Super weird looking Powerpaste might be the fuel of the future
Could this be the next big thing for hydrogen-powered propulsion?
Despite the world having clearly turned towards battery electric vehicles in the face of internal combustion engine bans slated for the coming decades, some still view hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as being one way of the future, and companies such as Toyota with its new Mirai and Hyundai with the Nexo and its new H_Two sub-brand have proven that there is still interest from manufacturers, and that it can work in a relatively practical manner.
But with how highly pressurised the hydrogen fuel cells in these cars need to be, it makes adapting the technology for much smaller motorcycles and scooters more difficult as the pressure when refilling them would be too great for such a small tank.
A German research institution reckons it's figured out a way to make hydrogen work in such vehicles, however, with a hydrogen-based fuel it calls Powerpaste which stores hydrogen in a chemical form at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, with it then able to be then released as required on demand.
A demonstration model of a power generator utilising a Powerpaste cartridge and a 100W PEM fuel cell.
Created by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials, Powerpaste is based on solid magnesium hydride and will only begin to break down at temperatures above 250°C, ensuring its safety if the vehicle containing it is left sitting out in the sun all day even in hotter climates.
The refuelling process is simple, as rather than pouring more of the strange grey paste into a tank, the Powerpaste would come in changeable and refillable cartridges or canisters that can be easily swapped out, before simply filling a tank with regular mains water.
What's the water for, you ask? When the Powerpaste and water are released and combined together, the ensuing reaction generates the required amount of hydrogen gas for the fuel cell. Only around half of the hydrogen generated is actually released from the paste, it's worth noting, with the other half coming from the water it reacts with, giving the paste itself "a huge energy storage density" according to Dr. Marcus Vogt, research associate at Fraunhofer IFAM.
The hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo.
"It is substantially higher than that of a 700 bar high-pressure tank. And compared to batteries, it has ten times the energy storage density," notes Dr. Vogt, with this meaning it offers a range comparable to, if not greater than, gasoline or compressed hydrogen gas.
This isn't the only leg-up Powerpaste has over pressurised hydrogen gas, either, as the company notes no costly or complex infrastructure would be required for storing it at refuelling stations as it can simply be pumped out normally into these refillable cartridges given it's a paste – or a new pre-filled cartridge could simply be purchased – while transporting it would be less costly as well.
The company is also looking at whether Powerpaste technology could have other applications as well, with it looking not just into cars but also light commercial vehicles, range extenders for BEVs, large drones used for surveying, and also generators for camping.