Safe hydrogen powertrains for commercial vehicles

Hydrogen to decarbonize transportation instead of fossil fuels: H2 combustion engines offer a real alternative to conventional combustion engines for use cases where battery-powered vehicles have yet to gain traction or are simply not viable options. To this end, the hydrogen tank system and its control unit have to be designed to fit without requiring invasive modifications to the vehicle’s body.

Prototype of the Unimog based on the U 430 with hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine.

Challenge: Robust, sustainable propulsion systems for the mobility transition

Climate change and its impact pose new challenges for the global community and thus also for the entire transportation sector. H2 drivetrains, a real alternative to conventional combustion engines, can contribute greatly to the cause of climate action by cutting carbon and other pollutant emissions. A climate-neutral hydrogen engine must, of course, also have the right tank system. It needs a tank control unit to monitor and regulate the flow of H2 from the tank to the engine. To prevent the risks and hazards of hydrogen leakage, compliance with the many technical standards and government regulations is a top priority. This control unit must constantly monitor the tank system for temperature, pressure, and escaping H2 gas during operation – and in the event of a problem, alert and prompt the user to take remedial action.

Business portrait of Duy Nguyen, Systems Engineer H2 Systems, ITK Engineering GmbH.

The WaVe project presents special challenges because diesel and hydrogen are fundamentally different. The conversion to hydrogen requires specialized know-how, particularly when it comes to safety. ITK Engineering is able to bring these skills to the project in combination with our expertise in functional safety and many years’ experience developing software and integrating control systems in the mobility sector.

Duy Nguyen, Systems Engineer H2-Systems

Solution: Functional safety concept and integration of a tank control unit, all from the same source

ITK Engineering teamed up with Daimler Truck AG in the WaVe project, an initiative to promote innovation funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic affairs and Climate Action (BMWK). WaVe is short for Wasserstoff-Verbrennungsmotor, or hydrogen combustion engine. ITK’s brief was to develop and help implement the safety concept for a prototype installed in an Unimog.

ITK Engineering planned and helped install this tank system monitoring unit in compliance with regulations such as UN/ECE R134 and EC 79/2009, and advised partners on selecting sensors and components that convey gas. To keep the user informed, the team opted for an add-on display that indicates all pertinent sensor readings, alerts, alarms, and other warning messages. Potential faults, risks, and hazards were factored into the equation to assure the H2 tank system operates safely at all times. Learn more about the innovation project “WaVe”.

The open Unimog tank housing with four upright H2 pressure tanks.

Added value: Easy, vehicle-agnostic integration

An H2 tank system can be installed in any vehicle powered by a combustion engine – provided the engine has been modified to handle hydrogen. And compact versions can be configured to fit the desired tank size. Installation requires only minimal modifications. Merely the tank control system’s pipes and electric components have to be adapted. An add-on display indicates alarms and alerts without having to access vehicle communications. With a modified rather than replaced combustion engine, manufacturers can continue using legacy production lines for engines, transmissions, and the like. New vehicle architectures such as those required for battery electric vehicles (BEV) are not necessary.

The system also lends itself to stationary use cases, for instance, for fuel cells.

Key Takeaways


OEM-independent and scalable tank control unit

Schloss und Hand

Planning and implementation of the safety concept


Project support through to road approval

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