A hydrogen-powered Duramax diesel engine? It could actually happen

When it comes to vehicles that tow and haul, eliminating tailpipe emissions is a bit of a tricky thing because the batteries are, ultimately, rather large and heavy. Size and weight penalties are also a reality for battery electric passenger vehicles, but they are particularly significant for commercial vehicles, where they directly affect the maximum rated payload. The solution, according to a Belgian automotive supply company, could be hydrogen-powered Duramax diesel engines.

Automotive News Europe recently spoke with Belgian engineer Guido Dumarey, founder and CEO of Punch Group, which has a variety of automotive supply facilities across Europe. One of those facilities — a powertrain engineering complex in Turin, Italy, which Punch bought from General Motors after it withdrew from the European market — is working on converting GM’s 6.6L Duramax diesel engine. , found in vehicles like the Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD. , in a clean hydrogen-burning power plant.

This Duramax diesel-based hydrogen engine will serve as the top end of a hydrogen engine family that will also include a 2.0L four-cylinder and a 3.0L V6. should range from about 110 to 540 horsepower.

The technical challenges of hydrogen

Certainly, Dumarey admits that there are a lot of technical hurdles to overcome. For example, he says, “hydrogen burns seven times faster than diesel, so you need to lower the temperature in the combustion chamber” for good combustion. “Water injection is a proven technology for doing this, but a negative side effect is that it creates corrosion.”

And then there’s the issue of lubrication, which is “another potential problem for an engine that tends to be very dry,” says Dumarey. “Spray lubrication is the only solution.”

2020 GMC Sierra HD Denali

The rest of the GM Duramax diesel engine needs relatively little hydrogen to run efficiently, according to Dumarey. This includes some minor changes to the cylinder head and, of course, an overhaul of the injection and control systems.

As to why Punch Group is working on converting diesel engines instead of petrol engines to run on hydrogen, there are two main reasons: accessibility – as Punch already holds the right to sell Duramax 6 diesel, 6 L everywhere except the USA – and durability. “Modern diesels are designed to last 350,000 km,” explains Dumarey, “while gasoline engines [are] designed to last approximately 250,000 km. And Dumarey predicts that as more countries reduce transport emissions by limiting or banning the sale of new internal combustion vehicles, more diesel plants in Europe will inevitably appear for sale.

So, will we ever see a hydrogen-powered Punch Duramax diesel engine in the North American market Chevrolet Silverado HD or GMC Sierra HD? It’s a possibility; Punch Group doesn’t have the rights to the 6.6L Duramax diesel in the US, but it does have the US rights to its hydrogen version, and the presumably low catch rate could mean it wouldn’t make sense. for GM to develop and manufacture its own different hydrogen-powered Duramax V8. But don’t hold your breath for one of Punch’s hydrogen engines to land in a light passenger vehicle anytime soon. Dumarey doesn’t believe there’s a compelling case for this light-duty vehicle emissions solution because the hydrogen fuel tank, while light, is large enough to make packaging a challenge.

“While the weight of the tank is a fraction of a battery pack – around 50 kg compared to several hundred kilograms for batteries – the tank requires a space of around 100 litres,” explains Dumarey. “It’s a significant packaging challenge if you want to fit the tank in the trunk of a sedan. It’s even more problematic with hatchbacks.

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