Encouraging signs for fuel cells

The US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) and GM are jointly testing fuel cells. Photo credit: General Motors

The US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) and GM are jointly testing fuel cells. Photo credit: General Motors

Last week we took a look at fuel-cell vehicles and concluded that, although they represent an exciting future prospect, they are unlikely to make a big impact any time soon. When we turn to non-vehicle fuel cell energy storage, the signs are much more promising, as we’ll see in this concluding part of our analysis.
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Car fuel cells: the road ahead

GM has accumulated nearly 3 million miles of real-world driving in a fleet of 119 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles since 2007. Photo credit: General Motors

GM has accumulated nearly 5 million kilometres of real-world driving in a fleet of 119 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles since 2007. Photo credit: General Motors

Today we’ll be taking a look at an energy storage medium that’s very much in the news at the moment, with various auto-manufacturers announcing hydrogen-powered vehicles, fuel cells increasingly being used for off-grid energy supply and back-up, and innovations in the production of hydrogen. So let’s kick off with cars.

The current star of the electric vehicle (EV) show, at least in terms of media coverage, is Tesla Motors, a company that uses packs of multiple Panasonic lithium-ion batteries that would otherwise be destined for laptops. General Motors (GM) has announced it plans to outsmart and out-compete Elon Musk’s company by offering vehicles with specially designed energy packs.
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Water-splitting hydrogen breakthrough

Commercial plants could produce hydrogen from solar power.

Commercial plants could produce hydrogen from solar power. Photo credit: University of Colorado Boulder

A University of Colorado Boulder team has developed a new technique that uses the power of sunlight to efficiently split water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen, paving the way for the broad use of hydrogen as a clean, green fuel.
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India gets hydrogen fuel cell bus

The Tata Motors Starbus Fuel Cell bus features hydrogen fuel cell technology

The Tata Motors Starbus Fuel Cell bus features hydrogen fuel cell technology. Photo credit: Tata Motors

The aptly-named Starbus went through its paces at the Liquid Propulsion System Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bangalore earlier this week, reports The Times Of India.
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A cheap substitute for platinum?

Scanning electron microscopy image of tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles.

Tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles. Photo credit: Alla Zak, Weizmann Institute of Science

As in many areas of energy storage, hydrogen fuel cell research teams are expending a lot of time and brainpower on ways to replace expensive and rare elements with more ubiquitous catalysts. Crack that and the cost of energy storage should come tumbling down.

Now a group at Rutger University in New Jersey, USA, has published results that indicate tungsten sulphide may well be able to replace super-expensive platinum in fuel cells. But this is no ordinary tungsten sulphide.
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ITM brings down cost of hydrogen

ITM Power’s Transportable Hydrogen Refuelling Station (HFuel) generates hydrogen by electrolysis.

ITM Power’s Transportable Hydrogen Refuelling Station (HFuel) generates hydrogen by electrolysis. Photo credit: ITM Power

Projected costs for hydrogen produced by the electrolyser units of ITM Power have gone down by up to 33% in the last year, say the company. One key reason for these reductions is economy of scale, with the latest figures being based on output from systems producing up to 446kg/day of the gas, in place of the 100kg/day units used to formulate last year’s estimates.
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Microbe clue to hydrogen production

The color of salt lakes is caused by bacteriorhodopsin from salt-loving halobacteria.

The colour of salt lakes is caused by bacteriorhodopsin from salt-loving halobacteria. Photo: Argonne National Laboratory

A protein found in the membranes of ancient microorganisms that live in desert salt flats could offer a new way of using sunlight to generate hydrogen fuel, according to a study by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.
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