The world is exploring fossil alternative greener technologies to fuel powered cars and trucks- for example electric battery powered vehicles. Another ‘green’ technology with great potential is hydrogen power. However, a major obstacle has been the size, complexity, and expense of the fuel systems.
Now an international team of researchers, led by Professor David Antonelli Chair in Physical Chemistry at Lancaster University, has discovered a new material made from manganese hydride that offers a solution. The new material would be used to make molecular sieves within fuel tanks – which store the hydrogen and work alongside fuel cells in a hydrogen powered ‘system’.
The material, called KMH-1 (Kubas Manganese Hydride-1), would enable the design of tanks that are far smaller, cheaper, more convenient and energy dense than existing hydrogen fuel technologies, and significantly out-perform battery-powered vehicles.
Professor Antonelli, who has been researching this area for more than 15 years, said: “The cost of manufacturing our material is so low, and the energy density it can store is so much higher than a lithium ion battery, that we could see hydrogen fuel cell systems that cost five times less than lithium ion batteries as well as providing a much longer range – potentially enabling journeys up to around four or five times longer between fill-ups.”
The material takes advantage of a chemical process called Kubas binding which enables the storage of hydrogen by distancing the hydrogen atoms within a H2 molecule and works at room temperature. This eliminates the need to split, and bind, the bonds between atoms, processes that require high energies and extremes of temperature and need complex equipment to deliver.
The KMH-1 material also absorbs and stores any excess energy so external heat and cooling is not needed which eliminates the requirement of cooling and heating equipment in vehicles, resulting in systems with the potential to be far more efficient than existing designs. The researchers’ experiments show that the material could enable the storing four times as much hydrogen in the same volume as existing hydrogen fuel technologies. This will provide vehicle manufactures with the flexibility to design vehicles with increased range of up to four times, or allow them to reduce the size of the tanks by up to a factor of four.
Although vehicles, including cars and heavy goods vehicles, are the most obvious application, the researchers believe there are many other applications for KMH-1.
According to Professor Antonelli, “This material can also be used in portable devices such as drones or within mobile chargers so people could go on week-long camping trips without having to recharge their devices. The real advantage this brings is in situations where you anticipate being off grid for long periods of time, such as long haul truck journeys, drones, and robotics. It could also be used to run a house or a remote neighbourhood off a fuel cell.”
The properties of our new material also make hydrogen fuel cells an attractive alternative to lithium batteries in some applications, especially those involving long ranges.
The technology has already been licensed by the University of South Wales to a spin-out company called Kubagen, partly owned by Professor Antonelli.
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