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Diesel will be gone by 2020: Freightliner v-p

PORTLAND, Ore. - Don't be surprised if the trucks of the not-too-distant future don't run on fossil fuels of any sort, but rather on naturally-clean-burning hydrogen.Michael von Mayenburg, Freightline...


PORTLAND, Ore. – Don’t be surprised if the trucks of the not-too-distant future don’t run on fossil fuels of any sort, but rather on naturally-clean-burning hydrogen.

Michael von Mayenburg, Freightliner LLC’s senior vice-president of engineering and technology, tells Truck News that the finite nature of our planet’s energy reserves, coupled with the constant push to slash emissions, will eventually see diesel either lost or shunned as a fuel source in favor of hydrogen.

“After petroleum fuels run out, we’ll have internal combustion engines that run on hydrogen,” he says. “That will likely happen before the next 20 years are through.”

While von Mayenburg admits this sounds like a major leap forward in technology, he insists the internal combustion diesel engine is closing in on a major milestone as far as emissions are concerned.

“By 2007, the air exhausted out of the engine will be cleaner than what’s being sucked in,” he explains. In the 1980s, von Mayenburg spent a great deal of time researching the use of hydrogen as a fuel.

“The range will need to be as good as diesel gets now,” says von Mayenburg. “The competitive nature of the market will demand they be at least as efficient.”

John Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Calgary-based Alternative Fuel Systems, echoes von Mayenburg’s enthusiasm for the new fuel source, and stresses for any hydrogen engine design to gain world-wide acceptance, it will need to very closely mimic the impressive on- and off-highway performance of diesels.

“People like diesels, they’re very efficient, relatively inexpensive to maintain, and offer low-torque and low-rpm. They’re great,” he says.

“Unfortunately we’re beginning to see the effects on the environment. Worldwide there’s a consensus that 40 per cent of the various gases we’re seeing in the atmosphere are a result of particulate emissions from diesel engines.”

He explains that given conventional methods, a tank of liquid hydrogen will only deliver one-third the mileage of its modern-day diesel cousin.

“We’re not going to use hydrogen the same way we use diesel or natural gas, you can’t get the distance out of it,” he contends. “Long-term it would be stored in a solid form.”

Getting the hydrogen into solid form involves what is commonly referred to as “hydrid” technology. A chunk of metal that is to act as the storage vessel is heated to extremely high temperatures.

It is then exposed to – and absorbs – large amounts of hydrogen. This makes it possible to run longer distances. (Largely solving the storage, distribution and efficiency issues, which have hamstrung the North American introduction of any alternative to diesel fuel.)

“The hydrogen would then in effect be boiled off,” as it was needed by the engine he says.

While mass use of the zero-emission hydrogen remains, at best-guess, two decades away, AFS hopes to be in a position to become a world leader in the new fueling technology once production costs decline. n


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