Hydrogen Fuel Cell Power Plants for Vehicles Refined by Scientists

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) can be an important part of the solution to America’s energy crisis, says Dr. Andrew Goudy of Delaware State University. He is leading a research team striving to solve a key technical FCV puzzle.

The Chairperson of Delaware State’s Chemistry Department explains that hydrogen FCVs are powered by electric motors that derive energy from on-board fuel cells. The fuel cells convert pure hydrogen and oxygen into electricity.

The research at Delaware State University is pursuing lightweight materials to store hydrogen and release it, under control, as it is expended. Dr. Goudy defines several challenges:

  1. A car must be able to store enough hydrogen to travel 300 miles, the approximate equivalent of a tank of gasoline.
  2. The car must be able to refuel with hydrogen quickly. Some hydrogen storage materials may take up to 30 minutes to recharge, and few drivers are going to stand at the pump of a fuel station for a half-hour.
  3. The hydrogen storage unit must be sufficiently compact and lightweight to be practical.

One promising hydrogen-storage material is the complex hydride LiBH4. Its enthalpy, or thermodynamic properties, however, means that it requires high temperatures to release hydrogen. Dr. Goudy is seeking ways to destabilize this material so that it will release hydrogen at a practical temperature.

“Although just one of many scientific and engineering challenges, this one lies at the heart of the process,” says Dr. Goudy. “If you cannot store, release, and restore hydrogen with an ease and efficiency comparable to gasoline, you cannot have a practical hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.”

Scientific and engineering progress has enabled Toyota to make the 350-mile drive from Osaka to Tokyo, expending only 70 percent of the fuel supply of an FCV, reports MSNBC. “Toyota Motors . . . is planning on releasing a fuel-cell car by 2015 in its attempt to retain its lead in the global race for green cars,” says Masatami Takimoto, a vice president with the company.

Honda’s FCX Clarity was chosen by 59 world jurors as 2009 World Green Car. Its only emission is water, and its fuel efficiency is three times that of a conventional auto and double that of a gasoline-powered hybrid, the car maker says.

Volkswagen also is committed to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, and General Motors could be selling hydrogen FCVs in the thousands by 2012, according to a blog of Motor Trend magazine.

In the midst of these plans and predictions, Dr. Goudy and his team in the Delaware State University labs, and scientists and engineers like them worldwide, work out all the kinks.

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