Researchers feed harmful diesel engines with hydrogen as fuel

engine technology
Researchers feed harmful diesel engines with hydrogen as fuel

The diesel machine that hadn’t been upgraded in 18 months.


Australian scientists claim they can convert any heavy duty diesel engine to use mostly hydrogen. In this way, emissions from trucks and machines can be drastically reduced quickly.

Hydrogen is seen as the fuel of the future. It can be obtained from green energy, it burns completely free of pollutants. Although there are losses when electricity is converted to hydrogen, the gas can be stored for a long time and easily transported. Australian scientists took advantage of this and invented a new type of hybrid engine.

In a vehicle, the hydrogen is normally used in a fuel cell – here it generates electricity. In terms of propulsion, a hydrogen car is an electric vehicle with only a gas tank and cell instead of batteries.

But there is another way: instead of the expensive cell, the gas can also be burned in an engine. Such a hydrogen engine does not differ much from other combustion engines. Just that, since exhaust water only drips from the exhaust.

The engine swallows a gas-diesel mixture

Scientists in Australia have now accomplished a feat: they have been able to create a diesel engine so that it can be powered by both diesel and environmentally friendly hydrogen.

That alone would be spectacular. But the dual-fuel system with hydrogen-diesel direct injection can do even more, it is a retrofit system that can be used to convert existing engines. It is said that any heavy diesel engine used in trucks, agriculture and mining can be rebuilt in just a few months.

The work, published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, shows that the hybrid system can then reduce CO2 emissions by 85.9%. “This new technology significantly reduces CO2 emissions from existing diesel engines, so it could go a long way towards reducing our carbon footprint, particularly in Australia with its mining, agriculture and other heavy industries where diesel engines are widely used,” says Professor Shawn Kook of the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in Sydney.

Rapid reduction of emissions

Why is that so important? On the one hand, there are still no environmentally friendly drives for many heavy machines. The hybrid system allowed any heavy machine to be converted from a tank to a giant excavator. In addition, the transition times could be greatly shortened. Once the hydrogen is available in sufficient quantities, the fleet can be converted without waiting for the end of the equipment’s life cycle.

“The retrofitting of diesel engines already in use is much faster than waiting for the development of completely new fuel cell systems that will only be available on a larger scale in ten years’ time.”

Green hydrogen

The engine uses original diesel injection and adds hydrogen injection into the cylinder. The trick is the right mixture in the cylinder. ‘Just putting hydrogen in the engine and mixing everything together produces a lot of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, a major cause of air pollution and acid rain’, says Prof. Kook. Another advantage is that the motor is not fussy. It does not require the high-purity hydrogen fuel cells need.

Naturally, the question arises as to where the green hydrogen from natural sources should come from. But this problem is different in Australia than in Europe. The country has an infinite number of areas and coasts. Electricity can be generated there naturally. Given the dimensions and factors, such as the higher solar radiation, it will be possible to produce solar power in Australia much cheaper than, for example, in Germany, so that the conversion losses in the conversion to green hydrogen are also bearable.

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