Nanotechnology Could Pave The Way For Hydrogen Fuels


If Successful, EADS Plans To Fly An Unmanned Hydrogen-Powered Test Plane In 2014

EADS Innovation Works, the group’s corporate research arm, is working with university researchers to find a new storage system for hydrogen which would keep it as a solid. This technology would make it possible to use hydrogen as a clean alternative to traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels in airplane and car engines.

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 as a solid is, therefore, very attractive. But minimizing 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. EADS says these barriers are currently holding back the use of hydrogen on an industrial scale in fuel cells to provide power for airplanes 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 airplanes and cars. If the developments to the tank structure are successful, EADS is planning to fly an unmanned hydrogen-powered test plane in 2014 with a longer term view of introducing commercial airplanes powered by hydrogen.

“Replacing traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels with pollution-free hydrogen in airplane 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.

Basic Fuel Cell Schematic

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). This will allow a student to carry out a four year PhD project, spending time at the University and the company’s German offices in Ottobrunn. The research will involve testing the Hydrisafe tank with alternative hydrogen storage materials.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 airplane.

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 fuel for aviation. This collaboration between engineers and chemists and between industry and academia provides the pathway to achieve this.” EADS IW and Prof 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 on an industrial scale to power airplane and car engines.

There is a 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 are the safe, efficient and cost-effective storage of hydrogen. The research project, if approved, would explore how best to deliver a practical solid state hydrogen solution for portable and micro fuel cell systems.


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