Clean hydrogen efforts are gaining momentum as countries aim for lower carbon emissions.

According to a January 2020 report from the Portland, OR-based firm Allied Market Research, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market size was valued at $651.9 million in 2018, and is projected to reach at $42,038.9 million by 2026.

The hydrogen fuel cell generates electricity through an electromechanical reaction, not combustion. The energy, typically stored in onboard batteries, powers the electric traction motors on the vehicle.

Another option — the hydrogen engine — also uses pure hydrogen as fuel. The engines are installed in conventional powertrains and chassis, with existing transmissions, axels, and drivelines.

Both power options are appealing for the medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, according to Jim Nebergall, General Manager, Hydrogen Engines, at the Columbus, IN-headquartered manufacturer Cummins.

“While a fuel cell electric vehicle could be the long-term solution to decarbonizing the long-haul heavy-duty truck market, a hydrogen engine provides a complementary short- and medium-term solution for decarbonizing,” said Nebergall in a recent live presentation on titled Commercial-Vehicle Propulsion: Hydrogen’s Potential to Fuel a Revolution.

For hydrogen-powered engines to reach a mainstream adoption, there are questions that must be answered: Is there an infrastructure to support hydrogen-powered engines? What regulations will be needed? Can manufacturers handle yet another design shift?

An attendee of the live presentation had the following question for Nebergall:

Jim Nebergall

What are the three big challenges with hydrogen projects and hydrogen-powered engines?

Read Nebergall's edited response below.

Jim Nebergall: The infrastructure is a key challenge. We are seeing a lot of momentum in the infrastructure that's supporting hydrogen. There’s a general consensus that hydrogen is a key fuel for commercial vehicles in the future. We’re seeing this in the U.S., Europe, and China. There’s general consensus that hydrogen is the way to go, and now it’s about applying the technologies and seeing how fast we can get those technologies there.

I think the second challenge is regulatory. We need regulatory policy that supports this hydrogen engine technology. It’s a 98% reduction in tailpipe emission of carbon. It’s a zero carbon fuel. It’s extremely low-cost compared to the other options, and it can be here mid-decade. We can go fast. When we think of the environmental impact, we need carbon reduction as soon as we can get it. We need to go fast. We need regulatory policy that supports technology that can reduce carbon. Europe is doing a great job. They have a really good regulatory policy and industry support for hydrogen engines. They acknowledge the benefits of hydrogen engines. There is regulatory support for this critical technology.

The third biggest challenge is from the integration perspective. Think about a truck maker or vehicle maker and the demand that they’re having to deal with from automation. They have to continue with their diesel powertrains. They’re integrating natural gas powertrains; they’re integrating hydrogen engines, fuel cells, and batteries. The diversity that they’re having to deal with and manage is incredible, because of the technology diversity of the future. It’s a real challenge for the entire industry, to have these new technologies be affordable when they will be so diverse.

What do you think? Share your questions and comments about hydrogen powered engines below.