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