Korea’s New Hydrogen Combustion Engine: Details and Timeline

  • As automobile makers look for alternatives to gasoline, hydrogen combustion is starting to gain traction.
  • The hydrogen combustion engine is said to have the same range as a gasoline-powered combustion engine with the same refilling time.
  • We could start seeing additional real-life testing of the hydrogen combustion engine in vehicles as soon as next year.

In the quest for vehicle fuel sources,

Korea[1] has taken the lead on crafting a combustion engine that runs on hydrogen. But it isn't just Korea's Kia and Hyundai--which have teamed[2] to create a hydrogen combustion engine--moving forward on the concept. Volvo is now also planning[3] on the design.

The technology is virtually already in place for hydrogen combustion engines[4], and both the driving ranges and refilling times are similar to that of traditional gasoline-powered combustion engines.

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Moving toward hydrogen combustion is a different approach than searching for a hydrogen fuel cell.

In the combustion version, the engine burns hydrogen[5] to produce power through combustion like a conventional engine, whereas fuel cells use a chemical process to convert hydrogen into electricity. The combustion strategy[6] also takes up less physical space than a fuel cell system, and doesn't require the many new systems that a fuel would need to convert hydrogen to electricity and power an electric motor.

The combustion process still needs a little help, however. Volvo plans to use a type of biodiesel as a pilot fuel to ignite the combustion chamber, causing an explosion that drives the pistons.

The engines must manage the high temperatures[7] of that hydrogen combustion, which may require a more intricate engine design, better fuel-injection technology, and more hydrogen-friendly materials.

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Kia and Hyundai are working together on an engine that they may have ready for passenger cars in 2025, while Volvo plans to have on-road tests in trucks[8] in 2026.

"Trucks where the traditional internal combustion engine remains but runs on hydrogen will have the same performance and reliability as our diesel trucks, but with the added benefit of very low CO2[9] emissions," Jan Hjelmgren, Volvo Trucks head of product management and quality, said in a statement. "They will be a valuable complement to our battery electric trucks."

Detractors[10] of the hydrogen combustion push say that the new fuel source doesn't solve the pollution dilemma in automobiles, as the hydrogen technology still has an emission output. Volvo, however, states that by using the right renewable materials, they can get a hydrogen combustion engine to fall within the "zero emission[11] vehicle" category as set by European Union standards.

Headshot of Tim Newcomb

Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics.

His favorite interviews have included sit-downs with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.


  1. ^ Korea (www.popularmechanics.com)
  2. ^ teamed (www.ecoticias.com)
  3. ^ planning (www.volvotrucks.com)
  4. ^ combustion engines (www.popularmechanics.com)
  5. ^ hydrogen (www.popularmechanics.com)
  6. ^ strategy (www.volvogroup.com)
  7. ^ high temperatures (www.popularmechanics.com)
  8. ^ trucks (www.popularmechanics.com)
  9. ^ CO2 (www.popularmechanics.com)
  10. ^ Detractors (blog.ucsusa.org)
  11. ^ zero emission (www.popularmechanics.com)