This technology would make it possible to use hydrogen as a clean fuel alternative to traditional fuel in aeroplane and car.
Hydrogen is a clean fuel which produces only water on combustion or when combined with oxygen in fuel cells to produce electrical power. To store hydrogen as a gas demands high volumes, while to store as a hydrogen liquid increases weight and the energy requirement (to compress it) and it is expensive and difficult to store safely. Hydrogen storage in a solid phase is, therefore, very attractive but minimising weight and volume of the store is challenging and the rate of transfer from the tank to fuel cells or engines is often slow. These barriers are currently holding back the use of hydrogen on an industrial scale in fuel cells to provide power for aeroplanes and cars. Chemists at the University of Glasgow are working with EADS by using nanotechnology to alter the design and material composition of a storage tank with the aim of making it so efficient that it will be feasible to use solid state hydrogen clean fuel. If the developments to the tank structure are successful, EADS is planning to fly an un-manned hydrogen powered test plane in 2014 with a longer term view of introducing commercial aeroplanes powered by hydrogen as a clean fuel.
“Replacing traditional hydrocarbon based fuels with no pollution-free hydrogen in aeroplane and car engines would deliver huge benefits to the environment because carbon emissions would be dramatically reduced” said Dr. Eng. Agata Godula – Jopek, Fuel Cells Expert in the EADS Power Generation Team, the coordinator of the company’s programme.
Duncan Gregory, Professor of Inorganic Materials at the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, is leading the research. He is using nanotechnology to alter the structure of the Hydrisafe Tank, which is a new design under development by Hydrogen Horizons, a Scottish-registered start-up company for storage of hydrogen as clean fuel solution.
The University and EADS IW have secured funding from the Materials Knowledge Transfer Network – part of the UK Technology Strategy Board – and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Spending four year on a PhD project at the University and the Company’s German office in Ottobrunn, a student will research and test the Hydrisafe tank with alternative storage materials for hydrogen as clean fuel. The research will look into replacing LaNi¬5 with, currently used with other hydride materials such as magnesium hydride (MgH2) modified at the nanoscale level to allow it to receive and release the hydrogen clean fuel at a faster rate. Modifying the construction of the tank will extend its longevity, making it suitable to have solid state hydrogen clean fuel storage system that can feed fuel cells at the required energy densities required on an aeroplane.
Professor Gregory said: “Using new active nanomaterials in combination with novel storage tank design principles presents a hugely exciting opportunity to address the considerable challenges of introducing hydrogen as a clean fuel for aviation. This collaboration between engineers and chemists and between industry and academia provides the pathway to achieve this”. Gregory’s team are seeking funding from the European Union to build a European-wide team of academic and industrial partners to examine the wider issues relating to using hydrogen as a clean fuel on an industrial scale to power aeroplane and car engines.
There is recognition that while there is a strong potential for the adoption of fuel cells into the portable fuel cells market, key barriers to delivering this as the safe, efficient and cost-effective storage of hydrogen as a clean fuel. The research project, if approved, would explore how best to deliver practical solid state hydrogen clean fuel solution for portable and micro fuel cells systems.