Ford patented a hydrogen engine to save combustion engines

A photo of a car filled with hydrogen gas.

I wonder how much hydrogen you can buy for $4.24?
Photo: Jean-Francois Monier (Getty Images)

There’s no two ways about it, gas-powered cars are on their way out. Europe wants to ban the sale of these cars in the decade and manufacturers have agreed to remove them from their ranges as they strive for more efficient vehicles. But what will replace the sweet and sweet essence? Well, Ford seems to be considering hydrogen as a new energy source.

The Bread Oval has been one of the fastest major automakers to transition to more environmentally friendly powertrains. In 2020, it rolled out the All-electric Mustang Mach-E as the first electric vehicle, will present the electric Transit in the coming weeks and will begin deliveries of its F-150 Lightning Later this year.

But not content with packing its fleet of efficient batteries, Ford is exploring an alternative power source for its cars of the future.

According to documents filed with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office, the Mustang manufacturer is preparing a turbocharged hydrogen engine that could replace its gasoline engines.

A photo of two electric and gas-powered Ford Mustangs.

Could a hydrogen Mustang one day rub shoulders with the electric Mach E?
Photo: Ford

Discovered by Muscle cars and trucks, the filings relate to a modified engine that relies on direct injection to burn a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. According to the site, the Ford engine will be able to run on a variable mixture of oxygen and hydrogen, depending on the needs of the car.

Where gasoline cars would traditionally use a mixture of oxygen and gasoline in a ratio of 8:1 at the richest down to 18.5:1 at the leanest, hydrogen cars can use fuel much more sparingly. In fact, Muscle Cars & Trucks suggests the engine might be capable of running on “an air/fuel mixture of at least 68 parts air to 1 part hydrogen.”

In order to tightly control this ratio of hydrogen and oxygen, the patented engine would use direct injection to control the flow of the two gases independently. This, Ford said, would see the engines develop 15% more power than gas if the same amount of fuel was used.

Besides that, when hydrogen burns in an environment like this, the only by-product is water. Water that floats in the atmosphere and forms clouds.

But, while this makes hydrogen a miracle fuel for the cars of the future, it’s not without its problems.

A photo of NASA's space shuttle on a launch pad.

Another vehicle using the explosive power of hydrogen
Photo: Bruce Weaver (Getty Images)

Sure, it’s the most abundant element in the universe, but it doesn’t often float around in its pure form. Because hydrogen is so reactive, it must be extracted and refined to obtain the pure gas that would be used to power your cars. This, like refining oil into gasoline, consumes energy and eliminates emissions, which we try to cut.

Then there are the risks of shipping a hydrogen tank everywhere you go.

Yes, the same can be said for gas as it is quite an explosive substance, but it pales in comparison to hydrogen. And with the frequency of accidents and crashes on the roads, automakers will have to pile the pounds on their cars as they debut new heavy-duty fuel tanks that can protect drivers, passengers and other road users from exploding vehicles.

All of this isn’t to say that hydrogen cars aren’t the future. They are a possible future that will likely take place alongside battery-powered vehicles and super-efficient hybrids.

Which brings us to the last interesting part of this patent. Looks like Ford is considering this hydrogen engine working in tandem with batteries as part of a new hybrid powertrain.

A photo of the remains of the Hindenberg airship.

And another that was knocked down by the explosive nature of hydrogen.
Photo: Hulton Archive (Getty Images)

According to Muscle Cars & Trucks:

“The example shown features a motor-generator unit placed in series between the engine and transmission, but Ford says it could be used in a parallel, series, or series-parallel hybrid vehicle.”

But Ford isn’t the first automaker to start looking at hydrogen as an alternative to gas. It follows Toyota and Yamaha in their quest to develop a hydrogen engine which can spark a spark in traditional ICE-obsessed drivers.

Do you think hydrogen engines are the future of consumer cars, or are electric vehicles the way forward? Or maybe you think there’s another futuristic powertrain on the horizon. Let us know in the comments below.

Kevin A. Perras