Your first look at Paccar’s Zero Emissions Cargo Transport T680

February 7, 2018

Tyson Fisher

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MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – While some industry stakeholders are talking about all-electric or self-driving trucks, one manufacturer is focused on the immediate, rather than the distant future. Paccar is behind a zero-emissions project called Zero Emissions Cargo Transport.

At a testing facility in Washington state, Paccar is charging ahead with what is essentially a $7 million truck. It doesn’t fly or drive itself. Rather, Paccar is focusing on something else: hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Zero Emission Cargo Transport
Photo credit: Tyson Fisher, Land Line Magazine

Zero Emissions Cargo Transport, or ZECT, is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and managed by Southern California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. Three companies are working together on a zero-emission truck: Kenworth, BAE Systems and Ballard Power Systems.

With BAE tapped to design the electric propulsion system and Ballard taking over hydrogen fuel cell duties, Kenworth is taking the lead role in developing the truck technology. In fact, Kenworth is responsible for integrating all three technologies together to form the finished project of a zero-emissions truck.

So what exactly is a zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell truck?

Using a T680, Kenworth has replaced the standard Cummins engine with a hydrogen fuel cell engine made by Ballard. Hydrogen gas and air are used to produce electricity, which in turn is used to propel the dual-rotor electric motor that makes the truck move. When not powering the truck, electricity can be used to recharge the lithium-ion battery.

This complicated, scientific process does something that makes regulators – especially those in the West Coast – very happy: no carbon emissions. In fact, the only element that is emitted from the tailpipe is water vapor, and that is what ZECT is trying to accomplish.

Before going any further, it is worth noting a few things. First, this is just a prototype. Kenworth will release the finished prototype to Total Transportation Services at the end of March for real-world testing. Second, with an initial range of only 150 miles, ZECT is designed for short hauls and port operations.

Zero Emission Cargo Transport
Under the hood of the ZECT Kenworth T680. Photo credit: Tyson Fisher, Land Line Magazine

With that said, Kenworth is preparing for a future with stricter laws regulating carbon emissions. Autonomous trucks that run on diesel will be useless if they are emitting an unacceptable amount of carbon into the air. With states like California and countries around the world like Germany and England moving to more environmental-friendly regulations, trucks like Kenworth’s ZECT T680 may become more necessary than some other non-traditional trucks.

Land Line was invited to get a first-hand look at the prototype truck. Let’s start off with basic specs:

  • Engine: Ballard Power HC85
  • Traction Motor: Dual-rotor AC motors, 420 kW or 565 hp
  • Transmission: Automated Eaton 4-speed
  • Brakes: Bendix Air Disc ADB22X
  • Fuel capacity: 30 kg of hydrogen
  • Battery capacity: 100 kW-h
  • Batteries: XALT Xpand 650 VDC

For what it’s worth, 1 kg of hydrogen is equal to approximately 1 gallon of diesel. Also, the 30 kg of hydrogen are housed inside six tanks each containing 5kg of hydrogen, so if something goes awry with one of the tanks, the truck still has five other tanks to draw from. Even if all six tanks go dry, the electric range without the fuel cell is approximately 30 miles.

ZECT’s top speed is 65 mph and can reach 30 mph on a 6 percent grade. There is enough torque to start on a 20 percent grade.

Don’t confuse Kenworth’s zero-emission prototype its near-zero-emission engine, the ISX12G and ISL12G Near Zero. These engines run on CNG or LNG fuel. Named Hybrid Electric Cargo Trucks (HECT), these trucks combine CNG and electricity, rather than hydrogen fuel cells. As the engine name suggests, it emits nearly zero emissions, but not quite.

Since ZECT is still in the prototype stage, there are several issues that need smoothing out. For starters, a similar diesel truck weighs about 16,000 pounds. The ZECT T680 weighs about 22,000 pounds, a significant difference for drivers trying to haul a load just barely within legal limits. However, Stephan Olsen, Paccar’s director of product planning, said that is likely to come down, perhaps by even half within the next few years.

Not surprisingly, the batteries are taking up a good chunk of that extra weight. In total, the battery system weighs about 3,500 pounds, with the batteries themselves weighing about 2,000 pounds and the remaining 1,500 going toward the system binding it together. The batteries are good at optimal capacity for six to 10 years. “Optimal capacity” means performing at 80 percent or better.

Like any battery, the ZECT batteries lose power over time. The heating and cooling system prevents the batteries from losing performance at a quicker pace because of extreme temperatures, so battery performance will last just as well in Southern California heats as it will in Canadian winters.

During a test drive, the ZECT had issues with shifting gears. At one point, the truck had to be restarted, which takes longer than a traditional diesel truck, in the middle of a drive. Sounds concerning, but this is typical for a prototype. Whatever truck you are driving right now likely had similar issues during the research and development stage.

No price tag range is available yet, as the Paccar ZECT is still in development. However, Brian Lindgren, Paccar R&D manager, told Land Line that Paccar does not plan on mass production of the truck until they figure out how to do so at a competitive price. For now, a zero-emissions truck is only feasible for short hauls, but projects like ZECT pave the way for future technology that has the potential to apply to all of Paccar’s truck line-up, including long-haul applications.

As mentioned above, the HECT (electric and CNG powered) project is only a month behind the ZECT truck. Using CNG fuel, it has the potential for much greater range. Stay tuned for more details.

Speaking of more future projects, Paccar has also secured the Department of Energy’s Super Truck II program. The goal for Super Truck II is to develop a truck that has 20 percent higher engine efficiency, 20 percent more aerodynamic and 2,500 pounds lighter than a standard 2009 model truck. Launched in October 2017, the five-year program will come to a conclusion near the end of 2022.

Paccar is hard at work developing technology that will make trucks of the future more fuel-efficient and more environmentally friendly, two factors that are likely to shape regulations in the years ahead. The technology may not be applicable to most owner-operators, but it is a matter of when, not if, that day will come.

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.