December 9, 2022
hydrogen hybrid engine

While waiting for the democratization of “clean” cars, this technology could at least reduce the environmental impact of the current car fleet.

In the wake of Elon Musk’s Tesla, electric vehicles have become the new darlings of the transportation industry. In recent years, almost all car manufacturers have begun to add vehicles of this type to their catalog.

This great transition represents one of the most concrete ways to reduce the impact of humanity on its environment. But for the moment, the turnover remains much too slow to reverse the trend in the short term. In the meantime, engineers are therefore exploring alternative avenues, starting with that of hydrogen.

This mode of propulsion was identified years ago, in particular by Toyota and Hyundai. It is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it does not require the exploitation of fossil resources. In addition, its environmental impact is much less significant than that of diesel or gasoline engines.

It did not establish itself as quickly as expected; but today there is a renewed interest in this approach because of the climate emergency which is becoming more and more concrete.

A promising conversion kit on paper

Recently, Australian researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) presented a very interesting advance in this field; they managed to convert a standard diesel engine into a hybrid of a new kind. And this approach could be applicable to private cars

Usually, the term “hybrid motorization” rather refers to electric motors which take over from standard combustion engines in certain situations. This new engine, on the other hand, consumes a mixture of 90% hydrogen and 10% diesel.

On the market, there are already “hydrogen kits” whose relevance is debated; very vulgarly, they produce hydrogen by electrolysis before redirecting it to the engine to “modify the combustion”, according to AutoMoto. But this hybrid engine, on the other hand, seems much more promising.

In work spotted by Techxplore and published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, a reference journal in this niche field, they present very interesting figures; their prototype reduced the carbon dioxide emissions of a standard diesel engine by 85.9%. It could therefore be a way of limiting the impact of the current fleet during the transition, and without forcing motorists to replace their car with a cleaner and more expensive model.

In addition, their invention has a significant advantage over vehicles that run exclusively on hydrogen. Indeed, the latter require a very high degree of purity. The problem is, even taking into account the very significant progress of recent years (see this article), the production of ultra-high purity hydrogen (UHP) is still a fairly expensive industrial process.

This converted engine, on the other hand, can run on less pure hydrogen, from other much more affordable production channels; it would therefore be cheap, a very important point to encourage the general public to adopt these alternatives. In addition, this converted engine emits conventional emissions while offering 13% more efficient combustion.

Last advantage, and not least: this technology is already quite mature and could arrive on the market very quickly. UNSW researchers estimate that the first vehicles could be equipped with it within two years.

Even if electric vehicles are gaining momentum, it will therefore be necessary to closely monitor the development of this technology, which is also being explored by French engineers from IFPEN. This technology will probably not allow diesel engines to last; but offering a more ecological redemption to this polluting engine would already be a real step forward.