Brussels, 14 Feb 2003
The European Commission is funding a three year initiative to develop the technology to deliver hydrogen fuel pumps to petrol stations by connecting them to a country's existing natural gas supply.
The international Hydrofueler project is being led by the University of Warwick's 'Warwick process technology group', and will receive 1.62 million euro funding under the energy, environment and sustainable development programme of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5).
Dr Ashok Bhattacharya, Director of the Warwick process technology group, told CORDIS News: 'We believe we have developed the first practical process that provides a clean and efficient source of hydrogen on a wide scale using pre-existing infrastructure. This project aims to deliver a viable source of hydrogen for petrol stations, but the same techniques could equally provide sustainable solutions for businesses and the home.'
One of the main obstacles facing the widespread introduction of hydrogen powered cars is the question of how to provide a ready supply of hydrogen for their fuel cells. The team believes that with the aid of new technology, existing infrastructure will provide the answer.
Large scale industrial processes can already produce hydrogen from natural gas, but such methods cannot be scaled down to a practical size for filling stations. To be cost effective, the process will need to be automated, remotely controlled, and able to work in a confined space.
The Hydrofueler team believe they have the solution, which draws on technology developed by Warwick University and its partners in France, Italy, Norway and the UK. The answer lies in the combination of innovative heat exchange technology, new ways of managing and using heat and pressure within a reactor, novel compact plated reactor technology, and leading edge coated nanocrystaline catalysts that greatly increase the efficiency of the reactions.
These techniques will allow the development of a reactor roughly the size of a double bed that can be integrated onto existing petrol station forecourts and which can produce hydrogen at a cost effective rate and without any emissions problems.
A further advantage of this technology is that, at various stages in the process, hydrogen of different levels of purity is produced. This is ideal, as different fuel cells require different mixes of hydrogen, and the teams reactor will be able to provide what could be described as two, three and four star hydrogen.
And while the Hydrofueler project is focussed on the production of hydrogen from natural gas, Dr Bhattacharya explains that 'by changing the project parameters, the same technology could be applied to other energy sources such as biofuels.'
The project is due to run until the end of 2005, but even in its first months it has attracted the interest of Exxon Mobile and BMW, large players in the delivery of fuel and the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology respectively, who were quick to recognise the potential of the Hydrofueler process.