Green vehicles mean battery-powered vehicles, right? That’s the message we’re being fed on a daily basis by most of the world’s carmakers as well as the legislators who are introducing zero emissions laws that looks set to kill off combustion engines by proxy.
But having got off to a slow start in the green race, hydrogen power is shifting into high gear, winning fans in industries as varied as motorsport, trucking and plant machinery. And it might even save our beloved combustion engines from extinction.
Hydrogen technology is actually hydrogen technologies, because the fuel offers two possible solutions to companies looking to build clean vehicles and machinery. The one we’ve probably heard most about over the last 25 years is the hydrogen fuel cell, whereby hydrogen is converted into electricity that powers the vehicle, the only emissions being water.
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This is the tech you’ll find in cars like the Toyota Mirai, and it’s also the answer many in the long-distance trucking industry think is a better bet than battery power for semis, although Tesla would beg to differ.
But hydrogen can also be used in a totally different, and rather familiar way. It can be used as a replacement for gasoline and diesel in combustion engines in everything from racecars to cement mixers, as Automotive News pointed out in a recent article.
You might recall that Toyota showcased a hydrogen-fuelled version of its GR Yaris, and then campaigned a hydrogen GR86 in a Japanese race series. Le Mans will allow hydrogen engines from 2025 and though current F1 rules don’t allow it, it seems highly likely that they’ll change their tune as the pressure for motorsport’s top tier to go green intensifies.
Far away from the racetrack, but possibly instrumental in helping build the next ones, is a new prototype concrete mixer jointly developed by Cummins and Terex that features a hydrogen-fuelled combustion engine. Cummins likes hydrogen because it matches the power density and operational range of traditional diesel engines while eliminating carbon emissions.
The trouble is, it doesn’t eliminate emissions entirely because combustion engines running on hydrogen do still produce trace amounts of carbon. But the amount is so low that European regulators could be content to let it slide, and even California’s combustion-hating regulators might be willing to rethink their position. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) told Autonews that it plans to hold “a public workshop” to discuss how hydrogen engines might contribute to the state’s efforts to meet green targets.