Hydrogen internal combustion engine (ICE) powered-trucks will be “hard to beat” in long-haul applications, Anders Johansson, Vice-President Heavy Duty OEM at Westport Fuel Systems has told H2 View.
Developed over the course of three decades, Westport’s HPDI technology has already been deployed in more than 6,000 Volvo Trucks using LNG, allowing diesel cycle engines to operate on gaseous fuel.
“HPDI can be used in an engine with diesel cycle which is way more efficient than spark-ignited engines,” Johansson said. “This way, you retain the power, the torque and efficiency of a diesel engine but instead using LNG.”
Now, however, the company’s focus is on the use of hydrogen as a zero-carbon fuel with the technology to decarbonise long-distance heavy-duty trucking.
“We can actually see that the HPDI system is almost tailor-made for hydrogen fuel,” the Vice-President told H2 View. “Running hydrogen in an ICE actually improves the power and torque by 15-20% versus the diesel engine, and you get an efficiency improvement too.”
“The results that we see from running hydrogen HPDI in engines is very much comparable and superior in many ways to fuel cells.”
“It’s pretty clear to me that the ICE with hydrogen, as long as you can do it reliably with high efficiency, high power and torque, will be hard to beat,” he added. “I think even in the long-term, considering range, power and torque, it will be very hard to beat in the demanding long-haul heavy-duty applications.”
Earlier in October (2023), Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona, successfully completed a trial of a heavy-duty truck equipped with hydrogen HPDI hauling a refrigerated trailer.
Where the test driver reportedly said, “It drives like a diesel,” Johansson remarked, “If the customer comes back and asks what is so special about the truck, that’s a really good statement. They don’t feel any downsides or any sacrifices. It’s just like a regular truck.”
The technology holds such potential, in fact, that in July (2023), Westport signed a non-binding Letter of Intent (LoI) with Volvo Group to establish a joint venture (JV) to commercialise the hydrogen HPDI fuel system.
With Volvo set to acquire 45% of the JV for around $28m, plus an additional $45m depending on the company’s performance, Johansson told H2 View, “It’s a big acknowledgement of the technology, the team and the company that we have.”
Commercialisation is in the centre of the JV’s sights, and Johansson said the technology will not be exclusive to Volvo and the team will aim to “get the technology into many different OEM’s engines and trucks.”
Performance aside, one of the key benefits of Westport’s fuel system is how it can leverage existing technology and manufacturing capacity.
Johansson explained, “We have a very high degree of commonality with an existing diesel engine which means you don’t need to develop an engine from scratch. You can use existing technology, existing manufacturing plants, and a lot of the same processes and procedures that already exist.”
Johansson believes that although fuel cell technology will benefit from economies of scale, ICE technology is ahead in the race and could supercharge hydrogen vehicle deployment.
He said, “We actually use a lot of the existing technology and use it in a different and more climate friendly way.
“One of the important things is the reliability and robustness of the technology that exists already in high volumes. It’s a mature technology, it works according to customer expectations today.
“We are already at a scale that is much higher than a lot of the new technologies that are spoken about in the marketplace. We do have better affordability and total cost of ownership (TCO) to actually scale this technology and get volumes out of the door quickly.”
Despite the potential benefits of the technology, hydrogen-powered ICEs, while releasing no carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, are not zero-emission, with NOx and SOx still being emitted from tail pipes.
But Johansson believes there are “bigger fights” to be had, adding, “I think the powertrain and aftertreatment systems are well developed nowadays.”
“We don’t see any reason to believe that we won’t fulfil any legal requirements and conditions,” he said.
“If we are trying to get somewhere and improve the climate performance of trucking globally, you need to have various solutions. You need to have solutions that can be quickly deployed and scaled in volumes to reach better performances,” Johansson concluded.
H2 View will be expanding further on Westport’s hydrogen HPDI potential in its first print issue of the 2024.
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