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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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