Gasoline and diesel engines, which are powered by fossil fuels, will soon be sidelined by climate change. Instead, new propulsion systems will be required. One fuel with a big potential is hydrogen. Hydrogen vehicles are equipped with a reinforced tank that is fueled at a pressure of 700 bar. This tank feeds a fuel cell, which converts the hydrogen into electricity. This in turn drives an electric motor to propel the vehicle.
Courtesy of Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials
In the case of passenger cars, this technology is well advanced, with several hundred hydrogen-powered automobiles already in operation on German roads. At the same time, the network of hydrogen stations in Germany is projected to grow from 100 to 400 over the next three years. Yet hydrogen is not currently an option for small vehicles such as electric scooters and motorcycles, since the pressure surge during refilling would be too great.
However, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Dresden have now come up with a hydrogen-based fuel that is ideal for small vehicles: Powerpaste, which is based on solid magnesium hydride.
“Powerpaste stores hydrogen in a chemical form at room temperature and atmospheric pressure to be then released on demand,” explains Dr. Marcus Vogt, research associate at Fraunhofer IFAM. And given that Powerpaste only begins to decompose at temperatures of around 250 °C, it remains safe even when an e-scooter stands in the baking sun for hours. Moreover, refueling is extremely simple. Instead of heading to the filling station, riders merely have to replace an empty cartridge with a new one and then refill a tank with mains water. This can be done either at home or underway.
The starting material of Powerpaste is magnesium, one of the most abundant elements and, therefore, an easily available raw material. Onboard the vehicle, the Powerpaste is released from a cartridge by means of a plunger. When water is added from an onboard tank, the ensuing reaction generates hydrogen gas in a quantity dynamically adjusted to the actual requirements of the fuel cell. In fact, only half of the hydrogen originates from the Powerpaste ; the rest comes from the added water.
“Powerpaste thus has a huge energy storage density,” says Vogt. “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.” This means that Powerpaste offers a range comparable to – or even greater than – gasoline. And it also provides a higher range than compressed hydrogen at a pressure of 700 bar.
Suitable for e-scooters – and other applications as well
With its huge energy storage density, POWERPASTE is also an interesting option for cars, delivery vehicles and range extenders in battery-powered electric vehicles. Similarly, it could also significantly extend the flight time of large drones, which would thereby be able to fly for several hours rather than a mere 20 minutes. This would be especially useful for survey work, such as the inspection of forestry or power lines. In another kind of application, campers might also use Powerpaste in a fuel cell to generate electricity to power a coffeemaker or toaster.
Powerpaste helps overcome lack of infrastructure
In addition to providing a high operating range, Powerpaste has another point in its favor. Unlike gaseous hydrogen, it does not require a costly infrastructure. This makes it ideal for areas lacking such an infrastructure. In places where there are no hydrogen stations, regular filling stations could therefore sell Powerpaste in cartridges or canisters instead. The paste is fluid and pumpable. It can therefore be supplied by a standard filling line, using relatively inexpensive equipment. Initially, filling stations could supply smaller quantities of Powerpaste – from a metal drum, for example – and then expand in line with demand. Powerpaste is also cheap to transport, since no costly high-pressure tanks are involved nor the use of extremely cold liquid hydrogen.
Pilot center planned for 2021
Fraunhofer IFAM is currently building a production plant for Powerpaste at the Fraunhofer Project Center for Energy Storage and Systems ZESS. Scheduled to go into operation in 2021, this new facility will be able to produce up to four tons of Powerpaste a year.
I think that this is a very promising development, especially in the concept of a \"range extender\" for battery electric vehicles. Though Li-ion storage of electricity is superior in almost every way to storage with hydrogen (73% wall to wheel recovery, vs 22%; no explosive gas under extreme pressure; simpler; rechargeable at home; etc.), its one deficiency is the weight of extra capacity. At about 750 g per kilometre of range, it is a large extra cost and weight burden to drive around with the capacity for 600 km range if you only need 300 km in your normal driving. I have no doubt we could adjust to the idea of stopping for long enough for a fast charge, but an attractive alternative would be swappable \'batteries\' for BEV. They would not be Li-ion, as even another 100 km would be 75 kg, and for several you would need a strengthened chassis and suspension adjustment. With this Powerpaste option, I envisage a unit about the size of a spare tyre, weighing about 25 kg and plugging in to your car to give an extra 300 km range. The paste, water, and fuel cell would all be part of the unit, so that it only connected by terminals for power, and control electronics. Units would be swapped out and recharged with regenerated paste, and regularly checked for safety. Provided the recharge or rental cost was less than about US$40, the equivalent fossil fuel cost for 300 km (~200 miles), there would be a ready market.
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Whilst new inventions are always welcome, the usage of hydrogen for personal transport is as they say, too little and too late. The fully electric cars and mopeds have taken the market and are growing at full speed. The article mentions: \"In the case of passenger cars, this technology is well advanced, with several hundred hydrogen-powered automobiles already in operation on German roads. At the same time, the network of hydrogen stations in Germany is projected to grow from 100 to 400 over the next three years.\" To put this \"well advanced technology\" into context: - Renault on its own already sold 99000 battery electric cars (ZOE) in Germany in 2020. That corresponds to 1900 cars sold per week (https://carsalesbase.com/europe-renault-zoe/) - In 2019, there were just under 40000 publicly available charging stations for electric vehicles in Germany. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/932998/number-of-electric-vehicle-charging-stations-germany/) And the reason that \"hydrogen is not currently an option for small vehicles such as electric scooters and motorcycles, ...\" is because electric mopeds and motorcycles are doing just fine: - in 2020, 75000 electric motorcycles and mopeds were sold in the EU. (https://www.motorcyclesdata.com/2021/03/16/european-electric-scooter-and-motorcycles-market/) - The brand Nui sold 600000 e-mopeds in 2020 worldwide.
If this product succeeds on what it claim to be, then it would be a revolution in energy management. besides that the water which it generate should be safe- potable or for irrigation purpose or could be discharged to a waterbody
According to the article power density is the main advantage of the paste. The problem I see, is the need to manufacture and recycle the paste, thus, consuming energy, most ly electricity, and loosing energy at every step of the process. Starting with electric you can charge your EV and off you go.
Since water is used to produce the needed hydrogen this system would not work at temperatures below freezing. Please comment.
The waste product is very probably magnesium hydroxide. This is completely safe and is drunk as part of milk of magnesia used as an antacid medicine. I\'m not sure what the pathway would be for taking this and recreating magnesium hydride in a circular magnesium economy.
Great invention, congratulations! Especially the by far higher energy density will open more usecases as we now can think of. The only puzzling are the laughable lobby \'arguments\' i see as comments here.. Peeps be careful, there are many paid fudders present, spreading false informations and sheer nonsense. Under the line this just prooves the concept that H2 is a powerful track to get rid of fossile powers.
The concept is probably viable, however the problem remains how to make H2 affordable and green. Electrolysis is very (20%) inefficient and using coal as in 100 years ago is illogical. However much the Australian mining industries love the idea.
I guarantee the waste would be recycled / recharged with h2 if this tech develops. You can\'t throw away 10 kg of expensive magnesium ($200 USD in Feb 2021) to get 1 kg of cheap hydrogen ($1 - $2) and ever expect any industry adoption. That would be making an electric car with a single use battery. Nobody would buy a new battery every 400 km.