Gathered around on a small industrial lot, dignitaries and investors looked at the latest stuff to spawn from Sidney’s industrial realm: hydrogen technology for internal combustion engines.
The company, known as Empire Hydrogen Energy Systems Inc., has worked for the last six years to develop the technology, which it plans to spread to thousands of long-haul trucks throughout Canada and Europe.
“It’s a fantastic industry that has not been looked at,” said company CEO Sven Tjelta, adding that the device, called a fuel enhancement system, works with the existing internal combustion engine to make it cleaner and more efficient.
In a nutshell, the system is simple. The unit, fitted to the truck’s chassis, gets topped up with water, where its main component (known as an electrolizer) breaks the water down to hydrogen and oxygen gas and feeds it through a hose into the engine. This, in turn, mixes with the fuel (diesel or gasoline) in the cylinders, allowing the engine to burn less fuel, and run cleaner. Once the gas is detonated in the cylinders, it gets converted back into water.
Tjelta noted the idea behind the hydrogen unit was to make internal combustion engines better, not create a hydrogen-only alternative.
“It mixes with the existing fuel, it’s not a substitute for fuel,” he said, adding that, depending on the application, users will see a 10 to 30 per cent increase in fuel efficiency after using the technology. The unit also “talks” to the vehicle’s engine computer, which controls the mixture of air and fuel in the cylinders.
Similar developments with hydrogen were made in the ’50s and ’60s, but Tjelta joked they weren’t as popular.
“I get emails from my investors that I need to be careful, because some of the previous inventors disappeared,” Tjelta laughed.
So far, 50 units are in use within the trucking industry, with more expected in the near future.
Each unit sells for $7,000 including installation, and does not void the truck’s manufacturer warranty, said Bill Kitchen, Empire’s senior electronics design technician.
Having no moving parts, Kitchen said the system is built to last for decades.
Still, don’t expect to see it in your Corolla anytime soon, as Empire is mostly looking at Class-A truck applications at the moment.
“You can shrink it, but that’s a lot more engineering,” Kitchen said. “Modern cars are incredibly filled up for space, so then you gotta work with the factories and incorporate it into the build and engineering of the car.”
He didn’t discount the idea of it working down the road though, as the company plans on experimenting with diesel locomotive engines, even a Boeing 737 jet.
For Sidney Mayor Steve Price, the technology not only helps pry open the door a bit more for Sidney’s tech sector, but also makes a difference in the cost of transportation.
“It could change the face of transportation, eliminate a huge per cent of the carbon footprint from various trucks… Sidney has many little companies like this that have gone on to do big things,” Price said. “To see what these guys have accomplished in the last two years is just astounding.”