Administrations dating back to the Nixon years have touted a “get off foreign oil” policy that, to date, has really gone no where. We’re still on foreign oil. But now we might have a chance to get on foreign synthetic gasoline. A research collaboration in England has resulted in a synthetic, hydrogen-based fuel that would be more stable in price than oil and would produce no carbon emissions when burned in a combustion engine.

The fuel was developed by scientists from Cella Energy — a spin-out company from Rutherford Appleton Laboratory — University College London and Oxford University. It’s based on a complex chemical compound called a hydride that contains hydrogen. Hydrides are used in batteries, such as nickel-metal batteries, to store energy, and have been looked at for storing hydrogen in fuel cell-powered electric cars.

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The problem, according to Cella Energy, is that conventional means for containing hydrides are not great. According to the website:

“Storing hydrogen up to now has required either high-pressure storage cylinders at up to 700 times atmospheric pressure or super-cooled liquids at -253°C (-423°F). Neither is practical on a large scale as these hydrogen storage methods both require large amounts of energy to either pressurise or cool the hydrogen, and present significant safety risks.”

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Cella Energy has a found a low-cost way to trap the hydride compound inside a nano-porous polymer micro bead. They say:

The hydrogen storage materials are stored at ambient temperatures and pressures, this means that the Cella Energy hydrogen storage materials can be packaged in a regular shaped fuel tank. They do not require the large heavy cylinders designed to withstand high pressures normally associated with hydrogen storage.

The micro-beads make hydride more efficient as a fuel, they help filter out the damaging chemicals and protect the hydrides from oxygen and water, so that they don’t react and can be handled in air. The final product looks like white tissue paper or a powder.

And because the micro-beads move as a fluid, they can be used in the following way:

“Early indications are that the micro-beads can be used in existing vehicles without engine modification,” said Cella Energy CEO Stephen Voller in this article on Gizmag.

This kind of development could really upend gasoline economies. I’m curious to see where this innovation goes.

Photo: Juice Images/Corbis

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