Drive to crack hydrogen fuel cell technology powers ahead
Researchers in Ireland have come up with one of the cheapest methods to generate hydrogen yet
That is why the Crann announcement is noteworthy. It has developed a novel new way to split water based on electrolysis. Crann principal investigator Prof Mike Lyons is leading the work, which uses iron and nickel oxide to split the water. These metals are very cheap and plentiful and more efficient than the metals used in current electrolysis methods, he says.
The method is currently one of the cheapest hydrogen generators yet developed, something that recently allowed it to achieve “hot article status” in the chemistry journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.
This accolade is given to research that has a particularly high impact. Prof John Boland, the head of Crann described Lyons’ method as a “world first” that had the potential to revolutionise hydrogen gas production. The work was funded by a grant of almost €800,000 from Science Foundation Ireland and the hope is it will prove to be money well spent.
Much work would remain however before we would see production cars or motorcycles using cheap hydrogen and fuel cells. The engineering issues have already been cleared up given we already have examples of hydrogen gas used to power cars and buses. BMW, Audi, Fiat, Nissan, Volkswagen, GM, Honda, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz all have prototype vehicles and Merc, Mazda and Hyundai vehicles are being used as test cars for the HyNor project in Norway.
HyNor is a concerted effort by the Norwegians to build the fuelling infrastructure needed for hydrogen and get drivers to use it. Norway is in a good position to attempt such a challenge given it can produce hydrogen gas using its plentiful hydropower generating capacity, something that would increase its fuel options when the oil starts to run out.
Basically HyNor is a 580km route running between capital Oslo to the port of Stavanger. The idea got underway in 2003 and the route, along with filling stations opened in 2009. Clearly however it has had a shaky start given Statoil’s decision to close its hydrogen fuel stations and Think City, who produced test cars closed, ending its vehicle production and closing another station.
Despite these setbacks, the manufacturers are persisting, hoping to steal a march if anyone does actually begin producing cheap hydrogen fuel. Toyota and Mercedes Benz have both declared plans to roll out production models of electric cars powered by fuel cells. We may not see them on the road next month but if the price of hydrogen is right then count on it for the future.