Retrofitted Diesel Engine Runs on 90% Hydrogen, Increases Efficiency by 26%

Engineers are struggling to make the combustion engine run purely on hydrogen, but scientists believe there is an easier way. Engineers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney have retrofitted a diesel engine to burn 90% hydrogen and 10% diesel fuel, cutting emissions by 85%.
Retrofitted diesel engine runs on 90% hydrogen 6 photos
Photo: Prof. Shawn Kook / UNSW
Retrofitted diesel engine runs on 90% hydrogenRetrofitted diesel engine runs on 90% hydrogenCummins jumps on the hydrogen ICE bandwagon, it's getting seriousCummins jumps on the hydrogen ICE bandwagon, it's getting seriousRetrofitted diesel engine runs on 90% hydrogen
We’ve seen many studies and prototypes of diesel engines modified to run on hydrogen. Hydrogen is considered the only possible solution for heavy-duty applications to reduce carbon emissions. And yet, the hydrogen combustion engine has not made it past the prototype form. Even the engine giant Cummins, with its fuel-agnostic engine platform, could not overcome all the problems of converting combustion engines to burn hydrogen.

A team of engineers at the UNSW has taken a different path to achieve the decarbonization goal. Instead of making the engine run purely on hydrogen, they toyed with injecting hydrogen in addition to the diesel fuel. After about 18 months, they managed to get to a 90% hydrogen/10% diesel ratio, which seems like the sweet spot of their new dual-fuel engine. The best part? Any diesel engine used today can be retrofitted to the dual-fuel setup with minimal investments.

The paper published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy shows that their hydrogen injection system reduces CO2 emissions to just 90 g/kWh, 86% below what a regular diesel engine produces. It’s not only that: the efficiency of the dual-fuel engine is also 26% higher than that of a diesel engine.

To achieve this performance, the UNSW team has kept the original diesel injection system and added an additional hydrogen injection directly into the cylinder. By carefully timing the hydrogen direct injection, it is possible to control the mixture condition inside the cylinder, which also cuts the harmful nitrogen oxide emissions of the engine.

“If you just put hydrogen into the engine and let it all mix together, you will get a lot of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, which is a significant cause of air pollution and acid rain,” Prof. Shawn Kook from UNSW says. “But we have shown in our system [that] if you make it stratified—that is, in some areas there is more hydrogen, and in others there is less hydrogen—then we can reduce the NOx emissions below that of a purely diesel engine.”

Another benefit of this system is that it doesn’t require the use of high-purity hydrogen, which is expensive to produce. The research team hopes to be able to commercialize the new system in the next 12 to 24 months and is in talks with prospective investors about future steps.
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About the author: Cristian Agatie
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After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
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