A fuel-cell system that runs on hydrogen produced on board heavy-goods vehicles (HGVs) and fork-lift trucks promises to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The technology has been developed by Volvo Technology, StatoilHydro, H2 Logic, Powercell Sweden and SINTEF.

Powercell Sweden and its minority owner Volvo Technology were responsible for creating the method for reforming diesel fuel carried by the truck into hydrogen.

The two companies were also responsible for building the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, the type of fuel cell most often used in transport applications.

A spokesman for Volvo Technology told The Engineer its reforming technology holds a unique position in the marketplace because no other company offers a system to reform diesel fuel to hydrogen with a quality good enough for a PEM fuel cell.

The new fuel system is first being targeted for use on HGVs and fork-lift trucks. The electricity generated by it could be used as power supply for lorry drivers when resting in their vehicle's sleeping alcove. Usually in these vehicles, the diesel engine is kept going in neutral to supply power for heating, air-conditioning, lighting, a fridge and a TV.

SINTEF spokesman Steffen Møller-Holst said it is unlikely such systems will find applications in passenger vehicles in the near future.

'For a conventional car, the diesel reformer and the total system will be very big compared to the output you need for propulsion,' he added. 'For propulsion of a vehicle you might need 100 kilowatts. This system is five kilowatts, which is perfectly suited for smaller power outputs such as fork-lift trucks and auxiliary power units in big trucks.'

Siobhan Wagner