How Would a Fuel-Cell Pickup Work?

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GM recently announced that it, along with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, will debut a Chevrolet Colorado-based hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle in October in Washington, D.C. We'll be there, of course, but we have a few thoughts.

Naturally, there are several benefits to using a fuel-cell powertrain in a military application (small heat signature, very quiet and could be used as a power generator, among other things), but this announcement also got us thinking about what a mainstream pickup truck could offer with such an interesting powertrain. I recently spent a week with the 2016 Toyota Mirai and it gave us a few insights.

To begin with, it seems to make sense that a hydrogen pickup would start out on a midsize platform, similar to the Colorado that the military and GM are using, due to its smaller size and weight concerns. The Mirai makes 247 pounds-feet of torque but only 151 horsepower, and though it has robust low-speed acceleration, that feel falls away quickly once you reach highway speeds. It also has a battery borrowed from Toyota's other hybrid vehicles (namely the Prius) that helps make the system more efficient, which is charged by regenerative braking.

In a pickup application, the powertrain would almost assuredly have to be more robust. The Mirai's 151 hp simply isn't enough for a truck, but adding more power output at this stage would likely have a detrimental effect on range and efficiency.

We're also skeptical as to how long the hydrogen would last if you were carrying a large payload or towing. The EPA estimates the Mirai's range at 312 miles, but our onboard computer never read more than 237 miles of range. Like many distance-to-empty onboard computers, it takes into account things like driving style, temperature and load, but that seems to be a large discrepancy. Toyota told me that the number is meant to be conservative so people don't get stranded. Even so, driving aggressively will significantly deplete range, so we imagine that towing a trailer would deplete it even more.

However, there are some real benefits to a hydrogen drivetrain. In addition to the instant torque, a hydrogen fuel-cell pickup would offer more flexibility than an electric one with one huge caveat - you'd have to live in an area with hydrogen stations. Filling one takes a few minutes longer than it does to pump gasoline; then again, it doesn't take hours to charge like most electric vehicles do. The problem is, at this point, only two spots in California (the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles and Orange County areas) have enough hydrogen stations to make a fuel-cell pickup viable.

This also would mean that a fuel-cell pickup wouldn't be a great off-road or exploration truck, either, due to a lack of fueling options. It's not as if you can throw an extra can of hydrogen in the back to add range, and if you have a problem with the drivetrain off the beaten path, good luck getting it running again.

We think that the idea of a fuel-cell pickup still has potential and we hope that the problems can get sorted through. Driving a vehicle with water being the only emission is an exciting proposition and pickups are not the most efficient vehicles around, so anything that can reduce their environmental impact should be examined. We look forward to reading your thoughts and ideas on the potential of fuel-cell technology in the comment section below.

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Hydrogen is the optimal fuel for many stationary applications but a vehicle requires infrastructure to support its mobile re-fueling needs.

I can drive to any place in most of North America and buy the unleaded regular required for common pickup trucks.

As noted in the article, refueling stations in North America are almost non existent for hydrogen powered vehicles because it's simply not mainstream, and the infrastructure required for it to become the mainstream fuel source will require an investment change management that is on a par with going to war against the Nazi's.

A much more sensible and mainstream approach for alternative energy is methanol, which can be cheaply produced from coal (which we have plenty of) and can be blended with unleaded regular just the same as ethanol. If your truck is flex fuel capable (85% alcohol) then you are already able to use methanol blends safely without the crazy costs associated with the move to hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.

Well, it's good to see that practical experience demonstrates what the battery-electric people have been saying all along; in a POV-sized vehicle, the fuel cell is simply not good enough.

Oh, it's not that it can't work, it's that it has almost no capacity for sustained load and loses power with increased demand. This is because the output of the fuel cell is limited by its size, just like any other engine. For sufficient power, the fuel cell itself needs to be larger and need a larger fuel supply as well. This Colorado is using something equivalent to a 2.5L diesel when it needs at least twice as much 'engine' which would take up twice as much space, not even counting the fuel supply and support batteries.

Not all military vehecals are used in combat.

In europe there are a great many unit sized posts. Each one with its own fueling station. There isnt a great deal of distance between these posts. A hydrogen fueling could be easily added to each one of these posts.

The military isn't going to be using very many Colorado combat vehicles hydrogen or not.

It is true that hydrogen is difficult to acquire. But natural gas or propane can easily be used as a substitute I believe. Since military operations are almost by definition not environmentally friendly, a bit more fossil carbon getting burned is not the end of the world. But running out of fuel behind enemy lines could very well be end of life! And if you are going to use propane or methane to power a vehicle, why not just burn it like was done twenty years ago in converted gas engines? Ice engines work well and have the capacity that is required already.

After 500 Billions dollars of Taxpayers money the Army & GM will scrap the project. LOL

It is true that hydrogen is difficult to acquire.

@Jon Davies

Memo to Jon! Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in the universe.

Acquisition is not the hard part--the trick is installing the infrastructure needed to support a hydrogen-based system. It would be like putting a man on Mars.

If the infrastructure was there, the decision is a no brainer. Clean, abundant, unlimited power.

Hydrogen may be in our future if we live long enough.

Do I hear nuclear fission is coming to a pickup near you.

This will not work very well. It is worse than a hybrid or EV pickup.

A waste of tax dollars.

A lot of these third world countries are recieving pickups that are more technologically advanced than what you have. The recent NA Ranger is behind technologically than the Great Wall pickup from China.

Even your Taco's technology is behind the Hilux.

These new third world pickups have a 5 star safety rating, far more than what is being offered in any NA pickup.

More hp doesn't equate to technology. Even in NA there are alot of people who couldn't afford to run a 400hp vehicle.

The US is in a lot of debt and large contributing factor to your debt is the importation of oil. Use less oil and help the US recover, use diesel.

@ Jeremiah Soltis
The picture on the bottom appears to be a global Colorado being painted in their Thai factory.

@Jason the diesels will become more and more popular. It nice to be nostalgic and romance over the past. But while you look at the past to often, you are neglecting your future.

I've been saying we had nearly the same motor vehicle history unfold here. You 'ain't goin' stop it from occurring.

Once these new diesels hit the street there will be many that say, what have we been doing for the past 20 years.

Companies like Cummins will come on line with some better products. This is what I would love to see occur, the US become competitive with global products and not be insular.

I would like to see Cummins take on VM with the light diesels, that is where the money in the future is.

@Jeff S
Within a decade it will be possible to have over 50% of your SUV/pickup/light commercial fleet with small diesels. As you get more and more of these engines costs will reduce.

once diesels becomes more popular people will buy a small diesel pickup because it is diesel.

I have read so much about the cost of gas vs diesel on this site and the reality is people are spending more and more on pickups. Why? For additional features.

Why would you buy a large V8 when a V6 will give better economy and be cheaper? The same logic will apply to diesel. People will still have decent towing and economy with diesel. Whereas a V8 will give decent towing and acceleration. Diesel will eventually win out with large vehicles as the performance will be adequate for most.

Diesel will be an additional feature worth spending extra on.

This site has a number of V8 gas diehards who will always put down diesel using any excuse, but the mainstream who buy pickups probably don't even know PUTC exists.

Good article, it appear to not be "pro Ford".

If this is how a diesel midsizer is received in the US, I do think they will be popular.

The ones attempting to use price as the main reason not to buy really don't know much about the vehicle business. These are what I call the McDonalds Super Size me people.

The FE is up slightly on what I thought it was going to be. The towing is exactly what I thought as the vehicle performance.

The commenter that was talking horsepower really doesn't understand much about how power is used in vehicles.

I think you'll find this diesel has a much power as a V8 up to around 3 000rpm. If you drove to 3 000rpm for every gear change in a V8 you more than keep up with the traffic.

I would like to have a closer look at the build quality of the US built Colorado/Canyon. It seems like GM has done a sterling job with these pickups.

This pickup should be attractive to one of the few who want to tow a moderate load with a pickup. It would be as good as a 1/2 ton and provide a substantially improved fuel economy, we are talking 50% better.

That's why diesel are great off road, they can sometimes double the endurance of a gasoline engine.

These will be popular with the pickup fraternity.

I don't understand the crybabies like big al complaining about this being a pro-ford site. Just look at the last 10 articles. NONE of them were pro-ford. One was spy photos of a ford truck, but hardly "pro-ford." One was sales figures with ford number one but still showed a colorado as the feature picture with nothing good to say about ford. Get a grip on reality and stop crying because a pickup site has nice things to say about ford now and then. They have a lot of nice things to say about the others as well. Amazing that they don't call the titan fiasco what it is...a terrible failure. Or that they don't call the tundra out for being outdated. Or ram for it's continued low reliability.

In a side note, FORD is off developing the Flux capacitor. With this technology FORD owners can go ahead in time to learn if their Ford would have safely made it to their destination, or determine when to call the tow truck in advance.

I Live about 20 miles from the now-defunct GM fuel cell R&D facility. Back when the gov't was funding the project, GM would bring a fuel cell SUV to local car shows for a show and tell. I had a nice conversation about electrical cracking of H2O to produce H2. Cracking, compression, transportation, and low energy density caused H2 to require far more conventional energy to produce than it provided to the final application.

Granted there is more H2 in the universe than any other element but. it is also the most reactive and therefore does not exist in a form that is not combined with another element. Saying that H2O is the only product and that it is "green". It is far more polluting than coal.

Nice to see that the gov't is going to cough up another few billion of taxpayer's dollars to pursue this idiotic idea. BTW we had a nice explosion at the refueling station due to faulty grounding.


This has little to do with the current production Colorado, so stop comparing them!

Heck, all of those postal mail delivery vans are based off the S-10 chassis, so they have nothing to do with the production truck!

Wake up!

So explain to me why U.S. Special Forces are still using Toyota trucks in Syria?

Anyone remember this hydrogen car,,why do you think it didnt catch on?

Or you can go with simple EV,,even off roading racing

Theres a reason Tesla is so succesful and has close to 400.000 orders for their latest EV..

Where is all that water that's produced go? Doesn't one gallon hydrogen make something like 8 gallons of water

So explain to me why U.S. Special Forces are still using Toyota trucks in Syria?

Posted by: oxi | Sep 18, 2016 4:59:39 PM

@ oxi; simple, besides ISIS favorite brand, pretty much the whole Arab world have had a long relationship with Toyota's & abundance of dealers, parts etc etc.
I visited my uncle in Dubai recently (he's a Capt. with Air Emirates) & got to experience the crazy off-road world in the dessert; mostly dominated with modified HILUXs/Land Cruisers. I saw a few modified Raptors too including some crazy powered Hennessey ones too.

@ Wild Willy supporter; another Big Al fangirl that lives outside of the US & thinks they know American's.

Firstly, gas V8's will be around much longer than you think as demonstrated by the diehard fanboys from RAM recall & shaky GOVT motors fangirls their love for V8's & continuously bash Ford's efforts move to smaller twin turbo engines.

Secondly, as long as Ford (& others to copy/follow) can demonstrate they can get 450-650+ HP out of a turbo V6 (or smaller gas engines); diesel will always be that second-third choice for buyers or a small percentage of the US market.

Thirdly, Europe is now paying the price from decades of experience with supporting diesel as their preferred fuel for auto's combined with lack of strict emission laws; all major cities are now clogged with pollution & getting worse each year (check-out Paris's new laws now in place to try combat it).

Another example; if VW (the largest auto company in the world) had to cheat to pass their best technology of clean diesel engines in the US - I guess we still have room & time to improve diesel power plants.

Meanwhile, I suggest for the Wild Willy camp to crawl back under the rock from down under somewhere & stop spreading your diesel propaganda or trying to dictate the future.

Papa Jim - - -

You said:
"A much more sensible and mainstream approach for alternative energy is methanol, which can be cheaply produced from coal (which we have plenty of) and can be blended with unleaded regular just the same as ethanol. If your truck is flex fuel capable (85% alcohol) then you are already able to use methanol blends safely without the crazy costs associated with the move to hydrogen as a vehicle fuel."

Yes, indeed. But another fuel that can be used directly with NO change in fuel injectors or carburetors (is so equipped) is n-butanol. Butanol has almost the same fuel value as gasoline (unlike ETOH), but it has a higher octane rating. Bio-butanol can be created from the fermentation of switch grass or sea algae, which, unlike the use of corn to ferment ETOH, are not (significant) food-crops. And MeOH from coal is still not carbon neutral in the current ecology of our planet. (It is carbon neutral over hundreds of millions of years , --- that coal came from plants, after all.)

See Links:


Sounds like GM is trying to follow Ford and go military grade

It is very easy to produce hydrogen through electrolysis you can use tidal action, wave action, wind energy, solar cells, hydroelectric dams just to name a few of the methods of producing electricity.
No petroleum is required.
I'm not sure why the production of water from a hydrogen engine would be bad.

I also think that the conversion of current internal combustion engines to hydrogen would be a great idea.
Some people have already tried that the city of Minot North Dakota erected a water well windmill connected it to a generator and used water pump by the windmill for electrolysis.
they ran two General Motors pickups with that hydrogen.
That was done quite a few years ago. I never heard the results.

There is no great scientific break through needed to run a normal internal combustible engine with hydrogen. It's just a regular conversation just like you would do with natural gas or propane.

An article about wind mill hydrogen production.

Of course right now the cheap cost of petroleum makes even hydrogen production expensive and it's more about establishing the fuel stations that is the problem.

Prior to the great price crash of petroleum, California was on its way to establishing at least one hydrogen fueling station every 200 miles right now I think there's only about 30 and I'm not sure how fast they're going to go up from there until the price of petroleum goes back up

Probably the most important purpose for using hydrogen is the storage of electrical power. You can use all the wind energy in the world to produce as much electricity as you need but you have to have a way of storing it and as of now the battery breakthrough has not come about. It's going to take a completely different means of producing a battery to make storage simple, and that's what hydrogen can do. It can be our battery of the future. It can be the solution to the sporadic production of power through renewable energy.

The hydrogen could be used directly in Motor Vehicles or trucks or it could be used to produce electricity through turbine generators etc.


It is not a question of what's possible, it's a question of find a practical approach. This is why infrastructure is always cited as a deal breaker for hydrogen. In the current cheap oil world we live in, as we have noted, the challenge is even greater.

The technology for finding and producing oil products cheaply and with less environmental impact has improved in a huge way since the 1980s.

this also makes hydrogen a hard sell.


Work had already begun on the infrastructure. Hydrogen is cheaper than petrol even at todays prices.
Just like the Tesla. Manufacturers will help build out the hydrogen network. By being invested in the stations they promote hydrogen auto sales. Plus a in a position to a tually profit from the sale of hydrogen.

Petrol companies will soon yakr notice and will be forced to invest in the build out.

Dang, I can't seem to edit from my phone. Sorry.

Work has already begun on the infrastructure. Hydrogen is cheaper than petrol even at todays prices.
Just like the Tesla with their charging stations. Manufacturers will help build out the hydrogen network. By being invested in the stations they promote hydrogen auto sales. Plus they are in a position to actually profit from the sale of hydrogen.

Petrol companies will soon take notice and will be forced to invest in the build out.

Again what about infrastructure for additional rain fall, runoff, ice buildup in colder regions. There is more to this than just getting fuel stations. Damn sure Chicago will be unable to handle the water load in the combination sewer system they use.

Petrol companies will soon yakr notice and will be forced to invest in the build out.
Posted by: BuddyIam | Sep 19, 2016 11:58:46 AM

Petrol? You must be another one of those know it all persons living outside of North America that thinks he knows what is best for us. smh.

@ Lionel,
If you are trying to connect ISIS and Toyota, you are wrong!

Posted by: oxi | Sep 19, 2016 6:56:41 AM

@ oxi; I don't need too, it's all over the news/net & in fact the US GOVT conducted a probe into Toyota on why/how ISIS get their supply of HILUX's/Land Cruisers...look it up. So it makes sense for the US GOVT to supply their military with the most abundant off-road vehicle in the area.

But let's not stray into politics & stay on subject; as I said many times on this site; Toyota will need to rethink their strategy soon of counting on reliability reputation & not reinvesting into their truck products as the competition has surpassed them already in technology, superior power plants & more choices. A good example;
The much anticipated new global HILUX that came out last year was met with less fanfare from truck critics all around the world. Recent test comparisons with the latest offerings from other mid-sizers (ISUZU/GM Colorado/NISSAN Navada/ Mishibitshi/VW Amarok, global Ranger) always placed the new HILUX 3rd-4th place which was an embarrassing performance for such a world leader in sales. Guess who took the title almost consistently or 2nd place?; yep the global Ranger & it was the oldest platform in the group ('12).


I don't think there will be the amount of water production that you describe.

The combustion of all forms of petrol products produces water vapor.

Internal combustion engines have been producing water vapor for close to 120 years without any noticable impact on flooding and storms.

Big difference is that the combustion of hydrogen only produces clean water. Non of the other damaging chemical products created with petrol combustion.


Sorry if the term petrol offends you.
Just a term that applies to all petroleum product..
My support for hydrogen is based on the fact that it is a clean form of energy and the fact that battery advances have really not advanced to a acceptable level.

After 2 hundred years. Of experimentation. It's time to start looking in another Direction and hydrogen seems like the most logical way to go.


dear sir you are sadly mistaken regarding infrastructure. There are more gas stations in the rural county where I live than there are hydrogen refueling stations in the whole bloody world. It would take lifetimes to substitute hydrogen, as a motor fuel, for the output capacity of gasoline and diesel at today's levels.

This is the only thing keeping hydrogen out of the picture. Making the cars/trucks able to run on hydrogen is the easy part. It's transporting it from the refinery to the consumer that's making it tricky.

@papa Jim,

Buddy is from England. You got a problem with that?

I agree with oxi.

Obama founded Isis. “The Founder” is often considered to be a person who provides the crucial elements enabling a new enterprise to make it. Obama provided the crucial weaponry for ISIS. Some by covert transfer via other countries and some by arming less than safe elements in Iraq and then abandoning that country.

So, he can legitimately be considered a founder of ISIS.

Obama is also the funder of Isis. With a large contribution sent through Iran. The dude has not forgotten his muslim roots. True to his adolescent upbringing.

Got some wag the dog fans here I see

@ Lionel,
I like how you just ignored my argument that ISIS is a CIA covert group, yeah keep ignoring the truth, that's why you lack credibility.

Posted by: oxi | Sep 19, 2016 7:48:30 PM

@ oxi; because I'm trying to stay on topic as this is not the site to discuss such matters. But since you started it (again); firstly, you lack credibility & making yourself look idiotic with your persistence without any solid proof or evidence (you need to watch something else other than FOX news). All this simply because you're just a fangirl that cannot accept her preferred truck brand is also the terrorists 1st choice too. So to close off this ridiculous/pointless argument that should be left for Hillary/Trump debates;

We can also look further back who to blame; Bush chose to go to war against Iraq using false pretense of mass destruction capabilities as an excuse. He should be criminally responsible for the whole disruption of the middle east with thousands of US soldiers killed/maimed, millions lives lost & counting, millions more displaced as refugees (now entering the US), trillion$ wasted & counting & the worst part; the whole world now has to suffer & will continue to pay the price...maybe for eternity.

So to repeat again about our GOVT/CIA; we all know for over 60 yrs now, they were responsible for behind the scenes errors/bad decisions taken to deal with whatever situation they faced at the time & of course they were never aware at the time the consequences/problems they've created until sometimes decades later.

Unfortunately, I don't think they will ever learn their lesson & you & I wasting time arguing over it will not make one damn change - history will simply repeat it self again.

Q: "How Would a Fuel-Cell Pickup Work?"
A: Commercially badly at present.

1) Limited range;
2) Poor H2 re-fueling infrastructure;
3) Reliability issues from complex drivetrain;
4) Absurdly expensive replacement components;
5) Overheating issues in extreme hauling/towing situations;
6) Lower hauling load from increased battery weight;
7) Lower on-board packing volume from bulky H2 tanks;
8) Questionable longevity and resale value;
9) Poor cold-weather performance (say, -20 deg F);
10) Questionable impact resistance for off-road use.




Insiders on the 2019 Ram pickups

Automotive News has published a surprisingly detailed piece on the 2019 Ram 1500 launch.


@ HEMI; wow smaller lights & a new console, now that's a refresh. Fiat should work on their inadequate payload - 6 passengers can't even bring 2 suitcases each in the most loaded crew cab models...jeez.




Breaking down barriers to Ram launch
FCA will stay with steel for most body panels

Notably, sources say the Ram will continue to use steel for the majority of its body panels, instead of switching to aluminum construction like the Ford F-150.

The 2019 Ram 1500's exterior styling will be largely evolutionary, keeping the accentuated raised hood and mammoth chrome grille, albeit in a slightly changed shape, according to sources. The headlights will shrink in size and be more integrated into the chrome grill than is the current generation, giving the vehicle's front fascia a toughened, squinty appearance.

Under the hood, the new Ram 1500 is expected to get an upgraded 3.6-liter Pentastar engine with direct injection and optional turbocharging. FCA officials have said that the company plans to incorporate fuel-saving belt-start generators in its next-generation pickups to further improve fuel economy.

New technologies under the hood will require more air, forcing designers to include a new large air intake above the tow hooks on the front bumper. Horizontal fog lights integrated into the front bumper will largely mimic the styling of the headlights above, sources said.

Staying with steel will allow the Ram to separate itself from competitors by using more complex shapes in its body panels. The pickup's side panels, for example, are said to feature a styling line front-to-rear right around the top of the wheel wells to evoke a more muscular stance.

At the rear, its taillights will be smaller, with back-up lights integrated vertically nearer the tailgate, instead of their current location at the bottom of the tail light.

Inside the cab, the biggest change is expected to come in a new, flattened center console design which will allow for additional storage space, sources said.

The biggest motivating factor for FCA right now seems to be keeping the 2019 Ram 1500 launch on schedule, suppliers said. Prototypes were originally scheduled to be built in Sterling Heights in October 2017 but were recently delayed to January 2018, meaning they will be built just before the start of saleable production.


Yes, converting the infrastuctuer will take some time.
So will electric car charging stations.
Charging a electric car at a friends home will quickly make ex-friends even after all these years.

Fuel cells are not required for a hydrogen economy.

First start by converting internal combustion engines. MAIL DELIVERY, LOCAL BUSSES AND BUSINESSES. Can all maintain their own fueling stations to start things off.

For right now the thought of competition from alternative energy is helping to keep petrol prices down.

Dont dimiss these alternatives or you will risk a future of obscene petrol prices again.

Hydrogen can be a fantastic solution. Keep up research. Put up the first brick in a secure energy future. For Americans. Not the petrol industry.

@ oxi; you are beginning to sound more like a high school drop-out now - all your points are mute & discredited again;

Firstly, I'm not a shaky GOVT motors fan at all...not sure where you picked that up from.

Secondly I am far from being leftist liberal but I will vote with common sense for the lesser of the two evils.

Thirdly, I have more direct experience with Toy makers trucks/vehicles than you will ever have in two life times. But hey, stay with your choice of trucks as I never said Tacoma's/Tundra's were bad trucks, just that there are now better choices out there...full stop.

Buddylam, the additional water is an exaggeration. But still about double compared to gasoline. Rainfall has increased this past 100 years too. Hydrogen is a terrible fuel simply do to all the hydrogen is bonded to something (possible really bad) and it takes the same amount of energy to break that bond as you back.

Need some chemistry guys around


You take water. Split it into hydrogen and oxygen.
You use the hydrogen in some sort of machine.

This combines the hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen and you get pure water.

Its an experiment we all did in 7th grade chemistry.

Hydrogen just wants to be free !

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