Since its discovery in the 18th century, hydrogen has had a turbulent relationship with technology. Originally used in balloons and airships due to its lighter than air properties, the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 brought an abrupt halt to its use in aviation. It later gained further notoriety when isotopes of hydrogen where used to produce the most destructive weapons ever unleashed – the H-bomb.
In recent years hydrogen has enjoyed a revival as a reliable, clean and ethical energy source thanks to the green movement, our understanding of greenhouse gases and the volatility of Brent crude. Hydrogen powers fuel cells, which produce electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen into water and can power vehicles, electronic devices and even spaceships. However, a major hurdle for hydrogen engineers is that in its pure form, hydrogen is highly flammable, making storage and transport tricky.
Recently, a British company called Cella Energy has been developing ‘hydrogen nanobeads’. These beads can store hydrogen fuel in its more stable liquid form without the extremely low temperatures (-252oC) usually required to keep hydrogen in its liquid state. Seeing the potential in this innovation, NASA has invested its considerable expertise and funding to take Cella’s idea further.
The great hope is that the NASA and Cella partnership will be able to mass-produce a hydrogen storage device. Such a development would take us one step closer to a ‘hydrogen economy,’ where hydrogen can be safely and efficiently produced, stored, delivered and utilised on a global scale, just like petroleum is currently.
Given the finite amount of petroleum left and the relatively infinite amount of hydrogen, such innovations are essential if we are to find a sustainable method of providing fuel to an increasingly energy-hungry world.
Photo Credits: Cella Energy
Posted on Wednesday, 1st August, 2012