Sustainable vehicles and research into sustainable powertrains

Sustainable vehicles

80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from road transport. The transport sector has a lot of work to do between now and 2050. At the same time, transport operators want to get serious about automated driving and sustainable mobility. Using innovative solutions, TNO is taking the lead in the transition and helping to achieve these ambitions.

Sustainable powertrains for vehicles

The development and deployment of technology goes hand in hand with legislation and policy. This is why we offer support at each step in the process. For example, we develop solutions using validated methodologies to optimise the technology for vehicle propulsion systems, and make the use of the required propulsion energy more sustainable. We have a ‘real world’ verification and validation facility, where our findings are objectively validated. And we assist governments and companies with the practical integration into existing systems and networks.

Powertrains Research Group

TNO's Powertrains Research Group concentrates on applied research into efficient and sustainable propulsion systems. It carries out this research for trucks and buses, as well as non-road and maritime applications. The group's expertise lies mainly in its in-depth understanding of how internal combustion engine, battery and fuel cell technologies work. This knowledge is used to model these components, allowing complex algorithms to be designed to control them.

Want to know more?

Download the online brochure 'Automotive Battery Research'

Five programme lines

The challenge for greenhouse gas reduction lies mainly in urban and long-distance freight transport. Within the current strategic programme of the HTSM Automotive Roadmap 2020-2030, we provide solutions for the design, deployment and operation of clean vehicle propulsion systems. In this programme, we work on solutions that will facilitate the transition from the use of fossil fuels to sustainable fuels for long-distance and heavy transport, and to electrical energy for regional and urban transport. In addition to significant carbon reductions, these solutions contribute to improvements in local air quality and compliance with noise requirements.

We develop solutions through the following 5 programme lines:

1. Hydrogen internal combustion engines

One important development that will make internal combustion engines more sustainable is to run them directly on hydrogen, rather than fossil fuels. This will have a huge impact on carbon emissions, which will be reduced by over 99%. We are researching the mono-fuel and dual-fuel variants. Advantages of this technology include rapid market availability through the leveraging of existing production and service lines, low costs, insensitivity to hydrogen purity, and finally, geographical independence in terms of the materials needed.

2. Batteries

Research into battery life is important, as batteries will be the most valuable component of the future car. We want to find out how good a battery still is after a certain period of use and how long it can remain in use for the same or another application. A good estimate is important to determine the economic residual value.

We draw on our knowledge of batteries to extend battery life and design optimal charging strategies for the vehicle or vessel in which the battery will be used. This knowledge can even be used to optimise a fleet’s charging strategies.

3. Modular energy management systems

Energy management in a vehicle is gaining in importance, especially when it comes to hybrid vehicles. Hybrid vehicles often combine batteries with fuel cells or an internal combustion engine. The size of these components has to be determined during the design phase and depends on the task that the vehicle or vessel will be used for. This question is particularly relevant in the case of non-road applications, such as a tractor or construction machine, for example. In addition, once a vehicle is actually being used, real-time decisions need to be made about when to charge the battery or when the battery should kick in to carry out the task. TNO has a solution to answer these questions.

4. Fuel cells

The fuel cell is an interesting form of powertrain, because of the high degree of efficiency with which it converts hydrogen into electricity. Fuel cells are also silent, of course, and have no emissions. At TNO, we are researching ways to extend the life of fuel cells, which is important given their currently high purchase price. We are conducting this research in relation to the existing PEM technology, but are also now actively involved in designing a control platform for a new technology called SOFC.

5. E-fuels

Besides hydrogen, there are also other fuels that can be generated efficiently from renewable resources. Take methanol, DME or ammonia, for example. The knowledge TNO has amassed in relation to internal combustion engines over recent decades can be put to excellent use here to make sure that both new and existing engines can run very efficiently on these fuels. At present, we expect this technology to be applied most widely within the maritime sector, where there is a great deal of interest in the use of methanol. We are researching how dual-fuel engines could be designed that run on both methanol and diesel.

Powertrain Performance Assessment Centre

The programme lines outlined above are supported by a fantastic development facility at the Automotive Campus in Helmond. Here, new fuels can be put to use in the engines and fuel cells that are under development. We also have access to an extensive facility for conducting battery research.

This includes a unique Altitude Climate Chamber where the performance and emissions of a complete vehicle can be examined under extreme conditions. We are talking here about extreme temperatures below and above zero, for example, or driving in the mountains 4,000 metres above sea level.

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TNO research on powertrains


Modern means of transport, from passenger cars to heavy road and waterborne vehicles, must comply with increasingly stringent emission regulations and greenhouse gas targets.

Discover how hydrogen can accelerate the energy transition in the transport sector


In order to achieve the environmental objectives and drastically limit global CO2 emissions, the transport sector must rely on several sustainable energy carriers. In addition to the rapid rise of battery-electric vehicles, hydrogen is becoming one of the important alternatives. TNO Traffic & Transport helps the energy transition move forward by, on the one hand, accelerating the market introduction of alternative fuels, such as hydrogen, and on the other, by providing effective policy support for governments.

Actual energy consumption and emissions

With our Powertrain Performance Validation Centre TNO offers robust solutions for next-generation clean and efficient powertrains. Read more.

ORCA: Optimised Real-world Cost-Competitive Modular Hybrid Architecture for Heavy Duty Vehicles

13 October 2021
As part of its commitment to significantly reduce tailpipe CO2 emissions, the European Commission is co-funding a number of projects that it believes can make a major contribution to achieving that goal. ORCA is one such project.

Towards a clean future for shipping thanks to hydrogen combustion

15 March 2021
Hydrogen has great potential as a sustainable fuel for the future. Could hydrogen make the shipping industry sustainable?