Hydrogen-fueled cars are powered by the same kind of propulsion as rockets. They produce no greenhouse gas emissions and are more efficient than electric cars. As a result, they’ve long been touted as the cars of a greener future.
Yet you won’t see many hydrogen-powered vehicles around you. Not just yet at any rate.
That’s because despite considerable advances in hydrogen fuel-cell technology by automakers like Toyota and Hyundai, the mass storage and transportation of liquid hydrogen is no child’s play. It needs to be kept at very low temperatures by complex cryogenic systems and extremely high pressures must also be contained. The volatility of hydrogen therefore makes it a hard substance to handle. This means that transporting large quantities of liquid hydrogen to refuel cars remains a challenge.
But now, in a scientific breakthrough, Australian researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), an independent Australian federal government agency, say they have finally solved the problem of how to refuel hydrogen vehicles’ cells with relative ease. The researchers have developed a revolutionary membrane technology whereby high-purity hydrogen is converted into more stable liquid ammonia so it can be safely transported. The ammonia is then reconverted into hydrogen at the intended point of use, such as at a charging station for hydrogen-powered cars.
“We started out with what we thought was a good idea, it is exciting to see it on the cusp of commercial deployment,” CSIRO’s principal research scientist Michael Dolan told ABC News in Australia. “We are certainly the first to demonstrate the production of very clean hydrogen from ammonia,” he said. “Today is the very first time in the world that hydrogen cars have been fuelled with a fuel derived from ammonia — carbon-free fuel.”
The new technology could be key to making hydrogen-powered vehicles far more accessible on a wider scale in Australia, which produces large amounts of hydrogen for industrial uses, and elsewhere. On the downside, the industrial production of high-purity hydrogen requires massive amounts of electricity so there is that. Yet, CSIRO says, “recent advances in solar and electrochemical technologies mean renewable hydrogen production is expected to become competitive with fossil fuel-based production.”
That’s pretty good news indeed.