Exclusive interview with Rick Mihelic, Director of Future Technology Studies at NACFE

Exclusive interview with Rick Mihelic, Director of Future Technology Studies at NACFE

Last week, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFA) held its first out of three webinars at the Run of Less Regional cross-country roadshow, a fuel economy demonstration for trucks that discusses the potential of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

Whilst looking to drive the development and adoption of efficiency enhancing and environmentally friendly technologies for the North American freight industry, the NACFE appreciates suitable pricing for clean fuel alternatives is key in order to meet sustainability goals.

As part of the organisation’s ‘Future Technologies’ sector, the NACFE is looking into these factors in order to evaluate the capability and suitability of hydrogen as a solution to help decarbonise North America’s freight industry.

Following NACFE’s webinar titled ‘Is hydrogen a viable fuel?’ H2 View spoke to Rick Mihelic, Director of Future Technology Studies at NACFE to discuss his passion for hydrogen and how he thinks it can help to better the heavy freight industry.

Thank you for taking some time out with H2 View. Where did your passion for hydrogen come from?

© NACFE

NACFE asked me to research and report on alternatives to diesel. That request has turned into a series of NACFE Guidance Reports on battery electric vehicles already published over the last two years. A fourth report focuses on a range of new alternative fuel choices coming to market, including hydrogen fuel cells. My report team and I have been diving deep into the potential for fuel cells since.

That said, I grew up in the 1960’s and the Apollo space programme and other NASA space endeavours are part of what got me into being an engineer. A neighbour used to give me his old copies of Aviation Week & Space Technologies magazines, and I ate them up. Fuel cells have been around a while, just like battery electric vehicles, just waiting for technology to catch up and make them possible in commercial use.

Why do you think hydrogen is such an appropriate alternative fuel for freight transportation?

Hydrogen is one of several alternatives that in the near to mid-term will grow in use to replace diesel. There is tendency to frame the choices as ‘winner takes all’ fights, but the reality is that they likely will coexist, optimised for different duty cycles, operational needs and regional differences.

I understand you are focusing on hydrogen as an alternative fuel source for trucking at the ongoing ‘Run on Less Regional’. Can you highlight the main points of your discussions?

The goal of Run on Less Regional is to evaluate current production technology with real loads and operating conditions on real regional routes with heavy duty tractor/trailers. Current production vehicles are diesel and natural gas, so that is the mix of vehicles in the three week Run on Less Regional event. However, NACFE is conducting a series of Technology Day webinars during the event to highlight evolving future technologies including hydrogen fuel cells.

Run on Less Regional starts today

How does the NACFA hope to encourage hydrogen as a fuel in freight transportation?

NACFE will be publishing a report on alternative fuel Class 7/8 vehicles including hydrogen fuel cells later this year. We expect further reports as these new innovative products migrate into production and fleets have actual real-world experience.

Do you think there will be any holdbacks in achieving mass deployment?

Those details are in the upcoming NACFE report. We are just at the start of the learning curve and need to give all of these technologies room to get their feet wet through some maturing.


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