UK firm ULEMCo built a semi-truck that burns hydrogen, not diesel

While this isn't a new technology, it could be a way to reduce carbon emissions while we wait for widespread use of electric semis.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
2 min read

In the last year or so there has been a lot of interest in electric heavy-duty semi-trucks and that makes sense. Trucking is a resource-intensive but critical part of making our modern society run. The problem with electric trucks is that, for the most part, they all use the technology of tomorrow, but UK firm ULEMCo thinks it has a better way to clean up trucks right now: hydrogen.

We say hydrogen, and normally we'd be talking about a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that uses hydrogen to generate electricity which charges a battery and powers an electric motor, but that's not the case with the ULEMCo truck. Instead, it simply runs a modified internal-combustion engine on hydrogen gas.

Enlarge Image

The ULEMCo converted Volvo semi-truck can go 186 miles on 37.4 pounds of hydrogen alone.


While that may sound a little inelegant in this day and age, it actually makes a lot of sense. Hydrogen burns clean, and because today's heavy truck engines require little in the way of modification to use hydrogen as fuel, the cost to the end user is very low. The truck is modified to carry 37.4 pounds of hydrogen in tanks mounted to its frame rails, and that will power the truck, unladen, for around 186 miles while producing 300 horsepower.

If that doesn't sound earth-shattering, that's because it isn't. What it is, though, is a way to reduce the heavy truck industry's reliance on fossil fuels now, rather than 10 years from now when electric semi-trucks finally can compete on all fronts with diesel.

It should be said that the UK has around 15 hydrogen filling stations, and continental Europe has a relatively robust hydrogen filling network. The US only has a couple of dozen stations, many of which are situated in Southern California, so there would be some required infrastructure development before the ULEMCo system-equipped trucks could make sense here, plus the price of hydrogen tends to fluctuate quite a bit.

ULEMCo will have a proof-of-concept demonstrator vehicle on UK roads in the coming months, and hopefully, it's an idea that catches on.

Tesla Semi looks set to tower over the competition

See all photos