Hydrogen cars come closer to reality

A British start-up says it’s found a cheap, practical way of storing hydrogen, making it a viable alternative to gasoline in cars.

Cella Energy Limited – a spin-out company from STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory – has developed a way of holding hydrogen within tiny micro-fibres which form a tissue-like material that is safe to handle in air.

“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,” says Stephen Voller, the new CEO of Cella Energy. “Existing hydrogen storage methods do not meet these consumer expectations, but the ones we are developing have the potential to do just this.”

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 without the carbon emissions.

“In some senses hydrogen is the perfect fuel; it has three times more energy than petrol per unit of weight, and when it burns it produces nothing but water. But the only way to pack it into a vehicle is to use very high pressures or very low temperatures, both of which are expensive to do,” says Professor Stephen Bennington, lead scientist on the project.

“Our new hydrogen storage materials offer real potential for running cars, planes and other vehicles that currently use hydrocarbons on hydrogen, with little extra cost and no extra inconvenience to the driver.”

Cella says it plans to start testing the system next year.