Rolls-Royce Power Systems to begin full-scale hydrogen tests in 2020

Peter Riegger Rolls-Royce Power Systems Director Research & Technology
Peter Riegger Rolls-Royce Power Systems Director Research & Technology
The new MTU gas engine on the test bench (Copyright: Rolls Royce Power Systems)
The new MTU gas engine on the test bench (Copyright: Rolls Royce Power Systems)
Industry Database

Dr Peter Riegger of Rolls-Royce Power Systems outlines the MTU engine designer’s alternative fuel R&D position

Rolls-Royce Power Systems, the designer of MTU engines and systems, is planning to begin full-scale multi-cylinder tests on a hydrogen engine design in 2020, Dr. Peter Riegger, Rolls-Royce Power Systems Director Research & Technology told the Motorship in an exclusive interview in May.

Different gas engine concepts

Rolls-Royce Power Systems has been working on two different gas engine concepts to operate on methane, an Otto cycle low pressure gas engine, and a high-pressure direct-injection gas engine.

Riegger discussed Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ research work in developing a catalytic converter to reduce the release of uncombusted methane (methane slip) during the operation of the LP gas engine concept but noted the durability of the catalyst in the methane oxicat was still not fully proved. The methane oxicat also has implications for downstream equipment: as the catalytic converter requires high temperatures to operate, it needs to be located before the turbocharger, with negative impacts for engine dynamics. Rolls-Royce Power Systems is developing an electrically supported MTU turbocharging concept to mitigate the effects.

The research work has been undertaken in collaboration with DVGW (German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas & Water) Research Unit at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology.

The engine designer is currently also working on a hydrogen engine concept using an Otto cycle gas engine with spark-ignition. The ignition process is complicated by the faster flame speed of hydrogen, which can be controlled by utilising leaner air/fuel mixtures.

Hydrogen concepts

Riegger noted that Rolls-Royce Power Systems has successfully run single-cylinder tests on hydrogen mixtures ranging from 5-10% hydrogen up to 100% at its R&D site in Magdeburg and in collaboration with Technische Universität München.

“We know how to handle single-cylinder operation,” Riegger said, adding that the focus had shifted to managing the other steps, such as testing components or the tribological implications of higher combustion temperatures.

“One challenge was to control the maximum peak pressure in the combustion chamber,” Riegger said, noting the engine designer was focusing on the difficulty in controlling emissions from the combustion process when the hydrogen content in the fuel mix fluctuates during operations. Some of the characteristics of hydrogen fuel itself, such as the impact of ageing on its properties, also need to be investigated further.

“We have been doing a lot of design work on turbochargers to respond to changes in combustion chamber designs,” Riegger said, noting that the engine designer was looking at minimising the backpressure behind the turbocharger.

However, advances in variable valve timing and the introduction of new control algorithms has made it possible to improve the dynamic behaviour of the engine system. “We needed more degrees of freedom in order to respond to changing boundary conditions,” Riegger said.

Pre-series full-scale hydrogen engine

Rolls-Royce Power Systems plans to begin multi-cylinder tests on a hydrogen engine design in 2020, Riegger said. The introduction of a pre-series full-scale engine would permit optimisation work, and work on setting up the technology package to accompany the introduction of the engine.

Riegger would not elaborate on timeframes for the introduction of commercial hydrogen engines but noted that the significant investment in R&D was being driven by demand from several energy customers.

“We have run many hours of testing of various single-cylinders on hydrogen mixtures,” Riegger said, citing ongoing endurance tests, component test, and a long-term demonstration of control algorithms.

Hydrogen for stationary and mobile engine markets

Rolls-Royce Power Systems expects its research into hydrogen gas engines to have greater immediate commercial applicability to its stationary gas engine market.

“We see the likely emergence of a market for stationary hydrogen engines where there is surplus energy – and the market structure for hydrogen could be transformed if the costs of CO2 were to be increased,” Riegger said,

Turning to the marine engine market, Riegger was clear that LNG remains strongly positioned in the marine engine market as a transitional solution, while other fuels such as methanol were candidates for adoption in the short to medium term.

The key challenge for the marine industry is to create circumstances that will lead to continuing growth in trade volume and will at the same time ensure that the environment benefits from a significant reduction in emissions.

In 2015 Rolls-Royce Power Systems launched a Green and High-Tech programme. The investments in the new mobile gas engines and the hydrogen tests form part of targeted investments in eco-friendly solutions for the future designed to reduce pollutant emissions and the consumption of both energy and raw materials. But a successful energy turnaround in the maritime sector will depend on having uniform and stable international framework conditions in place and on providing appropriate solutions for our customers.

“We are standing at a crossroads – further research into engine designs will need to be undertaken in response to commercial demand from our customers,” Riegger concluded.

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