Hydrogen is a clean fuel which produces only water on combustion or when combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electrical power. However, it can be expensive and difficult to store safely. In addition, to store hydrogen as a gas demands high volumes, while to store as a liquid increases weight and the energy requirement (to compress it).
Storage of hydrogen in a solid is, therefore, very attractive but minimising weight and volume of the store is challenging 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 for aeroplanes and cars.
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.
“Replacing traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels with pollution-free hydrogen in aeroplane and car engines would deliver huge benefits to the environment because carbon emissions would be dramatically reduced” said Dr.-Ing. Agata Godula-Jopek, Fuel Cells Expert in the EADS Power Generation Team, which is coordinating the programme for the company.
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.