Tech Talk

Cost-cutting hydrogen unit close to green light

A REVOLUTIONARY device designed to save fuel and slash emissions from large diesel engines is edging closer to becoming a commercial reality, according to its South Australian development company, HYDI.

The HYDI device (the name is a contraction of the words Hydrogen Direct Injection) has been encouraging test results at the University of South Australia and in the real world, showing it is ready for the road. “There are a couple of Federal ministers pushing for it to go ahead,” said HYDI Chief Executive Officer Roger van der Lee. “We just need one marquee customer to take it up – then, hopefully, the dominoes will start to fall.”

Hydrogen, with three times the energy content of diesel is volatile and past attempts to harness it have failed because of safety, space and weight constraints.

The HYDI unit addresses those problems by manufacturing hydrogen on demand, processing distilled water held in a small, on-board reservoir.

The highly-combustible hydrogen is injected into the engine prior to combustion, making for a faster ignition and more complete fuel burn, resulting in increased power using less fuel and with lower emissions. “(Hydrogen is) particularly relevant to diesel because it’s got about three times the energy value when it’s combusted,” Roger van der Lee recently told Australian Mining magazine. “That’s where the fuel efficiency and economy come from – you get more power from less fuel.

“The intense burn consumes (the) diesel fuel’s carbon, which would otherwise be emitted as diesel particulate matter or end up in the crankcase oil.”

The HYDI’s electronics are compatible with a wide range of engines and control the hydrogen’s flow rate according to the engine’s throttle position, maintaining maximum efficiency, what Mr van der Lee refers to as “the sweet spot”.

The big surprise with the unit is its size. A device compatible with a large truck engine weighs a modest 25 kilograms and measures 60cm by 20cm by 25cm – about the size of two large shoe boxes. The two-litre, on-board distilled water reservoir lasts around 70 hours.

At between $12,000 and $13,000 (plus $2000 for fitting) the unit is not cheap but the money gained from fuel savings soon pays for it, according to Mr van der Lee.

Basing figures on diesel pricing of A$1 a litre, he suggests return on investment comes at around 230,000 kilometres (estimated at six months for an interstate prime mover with two drivers), a year for a truck running 12 hours a day, six days a week and about 18 months for an urban bus.

And that does not take into account reductions in heavy particulates, soot and carbon monoxide. As a by-product the company claims engines, oil and exhaust systems are kept cleaner, lowering overall operating costs and extending service intervals.

Unit life, says HYDI, has been designed and manufactured with 3.0mm stainless steel to last the lifetime, with service intervals every six months. Also, units can be transferred between trucks so vehicles being sold do not have to go with their hydrogen units fitted.

Electric hydrogen hybrid trucks may ultimately be the clean power source the transport industry needs but Roger van der Lee suggests it is a long way off. HYDI, he believes, bridges the gap between the reality of today and that distant fuel cell  future.

And the best part, he adds, is that there is no need to wait for expensive and extensive hydrogen fuelling infrastructure to be put in place around the country.

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