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Synthetic Hydrogen Fuel

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Guest greenzen


Filling up at the pumps with hydrogen instead of petrol has moved a step closer to reality with the launch of a new company which holds the technology to make it happen. Cella Energy Limited is a brand new spin-out company from STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. It is developing a novel technology that allows hydrogen to be stored in a cheap and practical way, making it suitable for widespread use as a carbon-free alternative to petrol.

Hydrogen, which produces only pure water when burned, is considered an ideal solution to cutting carbon emissions from petrol, which are estimated to cause 25 per cent of all carbon release. Until now, attempts to store it have not been consumer friendly so this has not been a viable option. Cella Energy Ltd, which already has one investor in specialist chemical company Thomas Swan & Co Ltd, who signed an agreement on 24 January 2011, believes it has found the answer.

Working with the London Centre for Nanotechnology at University College London and University of Oxford, scientists from STFC's ISIS neutron source have developed a way of making tiny micro-fibres 30 times smaller than a human hair. These form a tissue-like material that is safe to handle in air. The new material contains as much hydrogen for a given weight as the high pressure tanks currently used to store hydrogen and can also be made in the form of micro beads that can be poured and pumped like a liquid. It could be used to fill up tanks in cars and aeroplanes in a very similar way to current fuels, but crucially without producing the carbon emissions. This is the technology underpinning Cella Energy Ltd.

"In some senses hydrogen is the perfect fuel; it has three times more energy than petrol per unit of weight, and when it burns it produces nothing but water. But the only way to pack it into a vehicle is to use very high pressures or very low temperatures, both of which are expensive to do. Our new hydrogen storage materials offer real potential for running cars, planes and other vehicles that currently use hydrocarbons on hydrogen", said Professor Stephen Bennington, lead scientist on the project for STFC.

Stephen Voller, the CEO of Cella Energy Ltd said; "Consumers want to be able to travel 300-400 miles before they have to refuel. And when they do have to fill up they want to be able to do it as quickly as possible. Existing hydrogen storage methods do not meet these consumer expectations, but the ones we are developing have the potential to do just this".
Tim Bestwick, Director STFC Innovations Limited said; "We're delighted that Thomas Swan & Co Ltd has chosen to invest in Cella. We believe they will be a great partner with nearly 90 years of experience in making high performance chemical products including nanomaterials."
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Cella Energy was named the national winner for the Shell Springboard Awards


2011, for developing a technology which allows hydrogen to be stored in a cheap, practical


way, bringing the prospect of hydrogen fuelled cars one step closer to reality.


Cella Energy's invention uses nanotechnology to store hydrogen safely in tiny micro-beads


(smaller than a grain of sand) which then release hydrogen when heated, producing energy


which can fuel cars, lorries, ships or planes. Storing hydrogen in this way means that it can


be safely transported in micro-bead form opening the door to it being available at petrol


stations for consumers.


The hydrogen micro-bead technology is compatible with standard combustion engines


and can either be used as an additive to conventional fuels where it would reduce carbon


emissions, or on its own to make hydrogen gas creating zero-carbon vehicles.


Cella Energy received their award at a ceremony held at the Royal Society of Science


in London. Their invention impressed a panel of judges which included leading climate


change expert Lord Oxburgh, UK Low Carbon Business Advisor Professor Julia King and


Greenpeace Chief Scientist Doug Parr.


Stephen Voller from Cella Energy said:


"Being named the overall Shell Springboard winner for 2011 is a great boost for Cella


Energy which will give us real credibility in the eyes of customers and potential investors


alike. The £40,000 will enable us to scale up our technology to an industrial scale in order


to help us realise our ambition of providing a safe, zero-carbon hydrogen fuel which can be


used to power the transport industry and dramatically cut carbon emissions.


James Smith, Chairman of Shell UK, said:


"Over the last six years, Shell Springboard has supported over fifty small businesses that


have new ideas for products and services to tackle climate change. They have received


no-strings-attached financial awards totalling £2 million. It's great to these businesses still


coming through even in these tough times. Congratulations and best wishes for success to


Cella Energy."

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