Progress made on hydrogen engines

A new type of hydrogen technology to allow more efficient engines has been developed as part of an EU-funded research project, but doubts remain as to whether hydrogen is truly ‘clean’.

The Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine (HyICE) project has tested ways to make hydrogen-fuelled engines that it claims are “as efficient as current diesel engines, yet non-polluting, and with little or no trade-off in terms of engine size and power”, while also producing innovative fuel-injection concepts for car, truck and bus engines.

The three-year project, involving industry and academic participants from the EU and the US, received €5 million from the 6th Framework Programme towards its total project costs of €7 million.

Hydrogen, along with biofuels, has been targeted by the Commission as one of the main candidates to replace oil as a transport fuel, due to its extremely low greenhouse-gas emissions and its abundance. Currently, transport accounts for some 71% of all oil consumption in the EU, with the automotive sector alone dependent on oil at 98%, according to the Commission.

The Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform (HFP), launched in 2004, is the EU’s research foundation for hydrogen technologies, and in March 2005 presented a Strategic Research Agenda  targeting the commercialisation of vehicles by 2015, although many argue that 2020 at the earliest is a more realistic target.

Critics also argue that since hydrogen is an “energy carrier” and not an energy source, it will only be truly clean if produced from renewable sources of energy. However, since the generation requires huge levels of electric power, coal-fired or nuclear power plants will inevitably need to be used, it has been argued.

Commenting on the HyICE project, European Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Poto?nik said: “It clearly demonstrates the contribution EU research can make to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels…The results achieved with this hydrogen- combustion engine should encourage industry to develop this form of mobility further. By developing such technology, we can preserve our environment and at the same time keep Europe at the forefront of global competition.”

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