Guido Dumarey and his Punch Group have made a business out of buying struggling European General Motors plants, the engineer and auto exec told Automotive News Europe recently. One of those plants, in Turin, Italy, specialized in manufacturing GM’s Duramax diesels. The problem for such a factory is that in its two primary markets, Europe and China, diesel propulsion is on the outs. Therefore, the only choice would be to retrofit the whole shebang to build electric motors and powertrains or—
Convert all those diesels to instead hook up to (almost-)zero-emission tailpipes. Yes, we mean hydrogen fuel.
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While converting the former oil-burning compression-ignition engines to hydrogen does render their tailpipes CO2-free, there are still issues to overcome. For one, hydrogen burns seven times faster than comparatively sludge-y diesel fuel. Not only does this require even more precise injection — diesel combustion is triggered by high-pressure injection of fuel into the already compressed air — of the hydrogen, but it will also require significant cooling of the cylinder head.
Thankfully, water injection is already a known quantity in the commercial engine segment. As a result, Punch claims its diesels are no more difficult to convert to hydrogen than gasoline-fueled ICEs.
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According to Automotive News, the Punch Group will begin with production of a hydrogen-burning Duramax 6.6-litre V8 — the company has the right to sell them in any market other than the U.S. — which will be quickly followed by 3.0L V6s and a 2.0L inline-four. Should they prove popular, they might also produce 1.5L three-cylinder versions as well.
With the European Union promising there will be hydrogen refueling stations every 150 kilometres on the trans-European Transport Network, hydrogen-fueled alternatives to battery power are looking a little more promising. And as Dumarey told Automotive News Europe, “The automotive industry, particularly in Europe, has made massive investments in diesel technology. All these investments — and most of the jobs connected to diesels — are at risk of extinction if we will go to battery-power only.”