pound rig about 300 miles of range at highway speeds while fully loaded. With a workforce of about 10,000, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky achieved a different kind of milestone last month, building its 10 millionth new Camry sedan.