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A Review of Hydrogen Usage in vehicles

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A Review of Hydrogen Usage in Vehicles:


Hydrogen is the most abundant elements in nature. As a fuel, not containing carbon, can potentially eliminate the local emission of CO and CO2. 

However, current production methods of hydrogen generate sufficient CO2. not to have a clear global benefit.

Pure hydrogen as a fuel for the fuel cells provides a power system for zero emission vehicles and if weight and efficiency penalties of the fuel cells are resolved through further research and technological advances, it can be an attractive alternative for the current internal combustion (IC) engines.

Also, a high-compression-ratio lean-burned hydrogen-fuelled IC engine design in hybrid electric vehicles(HEV) can be a potential contender in the race for high efficiency and reduced emission of pollutants, in particular, the greenhouse gases.


Concerns on emission of pollutants and particularly greenhouse effects (subject of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol’s guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emission in industrial nations) have caused an increasingly stringent emission standards on global basis.

Greenhouse gases include nitrous oxides (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2),chloro-fluorocarbons (CFC’s), methane (CH4), and ozone (O3).

Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are a measurable fraction of their natural concentrations and continued emissions can lead to global warming. The CO 2 emission rate is about 1.3% per year and to meet the Kyoto Protocol level an 18% reduction in current emission rate is required, see AEO 2000 [1]. In automotive applications, CO2 and CH4 are the most important greenhouse gases.

Hydrogen, not containing carbon, appears to be a fuel to be environmentally benign. Hydrogen seems to be the fuel of the future. At least one country, Iceland, has decided to be the first to convert fully to a hydrogen economy by or before 2030, .

 Iceland is unique among modern nations in having an electricity system that is nearly 99.9 % from indigenous renewable energy – geothermal and hydroelectric. Its overall energy system, including transportation, is roughly 58% from renewable sources.

This prepares Iceland to make a smooth transition from internal combustion (IC) engines to fuel cells and from hydrocarbons to hydrogen.

In California, where the legislation requires that 10 % of the new vehicles be qualified as “zero-emission vehicles (ZEV)” by 2003, a consortium called “California Fuel Cell Partnership” is planning to test 50 fuel cell vehicles and construct two gaseous hydrogen fuelling stations.

 Demonstrations of fuel cell-powered buses in Vancouver (Canada) and Chicago (USA) and its growing use in many locations in United States, Europe, and Japan attracted attention of governments and automotive manufacturers. The fuel cell is now viewed by some as the “enabling technology” for the hydrogen economy. On the other hand, the ZEV mandate allows a manufacturer to satisfy 6% of the ZEV requirement by using “partial ZEV,” such as Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (SULEV). This opens up the possibility of hybrid electric vehicles (HEV)that use hydrogen in internal combustion engines as a potential candidate.

Hydrogen fuelling stations are already in operation at several places including Sacramento (California’s capital, USA), Dearborn (in Michigan, USA) and the airport at Frankfurt, Germany

Mixture Operation

Operation of internal combustion engines with mixture of hydrogen and gasoline or alcohol fuels were also considered extensively. It was shown that because of the hydrogen’s wide misfire limits, it is an ideal partner to reduce exhaust emissions, see Schafer and van Basshuysen[16] and Lucas and Richards[17]

The engine is usually run with pure gasoline at full throttle with mixture at part throttle operation.

Pure hydrogen is used under the idle operation. Relatively low HC emissions were reported under medium and high load conditions, see  Schafer [18]. 

There have also been reports on improved efficiency due to a reduction in the use of the throttle valve to control engine load (no throttle was used until the load went below about 30% of the full load), see Houseman and Hoehn [19] and Houseman [20]. This is due to the extended lean limit of the H2 fuel,. Addition of hydrogen to the alcohol also assists the well-known cold start problem of this class of fuels having high heat of vaporization,


Hydrogen as a vehicular fuel can either be used as a pure fuel in internal combustion engines, as a mixture with the gasoline, or as a fuel to run a fuel cell system. At present, infrastructure does not exist for a wide usage of the hydrogen and it was shown that there is no clear benefit to use hydrogen for reduction of greenhouse gases unless it is used as a fuel for the fuel cell if weight and efficiency of the cells are improved by further research and technology developments.

Hydrogen containing no carbon has inherently no CO or CO2 emissions and on account of its very wide misfire limit can be operated as a very lean mixture to increase thermal efficiency.

 Hydrogen-fuelled HEVs also are viable solution to meet the stringent emission requirements and in particular the California SULEV standard. One can imagine that in future electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar cells generates hydrogen from water (i.e. reverse of the fuel cell) to power fuel cell vehicles with zero greenhouse gases and zero tailpipe emission of harmful pollutants. Therefore, the hydrogen indeed appears to be the fuel of the future. Figure 1 (below). Specific hydrocarbon emission as a function of specific work for pure methanol and gasoline as well as mixture operation with hydrogen, Schafer [18]

Figure 1. Specific hydrocarbon emission as a function of specific work for pure methanol and gasoline as wellas mixture operation with hydrogen, Schafer [18].

CLick here for graphical data showing fuel savings and information about Scientific Tests on the output and operation of Hydrogen in internal combustion engines

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