New hydrogen technology could trigger fuel cell breakthrough

February 02, 2016 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
A technology currently under development by startup company Hydrogenious could have the potential to fundamentally change the conditions for fuel cell deployment in transport applications: It will enable hydrogen storage in standard car tanks. With it, electric vehicles thus could achieve competitive driving ranges without costly batteries.

The core of the technology developed by Hydrogenious lies in the area of chemistry: The founders discovered that hydrogen can be dissolved in a liquid called LOHC. Hydrogen reacts with oxygen to generate electric power in fuel cells and thus is hydrogen is the fuel for fuel cells. The energy-generating chemical reaction in the fuel cell creates only pure water and electrical energy, no toxic or environmentally harmful gases. While ideal in terms of energy content and environmental friendliness, fuel cells so far have failed to prevail in the automotive market, because storage and distribution of hydrogen is very complex and cumbersome. Storage requires either extremely low temperatures of -253°C (20 Kelvin) or very high pressures of 700 bar.

The technology currently under development by Hydrogenious could help carmakers to get rid of this limitation; a fuel tank the size of a standard fuel tank in an average car could store enough hydrogen (dissolved in LOHC) to reach a driving range comparable to today’s vehicles, i.e. some 600 to 900 kilometres. And no pressurization, no ultra-low temperatures, the company promises. What’s more, the LOHC technology enables a power density 20 times higher than in a pressurized tank, a company spokesperson explained.

The only downside: The vehicle would need to equipped with two tanks – one for the unused fuel, the other one for the used, de-energised LOHC carrier liquid that needs to be recycled at fuel stations. Though the liquid is not classified as toxic, it should not be discharged into the environment.

Though the technology looks promising, a quick breakthrough should not be expected, the company spokesperson said. “The technology is already very robust”, he said, “but there is still optimisation need for the process of hydrogenation and dehydrogenation. Towards this end, suitable catalysers have to be developed “and catalyser development is always a protracted affair,” he said.

Currently, there the company sees interest from petrol station network operators