Hydrogen Microbeads Promise Zero Carbon Emissions

hydrogen microbeadsTalk of a newly-developed synthetic fuel with low cost and zero-emissions is spreading. Cella Energy of the UK are said to be on the verge of revolutionizing the transportation industry with a hydrogen-based fuel that produces zero carbon emissions. As well as being a champion of environmentally-conscious alternatives, this new fuel promises stable costs somewhere around $1.50, regardless of oil prices. However, some wonder if these claims are entirely true.

Cella Energy is a spin-off of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell, Oxford, specializing in low-cost hydrogen storage materials. Cella Energy developed the fuel using advanced materials science, a scientific field that investigates the relationship between the structure of materials at atomic or molecular scales and their macroscopic properties. The technology centers around complex hydrides.  Put simply, a hydride is a binary compound formed by the union of hydrogen and other elements.  Hydrides are used in batteries to store energy and have been looked at for storing hydrogen in fuel cell powered electric cars.

Cella’s process of coaxial electrospraying, or electrospinning, traps complex chemical hydrides and filters out many damaging chemicals. The resulting material takes the form of micro-beads which move like liquid and can be added to gasoline or petrol vehicles currently on the roads, helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the engines. These hydrogen-based micro-beads produce no carbon emissions when burned, much like electric vehicles. As an added benefit, developers believe these micro-beads can be used in existing vehicles without requiring any engine modification.

However, one question about this breakthrough remains unanswered: is it a true solution? Cella Energy’s website provides some information on the hydrogen-based micro-beads being used as a fuel additive to help reduce carbon emissions from fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. And while the additive itself has zero-emissions, it obviously cannot promise to create a completely zero-emission vehicle when used this way, but only a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. That’s a good goal, but it isn’t the ultimate goal, either. Other sources claim the fuel breakthrough could provide stable gas prices, around $1.50 per gallon regardless of oil prices, yet it hasn’t been explained how this additive to traditional fuels will help to create a stable price.

Cella’s micro-bead development does provide some benefits for the hydrogen car. If hydrogen became a mainstream fuel, a new infrastructure with high pressure hoses for gas refilling would be necessary, but with Cella’s liquid fuels the current infrastructure could remain the same and the materials could be safer to handle manually than gasoline. As hydrogen has previously needed to be stored in high pressure storage containers, the new micro-beads provide easy storage in a lightweight plastic tank, much like those used in current vehicles that don’t need to be as temperature-regulated as previous hydrogen storage tanks.

Publicized as a miracle zero-emissions fuel advancement and promising prices of $1.50 per gallon, the hydrogen-based micro-beads still have their share of cynics.  As one website claims, up to 70% of the energy gained by hydrides gets lost in their creation.  It’s unclear how large the energy gains are with this technology, and as of yet there is little if any documentation about how environmentally friendly the process is. While hydrogen-based additives indicate a big step toward making the future of traditional fuel vehicles more eco-friendly, the technology still has a few things to prove.



Author: Samantha Longshore

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