Hydrogen-IC Engine can help India achieve Net Zero

As India is moving to meet its Net Zero targets, the commercial vehicle industry is preparing to adopt low- or zero-emission technologies by investing in hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines (hydrogen-ICE), and battery electric vehicles to meet a variety of commercial applications and mobility needs. India needs to explore the hydrogen-ic engine option as it can help India achieve net zero.

The hydrogen-ICE technology is more practical and widely available substitute for hydrogen fuel cells. In this instance, the internal combustion engine uses hydrogen as a clean, affordable, and precursor to hydrogen fuel cells for hydrogen fuel cells to power big commercial vehicles and intracity and interstate buses. Hydrogen is also a carbon-free fuel.

How does a hydrogen internal combustion engine work?

Only a few modifications are necessary to make H2-ICEs run on hydrogen; otherwise, they are similar to conventional combustion engines. Some engine parts, including the fuel delivery system and spark plugs, have been modified to use hydrogen instead of gasoline or diesel.

When it comes to emissions, these cars primarily release water vapor, but they don’t have zero-emission engines because the combustion process in H2-ICEs causes the release of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx). The burning of engine oil in such engines also releases a tiny amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). In contrast, FCEVs are far cleaner because the fuel cell is powered by hydrogen.

Tata Motors is bringing the H2-ICE vehicle

While the industry is placing a lot of money on battery electric vehicles and light commercial vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) as a better alternative for intra-city applications, green hydrogen’s benefits for short-haul applications may be limited by its storage, availability, and high cost.

“Hydrogen ICE vehicles are emerging as a promising new technology and have some key advantages over hydrogen fuel cell EVs: they are more tolerant to impurities in hydrogen, but more importantly, they can draw from a lot of the infra and platforms in use currently for ICE, compared to fuel cell EVs, which is a completely new technology,” Girish Wagh, executive director, Tata Motors, said.

Along with other alternative fuel technologies, Tata Motors is developing this one in collaboration with US company Cummins, a producer of power technology solutions. According to Wagh, “Our MoU with Cummins for diesel engines will also extend to other technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen internal combustion engines, as well as battery electric vehicles.”

At the 2023 Auto Expo, Cummins displayed its medium- and heavy-duty B6.7H hydrogen internal combustion engine.

Tata Motors’ commercial vehicle business is committed to becoming net zero by 2045. “If we have to achieve net-zero emissions as a country by 2070, it means no vehicle can be made or sold unless it is zero-carbon emissions, which means we will have to stop selling any vehicle that pollutes by 2055, assuming a 15-year life-cycle for a vehicle. We will stop selling carbon-emitting vehicles by 2045, and our journey to 2045 will be shaped by a multitude of vehicles depending on factors such as energy security, import substitution goals, and the reduction in emissions,” Wagh said.

In the Prima line of long-haul trucks, Tata Motors showcased four clean propulsion technologies: LNG, battery electric vehicles, hydrogen internal combustion engines, and hydrogen fuel cells.

The first hydrogen fuel cell bus for commercial use in India, the Starbus fuel cell EV concept, was also displayed.