BMW already demonstrated 25 years ago in the Clean Energy project that hydrogen can also be burned in the combustion engine. The project has left the show stage, but the internal combustion engine with hydrogen has been a reality again for several years. Thanks to the Munich start-up KEYOU, which (initially) developed a hydrogen burner for commercial vehicles.
Even the federal government has abandoned the focus on its single-track battery electromobility in favor of technology openness and pushed hydrogen technology to the top of the future agenda. Since hydrogen can be used to generate electricity in the fuel cell and can also drive a combustion engine as a substitute for gasoline or diesel, hydrogen seems to have more than just opportunities as the fuel of the future.
We asked KEYOU founder and ex-BMW member Thomas Korn about the current state of affairs:
Your company relies on hydrogen in the internal combustion engine. What is the advantage over the fuel cell?
Robustness, durability, manufacturing costs and a higher specific power density are the most important advantages. Ultimately, two points are decisive for the successful introduction of alternative drives: A) the drive train including energy storage can drive a vehicle competitively to conventional vehicles and B) the technology can be scaled quickly and thus achieve effective climate protection in a short time. Hydrogen in
Combination with the further development of the combustion engine can do both and will thus pave the way for a hydrogen economy based on renewable energies. When it comes to scalability, independence from rare or toxic raw materials and an existing effective production infrastructure play an important role.
They mainly focus on the combustion engine in the commercial vehicle. Do you also experiment with it in a car or is that planned?
In the past, we have already developed vehicles with hydrogen engines at BMW and for Aston Martin. We definitely see that the hydrogen engine is also a customer-attractive drive in the passenger car segment, with which the CO2-Complete legislation effectively. The combination of a hydrogen engine with the electric drive train, as a full or mild hybrid, will also be very attractive in the future. After the successful launch of the hydrogen engine in the commercial vehicle segment, the technology will increasingly find its way into the passenger car segment.
Can you draw on the experience at BMW or is there any kind of cooperation?
Small details make a big difference in hydrogen engine development. The experience of our engineers, which they were able to collect in different companies, such as BMW, MAN or also in the project with Aston Martin, helped us to develop a hydrogen-specific combustion process that is fundamentally different from the approach of past developments. The new technology approach was crucial in order to achieve the significant improvements in efficiency and power density and at the same time to solve the nitrogen oxide problem.
The Linde company had planned a hydrogen highway through Germany a few years ago. Bavaria is planning a “Hydrogen Roadmap Bavaria” - How do you see the chances of an H infrastructure in Germany and Europe?
Germany has recognized that a successful energy transition and thus effective sector coupling is only possible with hydrogen as an energy store and fuel. Germany is the world leader in building a hydrogen filling station infrastructure with around 100 filling stations. We are currently seeing interesting new technologies that will further improve the storage and distribution of hydrogen. We are convinced that the establishment of a hydrogen refueling infrastructure will continue to gain momentum in Europe.
Are you working with Linde on this?
In addition to the cooperations already published in the press, we currently do not provide any further information.
What about it in other European countries?
Most European countries have set ambitious targets for the introduction of hydrogen as an energy store for renewable energies and as a fuel in mobility. The success will depend on the creation of the political framework. If the costs of environmental damage caused by conventional energy generation or the burning of gasoline, diesel or kerosene are taken into account for the respective product, the structural change can be achieved quickly.
BWM assumed frozen hydrogen 20 years ago. The solidly insulated tank filled almost the entire trunk, which is certainly not a big problem in the truck. Which storage system do you think has the best chances of realization?
Current compressed gas hydrogen storage systems already have an up to 20-fold weight-specific energy storage density advantage compared to lithium-ion batteries, and the costs are also around 20 times lower than for the battery. Despite these advantages, however, vehicles with hydrogen storage cannot compete 100 percent with diesel or gasoline vehicles today, even though you are very close to diesel in terms of service life, suitability for everyday use or refueling time, even when it comes to cost efficiency and range, diesel is in sight. Liquid hydrogen is interesting and can provide up to 50% more range, especially in long-distance transport. However, the generation, handling and storage of liquid hydrogen is still very complex and expensive.
We are currently seeing some promising new hydrogen storage developments that can take security, energy storage density and costs to a new level. In addition to LOHC, the SFEER technology from the start-up Water Stuff & Sun is the most exciting development at the moment.
Hydrogen as the fuel of the future doesn't shine with high energy efficiency, or is that wrong? Is the bad efficiency claimed by opponents actually given?
You have to take a differentiated view of energy efficiency. The sun emits energy usable for humans, which exceeds the current worldwide energy consumption by five thousand times. If only one percent of the world's desert areas are used, for example to operate solar thermal systems, the current total energy requirement can already be generated. Energy is the only raw material that we receive 24/7 continuously from outside of our planet - and for us this is almost unimaginable, almost infinite time. In the right latitudes, renewable energies already show lower energy production costs than is the case with conventional coal-fired power plants, or when using natural gas or nuclear energy.
The big challenge now is the cost-effective and effective storage and distribution of the immense amounts of energy. And here energy in electrical form has a decisive disadvantage. Storing electrical energy in batteries or transporting it to Europe via high-voltage lines, for example from North Africa, is extremely resource-intensive and therefore not feasible or extremely difficult to finance.
There is no alternative to storing solar energy in hydrogen, even if 30 to 40 percent of the energy is lost due to conversion losses during generation, for example by splitting water by means of electrolysis. We have enough "cheap" energy and the additional effort is more than compensated for by cost-efficient energy storage and distribution.
Energy efficiency is only important if it makes a product, such as a truck, more ecological and better. Here, a battery-electric truck performs significantly worse than a truck with a hydrogen combustion engine and hydrogen storage. Both in terms of the life cycle assessment and customer requirements, such as costs, range, refueling time, payload and durability.
How big do you see the hydrogen opportunities in a car with a combustion engine?
In the past, we developed vehicles with hydrogen engines for BMW and for Aston Martin. We definitely see that the hydrogen engine is also a customer-attractive drive in the passenger car segment, with which the CO2-Complete legislation effectively. The combination of a hydrogen engine with the electric drive train, as a full or mild hybrid, will also be very attractive in the future. After the successful launch of the hydrogen engine in the commercial vehicle segment, the technology will increasingly find its way into the passenger car segment.
BMW had developed a 12-cylinder for hydrogen close to series production. What do you think, why the project ended after all?
In the mid-2000s, hydrogen engine developments at BMW and MAN ended almost simultaneously. In the financial crisis, the political focus was on electromobility, the time for the hydrogen engine had not yet come. At that time, the threats to climate change were still a long way off, alternative drives did not have to solve an immediate problem, but should point to the future. Awareness has changed a lot over the past 15 years and politics have now dealt with CO2-Legislation created new framework conditions and thus opened the doors for the hydrogen engine.
The Federal Government has committed itself to the electric motor with battery rather unilaterally. Isn't this against the principle of technology openness?
At the CO2-Legislation of the EU Commission for Commercial Vehicles, for the first time, technology-anchored vehicles with hydrogen combustion engines as zero-emission vehicles - in addition to battery-electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles. We hope that German politicians will also recognize the importance of the hydrogen internal combustion engine and will promote this technology in the future, just like the other alternative drive technologies. But this will certainly not happen overnight.
Wouldn't it be easier to create a hydrogen infrastructure than thousands of e-charging stations?
As already explained, the storage and distribution of electrical energy is very inefficient. A hydrogen filling station infrastructure can already be built much more cost-effectively with today's technology. With the further developments, such as Sfeer technology, there is further great potential.
Opponents of hydrogen argue that in the next 30 years there will be no “mass suitability” in terms of infrastructure. How do you see that?
Japanese and Korean manufacturers rely on the fuel cell in the car. In terms of infrastructure, it doesn't matter whether it is a fuel cell or a combustor with hydrogen. The fuel cell is very sensitive to contamination in the fuel or the air supply. For this reason, the fuel cell requires a very pure and therefore more expensive hydrogen than the hydrogen engine. However, the refueling technology and the storage technology can be identical, so you could indeed use the same infrastructure. As I said, the hydrogen combustion engine would manage with lower hydrogen purity levels, which of course also has a positive effect on the costs in the end.
In any case, hydrogen is the fuel of the future in mobility, isn't it?
Without hydrogen, neither a successful energy transition nor an efficient sector coupling to mobility is possible. There is no alternative to a hydrogen economy based on renewable energies and has to replace the oil age in a short time to save the climate.
What would have to happen so that hydrogen gets more talk and more political weight?
The first German hydrogen strategy was recently adopted. This is the right way. Now it has to be recognized that the hydrogen combustion engine can also be an innovation engine for all hydrogen technologies.
More at https://www.keyou.de