SANTA MONICA, California — Buoyed by initial road-test results and significant technological advancements, UPS has announced the U.S. deployment of its first three large package delivery vehicles utilizing hydrogen fuel cells for power.
“Shifting away from a fossil fuel based economy to a hydrogen economy would be a great environmental and technological achievement,” said Chris Mahoney, UPS senior vice president of global transportation services. “UPS now is jumping from a small fuel cell car to a medium-duty truck. We will continue the rapid application of this technology in hopes that in the near future, we can deploy zero-emission engines across our fleet of 88,000 vehicles.”
Mahoney made his remarks at a press conference in Los Angeles, where the first fuel cell Dodge Sprinter was being deployed. He was joined by representatives from DaimlerChrysler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy, and the state of California. The remaining two Sprinters will be deployed in Sacramento, California, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In May 2003, UPS, EPA, and DaimlerChrysler announced a collaborative project to advance the state of hydrogen fuel cells by harnessing the technology to power the first commercial delivery fleet in North America.
Starting in March 2004, DaimlerChrysler provided an “F-Cell,” a fuel cell-powered Mercedes-Benz A-Class car, which UPS modified for early-morning package deliveries in southeastern Michigan. The car is fueled daily at the EPA’s hydrogen fueling station at its National Emissions Testing Laboratory in Ann Arbor.
DaimlerChrysler and UPS concurrently began testing a medium-duty vehicle in Germany. The new Dodge Sprinters were built in part on information gathered during these road tests.
“Our two test programs showed the on-road reliability of fuel cell vehicles is excellent, equivalent to our current fleet,” said Mahoney. “But what’s truly exciting is how fast the technology is progressing.”
According to DaimlerChrysler, compared to the first Sprinter, the new fuel cell Sprinters feature a 20 percent increase in powertrain efficiency, a 40 percent increase in range to 155 miles, and a 45 percent increase in peak engine power. They now have similar acceleration as a gas- or diesel-powered UPS vehicle.
Customers will be able to recognize the trucks not only because of their signature brown color and UPS logo but also by special graphics on the sides that feature concentric circles rippling outward, representing water.
Fuel cell technology works by converting chemical energy — in this case, hydrogen reacting with oxygen — into electricity without combustion. The reaction produces water vapor and heat as the only byproducts.
Mahoney added that UPS is excited by the prospect of a significant reduction in maintenance expenses since the drive train will last longer than a gas or diesel engine.
The vehicles in their new configuration also offer a 10 percent increase in cargo capacity compared to the diesel-powered Sprinters now in use by UPS. Plus, the fuel cell technology eliminates the need to house an engine in the front of the vehicle, making it easier to explore new automotive designs, he added.
The UPS executive said one of the remaining hurdles is the need for more hydrogen refueling stations.
“While it’s still more expensive to manufacture a fuel cell vehicle, DaimlerChrysler is working hard to perfect the technology and lower those costs. The refueling infrastructure is the next critical need,” Mahoney concluded. “Only by making hydrogen as broadly available as gasoline or diesel can passenger cars and fleets truly reap the environmental and economic benefits.”