Cella Energy was named the UK national winner for the Shell Springboard Awards 2011, for developing a technology which allows hydrogen to be stored in a cheap, practical way, bringing the prospect of hydrogen fuelled cars one step closer to reality.
Hydrogen, which produces only pure water when burned, is considered an ideal solution to cutting carbon emissions from petrol, which are estimated to cause 25 per cent of all carbon release. Until now, attempts to store it have not been consumer friendly so this has not been a viable option.
Cella Energy’s invention uses nanotechnology to store hydrogen safely in tiny micro-beads (smaller than a grain of sand) which then release hydrogen when heated, producing energy which can fuel cars, lorries, ships or planes. Storing hydrogen in this way means that it can be safely transported in micro-bead form opening the door to it being available at petrol stations for consumers.
The hydrogen micro-bead technology is compatible with standard combustion engines and can either be used as an additive to conventional fuels where it would reduce carbon emissions, or on its own to make hydrogen gas creating zero-carbon vehicles.
Working with the London Centre for Nanotechnology at University College London and University of Oxford, scientists from STFC’s ISIS neutron source have developed a way of making tiny micro-fibres 30 times smaller than a human hair. These form a tissue-like material that is safe to handle in air. The new material contains as much hydrogen for a given weight as the high pressure tanks currently used to store hydrogen and can also be made in the form of micro beads that can be poured and pumped like a liquid. It could be used to fill up tanks in cars and aeroplanes in a very similar way to current fuels, but crucially without producing the carbon emissions.
Stephen Voller, the CEO of Cella Energy Ltd said; “Consumers want to be able to travel 300-400 miles before they have to refuel. And when they do have to fill up they want to be able to do it as quickly as possible. Existing hydrogen storage methods do not meet these consumer expectations, but the ones we are developing have the potential to do just this”.