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Hydrogen trucks, fact or fiction?

Hydrogen is proposed by the European Union as a good alternative to gasoline or diesel, but doubts arise as to whether it is applicable to all types of vehicles.

As we mentioned in the previous blog post, in recent months there has been a heated debate on measures to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. For this reason, the European Parliament is in the midst of negotiations to bring forward a law banning the manufacture of combustion cars from 2035.

This law is causing controversy because the leading countries in the manufacture of combustion vehicles, such as Germany and Italy, are opposing it.

Among the various alternatives to diesel or gasoline is green hydrogen, a non-polluting gas obtained through the use of renewable energies. The characteristics of green hydrogen include the fact that it is the lightest chemical element in existence, can be stored and is sustainable.

The main use of green hydrogen is to be a clean fuel for vehicles and transport of all kinds, however, it is also used in other sectors and practices. It should be noted that Spain is a major producer of green hydrogen, since the largest plant in Europe is located in our country, specifically in Puertollano (Ciudad Real).

Therefore, it would be necessary to take into account the economic advantages that this could mean for Spain, because, as the gas can be stored, it can be sold to other countries. Consequently, this could benefit the national economy, while collaborating in the ecological transition of other territories.

Hydrogen engines

It appears that diesel engines may have a second life, as engineers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney have developed a system to make a diesel engine run on hydrogen. Among the advantages of this system are that the engine produces 85% less carbon dioxide emissions and is 26% more efficient than a diesel engine.

But is this applicable to all types of vehicles? To date, the vast majority of scientific tests have been carried out on passenger cars, which may lead one to think that this system may not be equally efficient in its application in heavy commercial vehicles or trucks.

Trucks with hydrogen engines?

As mentioned in the previous section, most studies to date have considered passenger cars. Therefore, doubts arise as to whether trucks could be efficient with hydrogen as fuel, since they make long-distance trips with a large load.

Although we still cannot give a clear answer to this question, some studies and projects seem to shed light on this issue.

Mercedes-Benz GenH2

At the IAA in Hannover in September 2022, the prototype of the Mercedes-Benz GenH2 truck was exhibited and, in addition, tests were carried out with customers selected by the brand. At that time, green hydrogen obtained from the Shell station near the fairgrounds was used to observe the vehicle’s operation.

Months later, in November 2022, Daimler Trucks conducted more extensive testing of its hydrogen-powered trucks on public roads, at high altitude and fully loaded.

The hydrogen truck successfully crossed the Brenner Pass, which is one of Europe’s main freight arteries. Daimler is working to demonstrate the viability of the Mercedes-Benz GenH2 and is aiming for a range of more than 1,000 kilometers.

So far, the tests have yielded several conclusions. First, that the performance is comparable to that of a conventional diesel truck. Secondly, that the truck using liquid hydrogen has a longer range than those using gaseous hydrogen. The reason for this last characteristic is that liquid hydrogen has a higher energy density, relative to volume, than gaseous hydrogen. And so trucks using liquid hydrogen do not have to be refueled as frequently.

Among Daimler Trucks’ objectives is to continue to conduct further tests in mountainous terrain during 2023, with the aim of improving its trucks and starting series production as soon as possible.

Ocean’: Toyota innovation

Toyota’s North American subsidiary has developed, together with the US-based Kenworth Truck Company, an electric truck powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The truck is a Class 8 T680 FCEV based on the Toyota-Kenworth T680 FCEF truck.

The results have shown that this system is comparable in terms of efficiency and range to diesel engines. It was found that it achieved a range of almost 500 kilometers with a full tank and a full load without refueling.

Thus, there are indications that this new technology can replace fossil fuels in trucks and, in this way, achieve the objectives in the fight against climate change and pollution.

The ‘Keyou’ truck

German company Keyou has converted a combustion engine of an 18-ton truck to use hydrogen as fuel instead of diesel. Behind this project is the former BMW engineer, who has experience in R&D projects to use hydrogen in BMW cars.

In addition, Keyou announces total costs close to those of diesel, with a useful life of more than 700,000 kilometers and a range of 500 kilometers, all without CO2 emissions.

Nikola’s trucks

While in the case of cars, efforts are focused on battery electric vehicles, the use of hydrogen fuel cells seems to be increasingly gaining ground in freight transport.

However, hydrogen still faces a number of challenges, from production to storage. To meet these challenges, Nikola is proposing a possible solution to this problem: mobile hydrogen generators capable of refueling other fuel cell vehicles.

In this way, Nikola has announced a hydrogen truck that feeds other fuel cell industrial vehicles thanks to a mobile hydrogen feeder.

Conclusions

The latest projects and studies seem to indicate that the use of hydrogen fuel cells is a good alternative to the use of fossil fuels, as they maintain their efficiency and autonomy. However, there are still barriers in terms of production, storage, logistics and infrastructure.

Firstly, for hydrogen to be an environmentally friendly solution, it must be green hydrogen, i.e., produced from renewable energy, which is rare.

On the other hand, there are limitations in terms of distribution and storage of hydrogen, because it is a highly flammable gas with a very low density.

Finally, there is the problem of logistics, since hydrogen refueling sites would have to be created every 100 km. In addition, everything seems to indicate that refueling time would be longer than for diesel. The latter could delay the delivery of goods and lead to the need for a larger fleet to carry out the journeys.

In conclusion, we are getting closer and closer to the changeover, but we must continue to work on minimizing the drawbacks. The main objective is to make transportation as sustainable as possible in the future, without losing efficiency or vehicle autonomy along the way.

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Hydrogen engines: the future of transport?

The European Parliament is in the midst of negotiations to push forward the law banning the production of combustion cars after 2035.

In recent months there has been a heated debate about the end date for light-duty combustion vehicles in the European Union, with the aim of achieving climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. While a couple of weeks ago, the European Parliament passed this initiative with 340 votes in favor, 279 against and 21 abstentions, now Germany is paralyzing the law.

The misgivings of Germany, the leading automobile manufacturer in the European Union, were more than evident in the negotiations. In turn, the rejection of the law has been supported by Italy, a country that is also a major player in the sector.

Both countries want to approve additional safeguards to protect the future of cars that use clean synthetic fuels in their engines. That is, fuels produced with water and CO2, which do not generate a carbon footprint. So, finally, Germany and Italy have achieved the commitment that in 2026 the European Commission will prepare a proposal so that in 2035 vehicles with combustion engines can be registered, as long as they are made of synthetic fuels with zero polluting emissions.

Among the various options, we find a gas that can be used as a fuel, becoming the alternative to diesel: green hydrogen. So, at this point in the article you may have some doubts… what is green hydrogen and how is it obtained? What are its advantages? Read on and #BecomeExpert!

Hydrogen as a fuel

Hydrogen is proposed by the European Union as a good alternative to gasoline or diesel. This is the first element of the periodic table, making it the lightest chemical element that exists. Among its characteristics, it can be highlighted that it can be stored and does not generate polluting emissions, which makes it a very good option as a fuel.

Due to its nature, this chemical element is never found alone, but is mixed with other chemical elements such as oxygen or carbon. For this reason, the human being cannot take hydrogen directly from nature, having to manufacture it. It is precisely the manufacturing method that determines whether hydrogen is polluting or not, hence the distinction between gray hydrogen and green hydrogen.

What is green hydrogen?

The so-called “green hydrogen” is that which is generated by renewable energies. This makes it a clean and sustainable fuel that could be key to the future of the automobile industry.

Among the main advantages of green hydrogen we can highlight its sustainability, since this gas, being generated by renewable energies, does not pollute in its production process. Something that must be taken into account in the generation of “gray hydrogen”.

Its production follows the following steps:

  1. The raw material is seawater, through which hydrogen is produced by electrolysis.
  2. Secondly, the electricity produced by renewable energies breaks down the water molecule.
  3. The electrolysis process separates the molecular components, including hydrogen.
  4. The gas is stored in special containers for later use.

The main use of green hydrogen is as a clean fuel for vehicles and transport of all kinds. However, it can also be used as an explosive, fertilizer, synthetic fuel and industrial heat. In addition, surplus hydrogen can be exported to other countries, earning an economic benefit, while facilitating the transition of those territories to a more sustainable life.

At present, the largest green hydrogen plant in Europe is located in Spain, owned by Fertiberia. It is located in Puertollano (Ciudad Real) and has become the largest plant on the continent by size, which will generate 100% clean and renewable energy.

Hydrogen engines

As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, the European Parliament intends to pass a law banning the manufacture of combustion cars from 2035 onwards. Moreover, this type of engines will not be allowed to be used from 2050 onwards.

What will happen to my vehicle? Will I have to buy another one or will I be able to adapt it? Well, according to several studies, everything seems to indicate that diesel engines may have a second life.

As some specialized articles report, engineers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney have discovered a system to make a diesel engine run on hydrogen. It should be noted that with this system the engineers have managed to make the engine produce up to 85% less carbon dioxide emissions. This is mainly thanks to the development of a hybrid direct fuel injection system, which allows hydrogen and diesel to be injected into the engine. Therefore, although it does not completely eliminate the use of diesel as a fuel, it would reduce its use by 90% and, therefore, it would pollute much less. Thus, with this hybrid system, efficiency is improved by more than 26% compared to the diesel engine.

Finally, it is also of vital importance to emphasize that, thanks to this system, less pure hydrogen is used, which translates into hydrogen that is much cheaper to obtain.

The future of hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles is still full of challenges, but nevertheless, researchers are still working to commercialize this system in the coming months.

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Hydrogen is proposed by the European Union as a good alternative to gasoline or diesel, but doubts arise as to whether it is applicable to all types of vehicles. As we mentioned in the previous blog post, in recent months there has been a heated d...
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