Both Toyota and Nikola are relying on proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells that use a platinum catalyst in order to fulfil their FCEV ambitions. Although other catalysts have been tried, platinum is the only element that has proven to provide the consistent performance needed for a PEM fuel cell to work properly, particularly in achieving the long-life and reliability required in heavy duty vehicles.
In a FCEV, the fuel cell system is comprised of a fuel cell stack that converts chemical energy to electrical energy to produce power, with water and heat as the only by-products. FCEVs produce zero tail pipe emissions and, when fuelled by hydrogen produced from renewable sources, they offer a form of transport that is totally fossil-fuel free.
While the sales volumes achieved to date by these corporations is low relative to annual global sales of ICE vehicles, FCEVs are based on a well-established technology that is growing in momentum, led by the heavy-duty segment, which includes buses as well as trucks and other fleet vehicles. In fact, in the US, port operators have been testing fuel cell trucks since 2011 with truck manufacturers and the California Air Resources Board currently using a US$41m freight project to test ten class 8 fuel cell trucks.