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‘HyICE’ – optimising hydrogen powered engines

As scientists around the world seek to advance new hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, European researchers are providing leadership in the production and marketing of corresponding systems and components.

Innovative technologies leading HyIce project
Innovative technologies leading HyIce project

Europeans are among the most environmentally concerned people in the world. As such, there is a real chance for Europe to play a leading role in the emerging hydrogen technologies.

Now widely expected to usher in a new era in global energy production, hydrogen is the third most abundant element on Earth and it can be produced using any kind of solar or geothermal power. As a renewable and carbon-free energy carrier, hydrogen produces no CO 2 emissions during combustion.

European leading the way

HyICE (Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine), launched in January 2004, is a three-year European initiative aimed at contributing to the development of a clean and economical hydrogen fuelled automobile engine. The is coordinated by BMW Group Research and Technology Its press relations officer, Claudia Scheiderer, says, “A significant amount of research and development remains to be carried out before the hydrogen economy can become a reality. The conventional internal combustion engine, even after more than 100 years of service, has not necessarily outlived its usefulness.”

Indeed, she says, the internal combustion engine (ICE) is particularly well suited not only as a transition technology, featuring high power density, and relatively low cost, but also as a future energy concept using alternative fuels such as hydrogen.

“It is our objective, says Sheiderer, “to combine both customer demand regarding performance and efficiency with reasonable product cost. We believe that the direct conversion of chemical bound energy, in the form of hydrogen, to mechanical propulsion energy, using the well-established ICE, has the real potential for a rapid integration into mass market vehicles, considering time, cost and available know-how, because the ICE is able to use different fuels.”

In order to adapt the internal combustion engine to the use of hydrogen, components capable of handling the new fuel, with its specific characteristics, have to be developed. In addition to the components, BMW is putting a strong emphasis on the development of suitable concepts for mixture formation and combustion. “One of the main benefits of our EC-funded HyICE project is that the tools developed for later engine optimisation are publicly available,” says Scheiderer.

As the first logical step, the project is focusing on the development of new components such as injectors and an ignition system as well as the preparation of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tools for optimisation of the process of mixture formation and combustion. By bringing together representatives of the automobile industry and researchers from Europe and the USA, the project is ensuring the dissemination and exchange of important and valuable know-how. The results of the project, together with supporting components, are expected to form the prerequisites for the development of an optimised propulsion system.

A high-tech combination

In taking the combustion engine as its starting point, the HyICE project is applying a well-developed technology to the requirements of the future without demanding profound changes in the organisational structures of automotive manufactures. At the same time it aims to offer customers a product with similar characteristics to those of conventional automobiles.

“The ultimate goal”, says C. Scheiderer, “is to work out an engine concept which has potential to beat both gasoline and diesel engines with respect to power density and efficiency at reasonable costs. In the range of high-power vehicles, where hydrogen internal combustion engines can deliver even higher efficiency, HyICE technologies may present not just an intermediate, but also a long-term solution.”

The European Automotive Industry’s pre-competitive research organisation, EUCAR, considers the HyICE project to be complementary to other projects in the EU’s ‘fuel and power train’ cluster, covering the crucial elements of the conventional power train technologies (fuel injection, ignition and control).