Automotive

New big rig skips fuel cells in favor of hydrogen combustion engine

ULEMCo's modified Volvo truck burns hydrogen instead of gasoline for a zero-emission combustion powertrain
ULEMCo's modified Volvo truck burns hydrogen instead of gasoline for a zero-emission combustion powertrain
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ULEMCo's modified Volvo truck burns hydrogen instead of gasoline for a zero-emission combustion powertrain
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ULEMCo's modified Volvo truck burns hydrogen instead of gasoline for a zero-emission combustion powertrain

UK company ULEMCo has debuted a modified Volvo FH16 truck that's tuned to burn hydrogen gas instead of gasoline in its internal combustion engine. With zero emissions, a range of around 180 miles and some 300-odd horsepower, it's being presented as a low-cost way to de-carbonize a heavy goods vehicle.

There are now, according to H2Stations.org, around 15 operational hydrogen refuelling stations in the United Kingdom, a healthy and growing number through the rest of Europe, and a couple of dozen around the United States.

Most of the vehicles that use them, it's fair to estimate, are running as fuel cell electrics. A small number may be running hydrogen combustion engines, but this, according to ultra-low emissions company ULEMCo, is the world's first zero emission combustion engine truck.

Having previously converted numerous vehicles from diesel to hydrogen dual-fuel, this is ULEMCo's first all-hydrogen effort. Converted from a Volvo FH16, the truck burns hydrogen in a modified version of a conventional combustion engine. It's interesting to note that this is a bit of a throwback to the world's first internal combustion engine, invented by Isaac De Rivas in 1804, which used hydrogen gas as its fuel source.

The ULEMCo Volvo will make "at least 300 hp," and with a fuel load of 17 kg (37.4 lb) of hydrogen, it'll have an expected range just under 300 km (186 mi).

The team believes it could be an attractive option for zero-emission trucking because hydrogen storage takes up little space in comparison to the big batteries required for battery-electric trucks like the Tesla Semi – thus, pound for pound they should be able to take more freight. It should also come in a lot cheaper in terms of up-front costs, as it's a reasonably minor modification to an engine that's already in production.

On the other hand, the Tesla is already nearly doubling the hydrogen-fueled Volvo's expected range. And while it's one thing for a trucking company to plumb in a supercharge station for its truck fleet, managing hydrogen tends to be a lot tougher, due to the tendency of its molecules to seep out between joins of its metal containers if it's not being constantly cooled.

The ULEMCo truck will hit roads in the UK later this year as a technology demonstrator to serve as an example of a practical and cost effective way of de-carbonizing a heavy goods vehicle.

Source: ULEMco

10 comments
eirobotix
This completely misses the point. Having to pay upfront for large, heavy & voluminous batteries is one thing perhaps worth arguing about but the electric powertrain naturally associated with a large battery system is the lesser mentioned new star of heavy duty powertrains. You get quiet drive, great reliability, almost zero maintenance, unbeatable conversion efficiency, low running costs, low vibration, low heat output, massive & flat torque from zero RPM negating the requirement for a large, heavy, complex & expensive gearbox, superior traction, regenerative braking, as much power/torque as you want leading to performance sililar to normal car traffic & easy scalability/packaging within the vehicle. I cannot fathom why you would want all the disadvantage of a purely mechanical system??
xenonym
How can this claim to be zero emission, if you compress a mixture of Oxygen and Nitrogen (i.e. air) and get it hot (i.e. inside a combustion chamber of an internal combustion engine) you will get NOx (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOx )
highlandboy
With the thermal efficiency of the Internal Combustion Engine being so low, and the amount of energy required to create and store usable Hydrogen it surprises me that this solution can be considered efficient.
Expanded Viewpoint
Why do so many people still err with these totally ridiculous statements about "zero emissions"? Anybody with two still functioning brain cells (if they even use a brain to think with!) can see that there's just TONS of "Carbon foot prints" all over the place to build systems like this. Where does all of this Hydrogen come from? How is it compressed down and transported to where it's needed? How about all of the petroleum and coal fuels that are involved in the processes and parts being bandied about? Hydrogen can seep through the walls of any container made that I have ever heard of, it doesn't leak through joints only. And Hydrogen causes metals to become brittle just through prolonged contact with them. The cost of replacing those compromised parts will surely add to the overall economics bottom line, won't they?? Making more and more complicated energy systems in an effort to solve environmental issues is a real and total Fool's Errand. The less we add to what Nature has already provided for us, the better. We got rid of horses, and the diseases carried by flies went way down, but then the diseases caused by petroleum fueled machinery went way up! Where does it end?? Randy
TimShevlin
37 lbs. of H2 to travel under 200 mi.?? You have got to be kidding....
Tom Lee Mullins
I think this makes more sense than a battery electric truck.
ljaques
Electric vehicles are 73% efficient. Fuel cells are 22% efficient. Power to Liquid (?) is 13% efficient. https://is.gd/8D8u4H The wiki on Hydrogen internal combustion engine vehicle shows that it will be less efficient than regular ICE engines, so maybe the efficiency of fuel cells is the same as this. It's a guess as of this time. // That drawing shows 8 fuel tanks, 16 if it's symmetrical. That's not 37.4 pounds worth. Odd. I don't expect they'll sell many trucks which get 180 miles to the fillup, mandatory.
Jean Lamb
Isn't there a way to use much safer hydrides with hydrogen powered vehicles? Much less danger, hello.
LeroyEssek
"Turning Seawater into Electricity" posted January 8, 2018 would allow for hydrogen fuel to be safely stored in any type of water and generated on-demand, on-site or on-board any form of transportation. The international company called 2G Energy retrofits ICE applications that are 100% gaseous fueled including hydrogen, biogas, MagneGas, syngas and methane. To improve the efficiency of all gaseous fuels including hydrogen the addition of combined heat and power (CHP) applications provide a 1,000 variable options to improve the low efficiencies of the highly competitive 21st century technology called "Hydrogen 2.0" by Joi Scientific.
Jim B
Ammonia is a far superior form of hydrogen storage vs compressed hydrogen, being about as easy to store and transport as propane. Plus the US already has a large ammonia pipeline transport infrastructure. Ammonia can be burned in a combustion engine if 2% of it is cracked into hydrogen, however this can be done into a small specialized tank at the petrol station, while the pipelines and large storage tanks just contain ammonia. The problem with both hydrogen and ammonia is their cost. They are not cost competitive with petrol/diesel even when made from cheap natural gas. In May 2017 hydrogen cost $419/MWh vs $49.51/MWh for gasoline. See ~ "Comparison of conventional vs. modular hydrogen refueling stations, and on-site production vs. delivery", Sandia National Labs 2017 https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/03/f34/fcto-h2first-reference-station-phase2-2017.pdf If you had a fourth generation nuclear plant (helium gas or molten salt) that produces 600 degree heat (current water cooled reactors top at at around 320 Celsius) then you could use a helium turbo pump to raise the output temperature to 1000 degrees and make cheap hydrogen/ammonia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1Fi3BnwL94&feature=youtu.be&t=10m9s