Accelerate energy transition in transportation sector through hydrogen

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To meet environmental targets and drastically reduce global CO2 emissions, the transportation sector must rely on multiple renewable energy carriers.

In addition to the rapid rise of battery-electric vehicles, hydrogen is becoming one of the important alternatives. TNO Traffic & Transport is helping to advance the energy transition by accelerating the maturity of alternative propulsion technologies, such as hydrogen technology, for market introduction, and by providing effective policy support to governments.

Hydrogen plays an important role in our economy. It can be used to make industrial processes more sustainable and to facilitate the storage of sustainably generated energy from sun and wind. That is why TNO is working on methods to scale up the production of green hydrogen.

This sustainable solution, which does not require expensive or scarce raw materials, makes hydrogen in the Netherlands and Europe more independent from the outside world. Hydrogen can be used as an energy carrier in two ways: in a fuel cell or directly in an internal combustion engine. The fuel cell is an attractive, but still expensive solution with a high efficiency and only emits water.

To keep costs in check, TNO is working on technology that extends the fuel cell’s lifetime. For heavy road transport and shipping, TNO sees a second application for hydrogen that could bring about a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions: the hydrogen combustion engine.

Familiar technology becomes clean

Because the efficiency of a diesel engine in heavy-duty applications is getting closer to that of a fuel cell, it is becoming attractive to use hydrogen as a direct fuel in a hydrogen combustion engine. This application is reliable and affordable because it uses the proven technology of the internal combustion engine. Rapid implementation is possible because production processes and maintenance methods are known.

An additional advantage is that hardly any scarce raw materials are needed. Due to the limited additional costs, this engine technology can, in a short period of time, cause a considerable growth in the demand for hydrogen in the transport world. At TNO, we help vehicle and engine manufacturers explore and develop this technology and implement it. For DAF, we developed a first prototype of the hydrogen combustion engine in 2021, as a prelude to a longer-term collaboration to mature this technology for large-scale road application.

Optimal refueling infrastructure

But at TNO we look beyond the technology. To break the chicken-and-egg situation with regard to the refueling infrastructure, cooperation in the chain is needed in addition to a rapid upscaling of the number of hydrogen vehicles.

That is why TNO, together with governments, manufacturers, energy companies, fleet owners and transporters, is looking for the best locations to build hydrogen filling stations. Not randomly across the country, but specifically at logistics hubs or important corridors, such as between Rotterdam and Venlo. This will allow a large part of the fleet to run on hydrogen quickly and the refueling infrastructure to be put to good use more quickly.

Building, sailing and flying on hydrogen?

Modalities other than road transport are becoming increasingly important in TNO’s research. Diesel engines in trucks, as a result of increasingly stringent emission standards, have become increasingly cleaner. In the current nitrogen crisis, for example, clean construction equipment and generators are important to enable construction projects to go ahead.

In shipping, there are also still many environmental gains to be made, even though the energy alternatives are more limited. Batteries and hydrogen are not sufficient for deep-sea shipping. Engines that can run on sustainable synthetic or biofuels are needed. For inland shipping, much progress is being made with batteries and hydrogen, but it is also important to keep sustainable diesel replacements on hand for rapid sustainability.

In aviation, where space and weight are even more important, hydrogen may only play a role for smaller aircraft, but only in the long term. For the medium term, biokerosene and synthetic kerosene from sustainable hydrogen and captured CO2 are important sustainability options. TNO explores these options, together with stakeholders, and develops efficient and affordable production methods.

What does TNO offer?

It is clear that for the energy transition of the entire transport sector, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. From an energy perspective, hydrogen is an attractive option for long-distance transport. But with ‘zero emission’ as a challenge for the entire sector, it is important to have multiple options available. That is why TNO is committed to a multi-track policy, in which hydrogen is one of several sustainable alternatives that we are going to need.

At TNO we work closely with our partners to seize opportunities to make the transport world even more sustainable. With engine and vehicle manufacturers we are further developing hydrogen technology. Our track record in engine technology and alternative fuels helps our partners to implement the hydrogen combustion engine, but also to set up production and maintenance. With parties in logistics and energy suppliers we are experimenting with electric and hydrogen trucks in various applications under the DKTI scheme. We are looking at the practical applicability of these alternatives, determining both the ‘tank-to-wheel’ and the ‘well-to-wheel’ impact, and calculating the total cost of ownership.

For governments, TNO’s added value lies in supporting effective (source) policy and in orchestrating innovation, where we look at the total spectrum of solutions for the transport sector, in addition to the role of hydrogen. Some crucial questions we at TNO try to answer for and with our partners:

  • How can we make logistics more efficient and reduce vehicle kilometers?
  • Can we make traffic and transport flows more sustainable with the help of ‘connected’ and automated vehicles?
  • How do we successfully implement new technology, such as the hydrogen combustion engine, to achieve our climate goals?
  • What infrastructure is needed for this, and what legislation from Brussels and what fiscal measures from The Hague?
Nedim Husomanovic

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