The Promising Future of Hydrogen Combustion Engines

Renewable Energy /
The Promising Future of Hydrogen Combustion Engines

Since its invention in the late 1800s, the internal combustion engine (ICE) has been the primary mover of vehicles and machines. The traditional ICE is powerful and relatively economical—after all, most infrastructure supports it—but it has a fatal flaw: It produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful greenhouse emissions.

What if humanity could harness the power of the ICE and eliminate the downsides?

As it turns out, we can. The hydrogen internal combustion engine (H2ICE) is a version of the infamous ICE that runs entirely on hydrogen gas, giving us a cleaner, more efficient option for transportation and freight.

What Is a Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine?

Before you can understand hydrogen internal combustion engines, it’s important to grasp how a traditional ICE functions.

Internal combustion engines work by burning fuel—typically gasoline or diesel—inside of an engine. This burning creates heat inside the engine’s cylinders, which moves pistons inside the engine up and down. These pistons then turn a crankshaft, converting that energy into forward motion for the vehicle.

With a hydrogen ICE, the mechanisms remain largely the same, but the fuel source changes. Instead of burning gas, an H2ICE burns hydrogen fuel to drive the pistons. (Note that this is just one way to use hydrogen to power vehicles; cars and trucks can also convert hydrogen into electricity, as is the case with PHEVs.)

Today, you’ll already find heavy-duty hydrogen ICE trucks plying the highways and delivering goods. These proof-of-concept vehicles are driving interest in H2ICE cars as a clean and efficient alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles.

3 Benefits of Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engines

H2ICEs are catching on because they have plenty of promise. There are several notable benefits of switching from standard ICE vehicles to H2ICE-powered ones.

1. Lower Emissions (Decarbonization)

Perhaps most importantly, H2ICEs emit far fewer emissions than the average ICE. Internal combustion engines spew several greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change into the atmosphere, including:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Fluorinated gasses

While H2ICE vehicles produce some emissions (notably trace amounts of nitrogen oxides, or NOx), they don’t release any of the above gasses. As a result, H2ICE technology is far cleaner.

Hydrogen fuel has other environmental benefits, too. Because hydrogen can easily be produced domestically, switching to H2ICE means less reliance on the emissions-generating shipping of oil and gas.

2. Familiarity

Another reason to love the H2ICE is its familiar technology. The engine of an H2ICE vehicle is similar to a standard engine, which all but eliminates the learning curve for maintenance personnel. This similarity stands in stark contrast to EV batteries, which require a whole new skill set to work on.

The familiarity continues to the end user, too. With a little reworking of existing infrastructure, drivers could easily refuel their vehicles at stations in under 15 minutes.

3. Fuel Efficiency

Once drivers start filling up their cars with hydrogen, they’ll notice a difference in their vehicle performance and efficiency.

As it stands right now, hydrogen fuel cells are roughly 2.5 times more efficient than gasoline engines. That means that as prices for hydrogen come down, H2-ICEs will become more economical than their traditional counterparts.

What are the Challenges of Hydrogen Engines?

Although hydrogen combustion engines have undeniable advantages over standard ICEs, they’ve yet to be fully embraced by regulators, the automotive industry, and the public. Here’s why.


As always, money is the driving factor behind decisions. Hydrogen fuel remains relatively expensive when compared to:

  • Gasoline
  • Diesel
  • Natural gas

Until hydrogen becomes economically competitive with the existing options, consumers are unlikely to adopt it as their main fuel source.

Luckily, cost reductions are coming. Between the push from governments to offer hydrogen vehicle rebates and the production of domestic green hydrogen at lower-than-ever prices, drivers should soon see financial relief at the (hydrogen) pumps.

Public Perception

Unfortunately, hydrogen doesn’t have the best reputation. Many people still link hydrogen to the Hindenburg disaster or the H-Bomb. And indeed, H2 does require some precautions around storage and usage.

However, technology has come a long way in the past 80 years. Hydrogen, especially when pumped into H2ICE vehicles at dedicated refueling stations, is incredibly safe.

Promising Developments in Hydrogen Engine Design

As mentioned, H2ICE vehicles are already on the road, specifically heavy-duty trucks that are difficult to electrify. These trucks run on early versions of H2ICE technology.

However, breakthroughs are happening daily, and soon we’ll see more, better H2ICE vehicles.

One exciting development is the recent use of hydrogen in an opposed-piston engine. These engines are simple yet powerful, making them an ideal replacement for traditional ICEs and first-generation H2ICEs.

FASTECH: Powering the Hydrogen ICE Movement

As more developments occur, we’re confident H2ICE vehicles are bound to become the industry standard for heavy-duty trucks and commuter vehicles alike.

That’s why we’re building renewable energy resilience with hydrogen by doubling down on hydrogen infrastructure.

If you need sustainable Engineering, Procurement, and Construction services, you’ve come to the right place. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

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