Southwest Research Institute engineers test hydrogen combustion engines in diesel trucks

Engineers at SwRI have retrofitted a traditional diesel truck engine to run on hydrogen combustion

SAN ANTONIO – While electric big rigs are often touted as the future of cleaner trucking, San Antonio researchers are pioneering hydrogen combustion engines they believe could steer the 18-wheeler segment in a greener direction.

Engineers at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have retrofitted a traditional diesel truck engine to run on hydrogen combustion instead.

“When this vehicle’s on the road, it’s going to produce very, very little emissions and almost no nitrous oxide,” Graham Conway, SwRI’s manager of low-carbon technologies said. “It’s going to meet all of today’s current regulations.”

Conway said hydrogen combustion engines marry the efficiency of diesel motors with the spark ignition of gasoline counterparts while eliminating pollutants. And since they don’t need bulky batteries, the trucks could haul heavier loads longer distances.

The researchers believe hydrogen combustion in 18-wheelers could sidestep struggles facing electric models when it comes to crossing state lines.

“if you’re not carrying as much stuff and it’s more expensive to carry the things you are, which means now shipping costs are higher, which means everything you’re buying is going to be expensive, way more expensive,” Matthew Kubesh with SWRI said.

“We hope within the next few years you start to see these on the road as a viable solution,” Conway added.

While California already has some hydrogen refueling infrastructure, more stations would need to be built to support long-haul trucking.

But the San Antonio scientists envision a day when 18-wheelers crossing Texas will only roll out water vapor from their tailpipes, thanks to engines conceived and created in the Lone Star State.

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About the Authors

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.

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