Trucks are responsible for transporting nearly three-quarters of the nation’s freight by weight, and most of these commercial trucks are powered by diesel fuel.
While diesel has long served a purpose in propelling over-the-road trucking, it’s also come at an environmental cost. Many companies are looking to lower the carbon footprints of their supply chains by examining ways to address the emissions in the transport process.
Researchers at MIT are looking to address the potential of one alternative fuel source that holds a lot of promise: hydrogen. Unfortunately, key barriers exist to hydrogen’s widespread use, specifically around hydrogen refueling and delivery.
William H. Green, the Hoyt Hottel professor in chemical engineering, is leading a team of MIT researchers as they explore ways to add practical access to hydrogen fueling for trucks. Hydrogen is a fuel source that emits only water vapor and warm air.
The idea is to look for opportunities to enable liquid organic hydrogen carriers, or LOHCs, to achieve a key component of hydrogen processing while onboard. Currently, LOHCs deliver hydrogen gas to refueling stations, at which point it is compressed and then delivered to the point of use.
Green says this process results in energy loss, and the more efficient approach would be enabling the trucks to feature onboard dehydrogenation, essentially allowing the LOHCs to deliver the hydrogen and store it onboard. This approach would ideally improve delivery and refueling, thus reducing costs.
According to research published in Energy and Fuels, a peer-reviewed journal produced by the American Chemical Society, a truck’s powertrain would need to be adapted to enable onboard hydrogen release from the carriers, “using waste heat from the engine exhaust to power the ‘dehydrogenation’ process.”
Researchers believe that advancing this type of tool could mean big benefits for the supply chain and the environment. Because there are no up-front infrastructure costs or requirements, the applications could span the globe. As for existing hydrogen fleets, fast refueling and quick scalability could bring this solution to the forefront for companies keen on improving their carbon footprint.
The MIT researchers’ work is a promising step towards making hydrogen trucks more practical and widespread. If successful, their work could help to reduce emissions from the trucking industry and improve the environmental sustainability of transportation.