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Future Car - Ford's Hydrogen I.C.E.

Updated on September 12, 2009

Hydrogen I.C.E.

I.C.E. stands for Internal Combustion Engine. Ford is currently looking at creating a car that will bridge the gap between gasoline power and the very likely future fuel; hydrogen.

The I.C.E. burns hydrogen in a slightly modified Ford engine thus incorporating the "fuel of the future" in the car of today. The idea is to market a car that will use hydrogen without the use of fuel cells and the associated expensive technology to power it.

Since the car is based largely on current technology (even the engine is stock with slight modifications) Ford's intermediate line will be more affordable, rapidly available, and produce nearly zero emissions.

Ford has stated that should the fuel be more widely available they could have the cars powered by hydrogen...immediately. Naturally, because hydrogen burns hotter than gasoline certain engine modifications are necessary. However, the engine block itself is basically the same as a gasoline powered engine. Hydrogen modifications internally are limited to the pistons; all other modifications are "external" to the engine. See list below.

The only other car manufacturer to make these claims is BMW and their efforts are two (2) years off.

Ford Hydrogen V10

Click thumbnail to view full-size
100% hydrogen powered V10Hydrogen tanksBallard/Roush Hydrogen Racing Prototype
100% hydrogen powered V10
100% hydrogen powered V10
Hydrogen tanks
Hydrogen tanks
Ballard/Roush Hydrogen Racing Prototype
Ballard/Roush Hydrogen Racing Prototype

Engine Modifications

The following engine modifications are necessary to run hydrogen instead of gasoline. They are;

  • Valves and valve seats must be specially hardened to compensate for reduced lubricating properties. Gasoline, though a fuel, does have some oil like properties that typically keep these engine components properly lubricated...hydrogen does not
  • Spark plugs must use iridium to withstand the higher temperatures
  • Ignition coils must be different due to the properties of hydrogen as fuel
  • Fuel injectors must be designed for a gas not a liquid
  • A heftier crankshaft damper compensates for the bigger kick hydrogen fuel provides
  • Pistons, connecting rods and piston rings must be able to withstand the higher forces and pressures produced
  • Head gasket must be able to withstand the higher combustion pressures
  • Intake manifold modified to accommodate a supercharger
  • Twin screw supercharger and water-to-air inter-cooler to increase power
  • Engine oil must be able to withstand higher temperatures and pressures
  • Engine oil system must include a separator to remove any hydrogen that might migrate into the oil
  • Exhaust gas system must be able sustain water produced by the hydrogen combustion

As you can see most of the modifications are "bolt-on" not radical redesigns of the engine itself. However, these modifications would add 50% of current engine manufacturing costs to implement bringing the total cost of engine build to one and one half (1.5) times of current costs.

What Remains the Same on the Engine

  • The block is unchanged
  • The crankshaft itself and the bearings it rides on are the same

This may not seem like much compared to what has been changed, but the most expensive change was to the intake manifold and the addition of a supercharger.


With hydrogen as a fuel, emissions are greatly reduced from those of conventional gasoline engines with current emission control technology. There is a small amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas emissions resulting from the engine oil in the cylinders of most modern engines, it would take over three-hundred (300) hydrogen vehicles to emit the same amount of CO2 as one gasoline fueled vehicle.

Hydrocarbon (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions are one-tenth (1/10) of current requirements and nitric oxide (NOx) emissions are one-fourth (1/4) that of gasoline.

Source: Ford TH!NK Group

Hydrogen I.C.E. vs Fuel-Cell

Ford still believes that fuel cell vehicles will be the future of the car, however, such vehicles are prohibitively expensive. The Hydrogen I.C.E. vehicle will be a much cheaper alternative until costs come down on fuel-cell cars.

"While we still believe fuel cells are the best hope for a zero-emission product to replace the internal combustion engine in the future, (The hydrogen I.C.E.) offers a great opportunity to improve hydrogen infrastructure with a vehicle that is comparatively easy to produce and seamless in customer operation." --John Wallace, Executive Director of Ford's TH!NK Group

Despite the expense of modifying an existing Internal Combustion Engine to run on hydrogen it is still considerably less expensive than the cost of creating a hybrid and trying to market it to a skeptical* car buying public. In other words, a Hydrogen I.C.E. car will be slightly more expensive to produce that a gasoline car, but considerably less expensive than a fuel cell model.

The best news of all is that Ford could have these vehicles in show rooms in very short order.

Ford is working on a hydrogen I.C.E. with hybrid technology. (see below)

* According to some survey results about 80% of Americans doubt a connection between vehicle emissions and global warming and are thus unwilling to pay extra for the technology.

Fuel Storage

Fuel storage of hydrogen is a major obstacle. Enough fuel to power one of these vehicles for a mere two hundred miles (200) requires storage at five-thousand (5,000) pounds per square inch (PSI). As one might imagine a tank capable of maintaining integrity at over five thousand PSI is quite expensive. Also, because one kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent to one gallon of gas the space required for the tank (even at 5,000 PSI) would take up quite a bit of space; perhaps the size of a standard automobile trunk.

"We’ve demonstrated that hydrogen can be clean and efficient and reliable, but the biggest issue remains how to store enough hydrogen on the vehicle in a given space. The tanks are also still too expensive." -- Bob Natkin, technical leader for H2 IC Engine Applications Research and Advanced Engineering.

Ford Edge Hydrogen Hybrid

Ford Edge HySeries Hybrid

Unlike the Prius (Toyota) and the Insight (Honda), Ford's new hydrogen hybrid combines three technologies to tame emissions. It is a plug in vehicle that charges battery packs and also converts hydrogen to electricity (and water vapor) via fuel cells. The distinct difference here is the regardless of power source all power runs through the batteries before being passed onto the electrical motors.

The advantage of this configuration is that if Ford wanted it could add an engine to this configuration and not have to change the battery pack configuration or electrical motor layout. The net effect is engineering simplification.

With this configuration converting to miles per gallon and round trip distances of fifty (50) miles (or less) the "Edge" is capable of attaining eighty (80mpg) miles per gallon. Longer drives, where electrical regeneration kicks in, will reduce that mileage to forty-one (41mpg) miles per gallon. Still decent for a vehicle this size and weight.

Why is this vehicle mentioned? Ford is talking about adding a hydrogen powered combustion engine to the mix in HySeries vehicles.

This is the second hub in a series on the future of the car. See links below for other hubs on this topic.


Submit a Comment
  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Eric: Believe it or not, there has been a lot of discussion about the dangers of hydrogen as fuel. Those opposed point out that the Hindenburg disaster proved, beyond any doubt, that hydrogen is far too dangerous to be used in a public setting. Others point out that burning (or unburned) hydrogen is lighter than air and will rise even while aflame.

    I'm sure the debate will continue for some time, even after it starts being used as fuel by the public.

  • Eric Calderwood profile image

    Eric Calderwood 

    8 years ago from USA

    I'm curious about the safety of hydrogen as a fuel. When I think about hydrogen fuel, I think of the space shuttles. And, more specifically, about the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Is it possible that some of these vehicles could explode like the space shuttle did? Or does Ford, and other companies who are developing these cars, have a work-around that would prevent this from happening?

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    gurfle: I agree with your assessment. I don't know the answer, but doubt Ford would be putting this much time and money into the effort without some idea of profiting from it down the road. Perhaps we'll be seeing Hydrogen ICE commercial vehicles.

  • gurfle profile image


    8 years ago

    It's almost a whole year later now, but everything I am reading indicates that hydrogen fuel cells are being promoted much more than hydrogen burning (in ICEs) as the future for powering cars.

    Is there any hope that the ICE approach will catch on? Seems to me hydrogen ICE cars are a much more viable approach for the long term, given all the uncertainties surrounding membrane materials in fuel cells.

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    joe: Not sure how I missed your comment, but I can't help but think that might be another way to go.

  • profile image

    joe braverman 

    9 years ago

    on board hydrogen production?

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Ben: I'll look for that series. Should be interesting.

  • Ben Zoltak profile image

    Ben Zoltak 

    9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

    Great article, doing research for my Flying Car Island series here at hubpages, thanks Liambean! I enjoyed earnest hubs jargon response!



  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thanks for reading & commenting Kyle246.

  • Kyle246 profile image


    10 years ago from United States

    Ford is doing a great job these days. :)

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Good to hear from someone who has technical knowledge of engine block, piston, and bearing (among other things) design. Thanks for reading and sharing Ernest!!!

  • earnestshub profile image


    10 years ago from Melbourne Australia

    A very nice hub for a car nut like me. Storage is going to be a problem for some time, but with hydrogen as the fuel another problem remains for the standard block. The cylinders in the block will not handle the extra heat for 3 or 4 hundred thousand miles as they do now. They will need to make a wet-sleeve motor with extra strong webbing in the casting and a special coating or metal for the sleeves to dissipate the heat better or piston skirt and bore wear could result from oil to surface failure.

    The main bearing and big end bearings will need to be better supported in a stronger engine block or the extra weight on the crank will wear it out too soon as well.

    I hope Ford have it right, but I doubt it.

    A stopgap vehicle with a short engine life perhaps?

    Love this sort of hub, thanks.

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Andromida: Thanks for the comment.

    I agree. Hydrogen as fuel is a very big "if." A surprising number of people are working on ways to bring hydrogen to the corner service station. One I heard about in Greenland uses a reverse fuel cell to extract oxygen and hydrogen from water. It's small (about the size of a gas station convenience store) and works efficiently.

    "Big Oil" in the states will want to produce hydrogen from fossil fuels in order to "keep their hand" in the game. Still, replacing gasoline pumps with hydrogen pumps will be an expensive proposition likely with refueling points only in selected locations in big cities.

    The bigger issue, of course, is storage on the vehicle. Until someone can come up with a way to store three hundred miles worth of hydrogen safely and cheaply in the car this is going to be a major issue.

  • andromida profile image

    syras mamun 

    10 years ago

    Ford is doing excellent job bringing the hydrogen fueled car.I can safely say that future cars going to emit only a fraction of carbon in comparison with today's car. But I am not sure about the price range of hydrogen fueled cars.


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