With social unrest in the Middle East and North Africa raising more concerns over our reliance on fossil fuels, and the horrific earthquake in Japan underscoring the dangers of nuclear power, we are reminded once again of the need to diversify our energy sources. Hydrogen has been touted as one of the most promising replacements for conventional transport fuels for many years, but the logistics involved in storing and transporting the gas have presented numerous barriers – until now. Fresh from winning $64,000 worth of funding from Shell’s low-carbon technology contest, UK-based Cella Energy recently revealed an innovative, inexpensive and safe method for storing hydrogen. Using nanotechnology, Cella has developed ‘micro beads’ – 30 times smaller than a grain of sand – that can trap and release hydrogen when heated. And because the beads are small enough to flow like liquid, refuelling could even be done at any gas station.
What’s more at $1.50 per gallon, and with one tank capable of powering an average car for 300-400 miles, the benefits don’t stop at the environment. “In some senses hydrogen is the perfect fuel,” says Professor Stephen Bennington, head of the scientific team behind the fuel. “It has three times more energy than gasoline per unit, can be used in a standard combustion engine, and when it burns it produces nothing but water.” The micro beads can also be used as an additive to conventional gasoline. Because so much hydrogen production occurs at oil refineries it would be possible to seamlessly integrate Cella’s technology into the supply chain for conventional fuels. The micro-beads can even be returned to oil refineries where they could be refuelled using existing hydrogen production facilities.
The fact that water is the only by-product of burned hydrogen means that once the first commercially viable technology is ready, it will completely revolutionize the world’s transport industry – over the next 20 years 90% of the increase in oil demand will come from the transport sector. Cella boss Stephen Voller believes his micro bead technology could be for sale at gas stations in less than five years, keeping the world’s oil reserves deep underground where they belong.
Images courtesy of Cella Energy and Manufacturing Digital