Paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Heat Transfer, Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics, Mauritius, 11-13 July, 2011.
Hydrogen could be “the” fuel for the future, not only for fuel cells but certainly for internal combustion engines.
The research on hydrogen started at Ghent University in 1990 with the adaptation of a Valmet diesel engine to hydrogen operation (atmospheric, carbureted version) to prove the capability of hydrogen as a fuel for IC engines. Since then several engines were modified for hydrogen use with the state of the art technologies (sequential injection, electronic management units). With European (Craft, Brite) and Belgian grants three buses demonstrated on several levels the application of hydrogen IC engines. At the moment the laboratory test proves an operation with a power output higher than the gasoline engine, with an equal efficiency of the diesel engine and with very low emissions (NOx less than 100 ppm).
The interests of the research group of Ghent University was not only for the experimental work, but also the combustion process is simulated (GUEST code). The estimated formula of the laminar flame speed of hydrogen by Verhelst is worldwide used in other research studies. At the moment a doctoral study examines the heat transfer in hydrogen engines, which is so different from the already not very accurate heat transfer models in gasoline and diesel engines.
In our laboratory tests, the hydrogen engine is ready for mass production (backfire safe, high power output, high efficiency, very low emissions). But storage on the vehicle recently and infrastructure of the fuel delivery are the bottle-necks for a real implementation of the hydrogen economy. From hydrogen, methanol can be produced on a sustainable way. Methanol is a liquid (no storage problem on het vehicle) and with minor modifications the same infrastructure can be used as for gasoline. Methanol has very good engine characteristics. Will methanol based on hydrogen be then “the” fuel of the future?