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TravelCenters of America to Add Hydrogen Fueling Sites for Big Rigs


Truck-stop operator

TravelCenters of America Inc.

is stepping up its alternative-energy game as tougher regulations push the commercial transport sector to look beyond diesel fuel.

TravelCenters, the largest publicly traded U.S. truck-stop company, said Thursday it is forming a new business unit called eTA that aims to eventually supply drivers with alternative energy across much of its nationwide network of 270-plus locations.

The rollout is starting in Southern California, where TravelCenters will work with electric-truck maker

Nikola Corp.

to install hydrogen fueling sites for heavy-duty trucks at two locations. The company also plans to install FreeWire Technologies Inc. electric-vehicle charging stations for automobiles at some facilities in the state along Interstate Highway 5.

TravelCenters’ alternative-fuels push comes as California regulators are requiring truck manufacturers to sell at least some zero-emissions models by 2024, and as the Biden administration is proposing a $174 billion plan to boost the electric-vehicle industry.

“We were already working on some of this,” TravelCenters Chief Executive Officer Jon Pertchik said. “We’re just trying to pay attention to demand.”

Mapping a plan for commercial transport is trickier than for passenger vehicles because auto makers are already investing heavily in electric-vehicle technology while the alternative-energy side of the trucking business is less developed.

Mr. Pertchik said he expects hydrogen fuel cells to emerge as a leading alternative energy source for trucking fleets over battery-electric technology, although natural gas is also a contender. Battery-powered vehicles can drive only limited distances before stopping to recharge, a challenge for long-haul transport, and heavy lithium-ion batteries limit the amount of cargo that can be carried.

The issue is “storage limitations on battery and weight,” Mr. Pertchik said.

The two hydrogen fueling stations will be built at existing TravelCenters locations and are targeted to be commercially operational in 2023, Nikola said.

TravelCenters is also leading a test project funded in large part through a $4 million grant from the California Energy Commission to develop charging stations and on-site energy storage for electrified medium and heavy-duty trucks.

The truck-stop operator will closely track plans among its big fleet customers as the market for alternative-fuel commercial trucks develops.

“To me adaptability is important,” Mr. Pertchik said. “We need to make some bets, we can’t sit around on the periphery.”

Write to Jennifer Smith at [email protected]

Corrections & Amplifications
TravelCenters of America plans to install FreeWire Technologies Inc. electric-vehicle charging stations for automobiles at some facilities in California. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the truck-stop operator would install free electric-vehicle charging stations. (Corrected on April 22)

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