Volvo Trucks to use hydrogen combustion engines in 2026

Volvo Trucks wants to give combustion engines another chance at existence beyond the next decade by introducing hydrogen combustion-powered trucks. The first road tests with this technology will begin in 2026, and commercialization is planned by the decade’s end.

Hydrogen combustion is considered a carbon-neutral way to keep combustion engines alive without the massive costs associated with electrification. Japanese car manufacturer Toyota has developed several prototypes with a converted gasoline engine, and it is also seen as a potential solution for motorbikes, sports cars, and racecars.

Zero emissions, but still a little bit of emissions

Now, it seems hydrogen combustion could also be a viable solution for trucks. Volvo Trucks is planning to offer this type of engine to its customers by the end of the decade after participating in a pilot project with Deutz and BMW. Importantly, hydrogen combustion-powered trucks are considered Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEV) under the new EU CO2 emission standards, provided the hydrogen gas is created using renewable energy.

However, some diesel will still be required to achieve similar performance. Volvo Trucks will use High Pressure Direct Injection (HPDI), which uses a small amount of fuel to enable compression ignition, after which the hydrogen can be added to create the rest of the ‘bang’ needed.

Using renewable HVO diesel keeps the ZEV categorization, although a small amount of CO2 and other emissions will come out of the tailpipe. Volvo has partnered with Westport Fuel Systems to create a joint venture to develop this HPDI technology.

Volvo Trucks has also developed hydrogen fuel cell technology, which is more energy efficient but has a higher initial cost / Volvo Trucks

Cheaper to buy, more expensive to run

Whereas hydrogen combustion engines are cheap to develop, as they require very little adaptation compared to current gasoline and diesel engines, they do have a downside: energy efficiency. Whereas a hydrogen fuel cell can achieve an efficiency of 40 to 60%, hydrogen combustion engines only achieve around 30%.

Therefore, more hydrogen will be needed to power the trucks over the same distance. With the lack of hydrogen infrastructure and the still quite high price of green hydrogen, it remains to be seen if the higher running costs will offset the cheaper purchase price of a hydrogen combustion-powered truck.

At any rate, Volvo Trucks sees an opportunity there, and it will begin road-testing these trucks in 2026. A commercial launch is planned towards the end of the decade, and in theory, there is no expiration date for them, provided they keep their ZEV classification.

 

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