New technology is being tested in Australia that can transform existing diesel engines into an engine that can use a blend of hydrogen and diesel fuel. Engineers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney have successfully modified a conventional diesel engine that can use a mix of hydrogen and a small amount of diesel, that is cutting carbon dioxide emissions from standard diesel engines by more than 85%.
The engineers behind the invention considered a breakthrough in this type of work are Prof Shawn Kook and his team at the university’s School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. They claim that their hybrid engine can use hydrogen which is about 90% of the fuel mix and diesel.
However, the researchers claim the fuel mix must be applied in a carefully calibrated way. The reason for that is if the hydrogen is not introduced into the fuel mix at the right moment “it will create something that is explosive that will burn out the whole system,” says Prof Kook.
Therefore, the team engineered a unique way in the system that mixes the hydrogen and diesel and then introduces it to the engine cylinder for combustion, which could overcome the explosive issue.
According to Prof Kook, the interest in converting an existing diesel engine into a clean-burning hydrogen engine is extremely high but the team believes it has an edge compared to other engineers in other parts of the world that are working on similar concepts.
“I think we have a breakthrough compared to most other research groups in the world where we can actually achieve a higher percentage using hydrogen over diesel… Emission-wise, CO2-wise we can achieve a higher reduction than the other methods. The concept has been proven using the previous small-scale engine. We are trying to implement this idea into a larger scale, which is more [applicable] to industry,” explains Xinyu Liu, a UNSW PhD student from China.
That means the team might be able to offer a better solution to the market compared to similar projects. The UNSW’s team has engineered the so-called “baby number two”, which is a second version of the prototype that has twice the volume of the first one and has the potential for a “massive reduction in CO2” emissions, according to Prof Kook.
The vision was published in October 2022 in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.
According to the team, the engine will find more interest in the trucking industry rather than the car industry as electric and hybrid vehicles have advanced the sector and are replacing diesel cars.
The research team believes that any diesel trucks and power equipment in the mining, transportation and agriculture sectors could be retrofitted with the new hybrid system in just a couple of months to provide a decarbonization solution for Australia’s multibillion-dollar mining industry.
The idea is for the retrofitted engine to run off a hydrogen-diesel mix or, and in the absence of hydrogen, to revert to diesel only.
The vision of Prof Kook is to impact the Australian mining, agriculture and construction industries first and then move out to the rest of the world to popularize their hydrogen solution.
For now, the solution remains in the laboratory as an academic endeavor, investment and the hands-on input and knowledge of a mining company or engine manufacturer are needed to move it to the next stage of commercialization.
If the idea that is also considered the Holy Grail of decarbonizing transportation is proven successful, it has a chance of being placed out of the lab and deployed at a commercial setting to move the needle in the net zero economy.