A fuel cell-based auxiliary power unit (APU) currently being demonstrated by Freightliner LLC has future potential for the commercial trucking industry, says Xantrex Technology Inc.

Xantrex built the electrical management system on the Freightliner test truck, which was recently introduced at the Society of Automotive Engineers' 2003 World Congress in Detroit.

“This is an exciting installation for us,” said Brian Lawrence, heavy duty truck manager for Xantrex. “It shows the potential for generating low-noise, low-emission on-board electrical power to meet all the needs of a long-haul trucker.”

The prototype liquid-fueled APU incorporates fuel cell technology from Ballard Power Systems Inc. to generate up to 5 kilowatts of 120-volt AC power. The APU is fueled with a mixture of methanol and water, but Xantrex said further development will enable it to use ultra low-sulfur commercial diesel fuel.

The fuel cell creates power by extracting hydrogen from a methanol fuel source and then converting it into electricity. A DC-to-DC converter regulates the electricity created from the fuel cell so that the output power stays within the input parameters of the prototype Xantrex sine wave inverter/charger.

If the fuel cell can't supply enough DC power to the inverter, Xantrex said a 36-volt battery will provide it with supplemental power.