Science

Research advancements show hydrogen cars could soon be hitting the streets

By Lily Westerby-Griffin 

 

The future of cars is electric. With 22% of all UK emissions of carbon dioxide coming from road transport, it’s clear why there is now a significant push for electric vehicles (EVs). 

 

Currently, most EVs are powered by thousands of batteries and, despite massive investments, still suffer from limited range and long charge times; pushing for the advancement of alternative EVs. This is where hydrogen powered batteries come in. Hydrogen fuel powered cars are very similar to other electric cars in that they produce power to drive an electric motor. The only difference being that the power being used to run these motors comes from the reaction between oxygen from the air and the hydrogen in the fuel cells; providing immediate access to energy with its only waste product being water. However, hydrogen fuel has always suffered a major pitfall in that the gas itself is incredibly difficult to store. To contain 4-5 kg of gas, requires the equivalent of 700 atmospheres of pressure. Compared to its battery powered counterpart, the upscaling of storage facilities that are capable of this into a mass infrastructure will cost billions of pounds. 

 

However, researchers may have just solved this problem through the development of an ultra-absorbent material. The material is formed by nanoscopic holes, generating the equivalent surface area of a football field per gram of substance. In short, this material behaves similarly to a sponge, absorbing hydrogen and has been shown to reduce the required containment pressure to less than 100 atmospheres. 

 

Explaining the research, Professor Omar Farha, from the Northwestern University in Evanston, said; “It’s like a bath sponge but with very ordered cavities. With a sponge, if you spill water and you wipe it, in order to reuse the sponge, you squeeze it. With this material we use the same thing – we use pressure to store and release these gas molecules.”

 

Despite having been mocked in the past as “mind-bogglingly stupid” technology by Tesla’s own Elon Musk, continual advancements and investments into this research may put hydrogen EVs into the proverbial driver’s seat of eco transport. 

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