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Glasgow working with EADS on hydrogen storage tanks for aircraft using nanotechnology

Chemists at the University of Glasgow are working with European aerospace giant EADS in using nanotechnology to alter the design and material composition of a storage tank, to use solid-state hydrogen on an industrial scale for aircraft and cars.

Following the successful completion of the initial project, the team plans to fly an unmanned test aircraft in 2014 using a hydrogen fuel cell as a prototype for a commercially usable aircraft.

‘One of the EADS visions for 2020 is to reduce emissions per aircraft by 50%, and to achieve environmental protection and green aircraft through development of new technologies and new products,’ says Dr-Ing Agata Godula-Jopek, fuel cell expert at EADS Innovation Works (EADS IW).

Duncan Gregory, Professor of Inorganic Materials at the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, is leading the research. He is using nanotechnology to alter the structure of the Hydrisafe Tank, a new design under development by the Scottish startup, Hydrogen Horizons.

‘The largest bottleneck in the process of realizing hydrogen-based technologies is storage,’ says Professor Gregory. ‘Finding a viable means of storing hydrogen in the solid state would pave the way for the industrial scale use of hydrogen as a clean alternative to hydrocarbon-based fuels in aeroplanes.’

The research will involve testing the Hydrisafe tank with alternative hydrogen storage materials to the commercially available lanthanum nickel (LaNi5) alloy. These other hydride materials include magnesium hydride (MgH2), which has been modified at the nanoscale to allow it to receive and release hydrogen at an even faster rate.

Modifying the tank construction will extend its longevity, making it suitable as a solid-state hydrogen storage system that can feed a fuel cell at the required energy densities required for an aircraft.

Glasgow and EADS IW have secured funding from the Materials Knowledge Transfer Network – part of the UK’s Technology Strategy Board – and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). This will allow a student to carry out a four-year PhD project, working both at the university and with EADS in Ottobrunn, Germany.

EADS IW and the Glasgow team are seeking European Union funding to build a Europe-wide team of academic and industrial partners, to examine the wider issues relating to using hydrogen on an industrial scale to power aircraft and car engines.

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