LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – Scientists are working on the latest in clean energy technology right here in New Mexico. Los Alamos National Lab is working on getting commercial semi-trucks on the roads that are entirely powered by hydrogen.
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The lab’s work with hydrogen dates back to the Cold War and creation of hydrogen bombs, but now, they’re using that technology to change the transportation industry. From cars and buses to ferries and boats, hydrogen fuel cell technology is advancing transportation and researchers at LANL hope to bring it to the interstates.
“This is not just a laboratory research project,” said Rod Borup, project manager with LANL’s Fuel Cells and Vehicle Technology department. “The whole goal of this project is to get them out there and commercialized.”
Scientists with the lab’s fuel cell program are working with the Department of Energy to create the ‘million-mile fuel cell truck’ which would power commercial big rigs with eco-friendly hydrogen gas. The program has been around since the late 1970s.
“You get both the benefits of eliminating the load of emissions like the black smoke that comes out of heavy-duty trucks and you also get rid of the greenhouse gas emissions, depending on where your hydrogen comes from,” said Borup. “Los Alamos was actually the first fuel cells for transportation program in the United States and it started way back in 1977. It started with some people that I know that are now retired, but what they did was they looked at the second oil embargo and tried to look at what the lab could do to help with the energy crisis.”
According to the lab, transitioning semi-trucks to hydrogen fuel could cut transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 20-percent in the U.S. However, the transition faces one big hurdle: Hydrogen fuel stations are much less common than gas stations. Only 44 exist in the U.S., 42 of which are in California. Borup says the DOE is looking into creating more across the country.
“What people are frustrated with fuel cell cars is the lack of infrastructure,” said Borup. “Heavy-duty trucks tend to stick to the interstate system, so yes, you need more hydrogen infrastructure.”
If the project is a success, scientists could begin research on other heavy-duty transporters like trains. As for air travel, Borup says it will be a long time before we see this used in modes of transportation like jumbo jets.
The U.S. government has funded the ‘million-mile fuel cell’ program with LANL through 2025. Similar research is already starting to be used by companies like Nikola and Hyundai, which recently announced plans to test hydrogen fuel-cell semis.