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Posted: Jan 28, 2011

Hydrogen-fuelled aircraft closer to take-off

(Nanowerk News) The University of Glasgow is working with EADS Innovation Works (EADS IW) on developing a revolutionary storage system for hydrogen that would pave the way for using hydrogen as a clean alternative to hydrocarbon-based fuels in aeroplanes.
Hydrogen is a pollution-free fuel producing only water on combustion or when combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electrical power. Boeing has tested a manned aeroplane using hydrogen and fuel cells to drive the aircraft's electric motor.
The major problems which are holding back the industrial scale use of hydrogen to power fuel cells for aeroplane and car engines are that it can be expensive and difficult to store safely, and that it requires high volumes and weight to operate successfully.
Scientists at the University and EADS IW are working on using nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of the Hydrisafe tank developed by Hydrogen Horizons Ltd, a small start-up company, to store hydrogen in a solid state. By modifying the composition and microstructure of the tank and hydrogen storage materials through nanotechnology, they hope to make it possible to store and distribute the hydrogen so efficiently that it becomes viable for powering fuel cells on aeroplanes. Following the successful completion of the initial project, the team plan to fly an unmanned aircraft using a hydrogen powered fuel cell as a prototype for a commercially usable plane.
Duncan Gregory, Professor of Inorganic Materials in the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, who is working on the project, said: "The largest bottleneck in the process of realising hydrogen-based technologies is storage. Finding a viable means of storing hydrogen in the solid state would pave the way for the industrial scale use of hydrogen as a clean alternative to hydrocarbon-based fuels in aeroplanes.
"This exciting technology could deliver a genuine paradigm shift in aviation transport that will have immense benefits to the environment in terms of significantly reducing carbon emissions."
Dr Agata Godula-Jopek of EADS IW said "One of the EADS visions for 2020 is to reduce emissions per aircraft by 50% and to achieve environmental protection and green aircraft through development of new technologies and new products. It is mandatory to develop a portfolio of technologies to satisfy key future customer/product requirements in the field of economics, mission performance, environment and survivability. The safe, reliable, solid-state storage of hydrogen is one of the critical problems for fuel cells and therefore this project has potential for significant impact within the EADS business."
Harry McGregor of Hydrogen Horizons said "We are extremely pleased to be working with EADS IW and the University of Glasgow on the development of a "Hydrisafe" hydrogen containment system for on board aircraft. Hydrogen of course is not only the most efficient energy carrier available it is totally clean and completely green, hydrogen can and we believe will revolutionise all modes of transportation."
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) for a student to carry out a four year PhD project, spending time at the University and the company's UK offices in Bristol.
The research will involve testing the Hydrisafe tank with alternative hydrogen storage materials. The tank currently uses the established commercially available lanthanum nickel (LaNi¬5) storage alloy and the research will look into replacing LaNi¬5 with another material 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.
Once the technology has been proven in a small scale demonstration, Prof. Gregory, Hydrogen Horizons and the EADS IW team intend to build a larger collaborative team with academic and industrial partners to seek large scale funding from the UK and the European Union.
Prof Gregory has carried out previous work on this technology funded by the Knowledge Transfer Account at the University, which is funded by the EPSRC, and is designed to promote closer collaboration between nanotechnology research at the university and industry.
Source: University of Glasgow
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