Nanotechnology paving the way for hydrogen fuels?

Nanotechnology paving the way for hydrogen fuels
EADS Innovation Works, the Group's corporate research arm, is working with university researchers to find a new solid state storage system for hydrogen. This technology would make it possible to use hydrogen as a clean alternative to traditional hydrocarbon based fuels in aeroplane and car engines.

While the idea has been around for a number of years, storage of hydrogen as a solid has been a challenge as weight and volume of the store must be minimized and the rate of transfer from the tank to a fuel cell or engine 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 road vehicles.

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 on an industrial scale. If successful, EADS plans to fly an unmanned hydrogen powered test plane in 2014, with a longer term view of introducing commercial aeroplanes powered by hydrogen.

Duncan Gregory, pictured, 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 Scottish start up Hydrogen Horizons.

The research will involve testing the Hydrisafe tank with alternative hydrogen storage materials. The tank currently uses lanthanum nickel (LaNi5) storage alloy, but other hybride materials will be looked into, such as magnesium hydride (MgH2), which has been modified at the nanoscale to allow it to receive and release the hydrogen at an even faster rate. Modifying the construction of the tank will extend its longevity, making it suitable to have a solid state hydrogen storage system that can feed a fuel cell at the required energy densities required on an aeroplane.

Prof 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 fuel for aviation. This collaboration between engineers and chemists and between industry and academia provides the pathway to achieve this"

Author
Chris Shaw

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