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Abbotsford facility to help pilot hydrogen commercial trucks amid EV boom

Provincial government is pumping $16.5 into pilot project
Josie Osborne, minister of energy, mines and low carbon innovation, announced $16.5 million for a pilot project to show the viability of commercial trucks running on hydrogen. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Energy Minister Josie Osborne said Thursday (Nov. 16) legislation setting out goals for the sale and use of medium-to-heavy zero emission vehicles could come next year in announcing a new pilot project.

“We are definitely working hard on that and hopefully in 2024,” Osborne said in Abbotsford, on Thursday (Nov. 16) while joined by Environment Minister George Heyman and Agriculture Minister Pam Alexis.

The announcement will see Abbotsford host a maintenance facility for six different heavy-duty fuel-cell trucks using hydrogen.

BC-based hydrogen-energy company HTEC will purchase the trucks, as well as upgrade the current maintenance facility in Abbotsford and a hydrogen-fuelling station in Tsawwassen. The province is putting $16.5 million toward the trucks and the facilities under a pilot project, which will serve as a proof-of-concept for the use of hydrogen in the commercial trucking sector.

Commercial transportation accounts for 60 per cent of transport emissions and 25 per cent of all provincial greenhouse gas emissions. The province has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector by 27 to 32 per cent by 2030.

But while carmakers continue to offer new models of recreational electric vehicles for personal use, few, if any such models exist in the medium-to-heavy vehicle category.

“Direct electrification” of heavy-duty transportation is “not practical,” according to the province, due to a foreseeable lack of batteries capable of powering food delivery trucks, public utility vehicles and large rigs, among others.

Instead, the province is betting on hydrogen to fuel that sector.

“Hydrogen fuel cell electric light-duty vehicles are already being adopted by fleets in B.C., and in the near term greater opportunities for hydrogen vehicle deployment are opening up in the medium-, heavy-duty and off-road vehicle sectors,” reads a report outlining the province’s hydrogen strategy.

“Medium- and heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are suitable for heavy payloads and can benefit from short refuelling times and greater operability range. Fuel cell vehicles can also operate in temperatures as low as -30C with minimal impacts to engine efficiency, and the excess heat generated from the fuel cell stack keeps the engine and cabin warm.”

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The coming pilot project in Abbotsford is unfolding against larger changes in the transportation sector. Legislation speeding up the sale of passenger and light-duty electric vehicles passed third reading last week. In the market, sales have surpassed previously established goals, with consumers increasingly spoiled for choices.

“(Eventually) that’s exactly what we want to be able to do with medium and heavy duty vehicles,” Osborne said Thursday. “It’s a reason to underscore why today’s announcement is so important because investing in proof of technology is an important part of the pathway, so that when sale targets come in the medium and heavy duty sector, we know we will be able to meet them and that the technology is there for the sector.”

Drawing inspiration from California, a discussion paper from Osborne’s energy ministry proposes binding targets for the sale of medium-to-heavy electric vehicles starting in 2026. Eventually, the legislation envisions a future in which all newly sold medium-to-heavy vehicles would be electric starting in 2036.

The proposed legislation would also include targets for public vehicle fleets.

“It is proposed that B.C.’s MHD ZEV fleet purchase and stock requirements for provincial and local agencies start for January 1, 2026 and phase in to align with California’s targets starting in 2029,” reads the ministry’s discussion paper.

The discussion paper also sets out targets for transit services: Transit agencies in B.C. transitioning to 100 per cent zero-emission by 2040.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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