Hydrogen Breakthrough Could Open the Road to Carbon-Free Cars


Here’s good news on the hydrogen storage front. UK scientists have developed a compound of the element lithium that may make it practical for hydrogen fuel cell cars to drive more than 300 miles before refuelling. Fuel cells produce carbon-free electricity by harnessing electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. Today’s prototype HFC cars have a range of only 200 miles, and a 300-mile range would require storage the size of a double-decker bus.

But the UK research has focused on a different approach enabling hydrogen to be stored at a much higher density within acceptable weight limits. The option involves a well-established process called ‘chemisorption’, in which atoms of a gas are absorbed into the crystal structure of a solid-state material and then released when needed. This could tip the balance in favor of a truly marketable technology.

Fuel-cell technology could assist the emergence of a hydrogen economy rather than a carbon economy. A 2004 report concluded that hydrogen vehicles alone would enable the UK to meet its Kyoto targets for CO2 reductions.

Let’s hope this technology gets on the road fast. –JULIA WHITTY

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.