Nanotechnology could pave the way for hydrogen fuels

EADS and Scottish scientists are working on new storage tanks for hydrogen

Use of hydrogen in aircraft and car engines would deliver huge benefits to the environment

If successful, EADS plans to fly an unmanned hydrogen-powered test plane in 2014

Glasgow, 10 February 2011 – 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.

EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2009, the
Group – comprising Airbus, Astrium, Eurocopter and Cassidian – generated revenues
of € 42.8 billion and employed a workforce of more than 119,000.
Gregor von Kursell (+49) 89 607 34255