New technology makes hydrogen more viable car fuel

Thu Mar 31, 2011 5:21am EDT
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By Stuart McDill

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A new technology that allows hydrogen to be stored in a cheap and practical way, could make its widespread use as a carbon-free alternative to petrol a reality, according to its developers.

The technology is based on a new way of producing nano-fibers from hydrides, materials that soak up hydrogen like a sponge, and then encapsulating them in tiny plastic beads so small they behave like a liquid.

The process is being developed by Cella Energy, a spin-off from Britain's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, who say that the technique allows hydrogen to be released at a much faster rate and at lower temperatures than before.

"What we've been doing is taking these materials and encasing them in plastic and making them into a very fine powder and that improves their properties," Cella Energy Chief Scientific Officer Stephen Bennington said. "It also means you can pump it like a fluid and it's safe. It is not gong to easily burst into flames," he said.

Hydrogen produces only water when its burned and is considered an ideal solution to cutting carbon emissions from petrol or diesel vehicles, which are estimated to cause 25 percent of all carbon release.

But until now, attempts to store hydrogen have not been consumer-friendly so this has not been a viable option. Cella Energy Ltd say their technology would allow people to use the carbon-free fuel with their existing car after a few modifications.

"You would pump it into your petrol tank of your car -- that would go off, be heated, drive the hydrogen off, which would go and run your vehicle and then the waste little beads that we have created you store in the car. And when you go and refuel your car you have two nozzles. One which puts in the new beads and one which takes out the old beads which goes off to be recycled and the hydrogen added to it again," Bennington said.

The development has been to turn hydrides into fibers or beads, 30 times smaller than a human hair, through a process of electro-spinning. This produces a white tissue-like material that can be controlled to capture and release hydrogen.   Continued...