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.
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.
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. The tank currently uses the established and commercially available lanthanum nickel (LaNi5) storage alloy. The research will look into replacing LaNi5 with other hydride materials 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.
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 aeroplane 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.