HYDROGEN fuelled tractors, trucks and cars could be one step closer to commercial reality thanks to Australia’s lead scientific organisation.
CSIRO, principal research scientist, Dr Michael Dolan said the team had developed a special membrane technology that enabled safer, more efficient use of hydrogen as a fuel.
“Our technology allows ultra pure hydrogen to be extracted from ammonia,” he said.
“Hydrogen can go into hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which could be cars, trucks, tractors or ships.”
Hydrogen and other alternative powered tractors have been in development as concept vehicles for some time, however one issue holding back production has been safe storage and transport.
Dr Dolan said extracting hydrogen from ammonia increased the safety and efficiency of handling and storing the fuel.
“If you want to move a lot of hydrogen you need it in a liquid form, liquid fuels are much more dense then gaseous fuels,” he said.
“It is very difficult to liquefy hydrogen, you need to make it extremely cold.
“Ammonia is made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, and it forms a liquid under very mild conditions, it behaves similar to liquid petroleum gas (LPG).
“That allows you to store and move very big quantities of hydrogen, you just need the technology to pull the hydrogen back out.”
Dr Dolan said it was difficult to estimate a future price of hydrogen as it was dependent on a number of factors.
“One thing we do know is hydrogen fuel cell powertrains, no matter what vehicle they are on, are more than twice as efficient as a petrol or diesel powertrain,” he said.
“So you will need half the amount of fuel to do a given job, whether that is driving around the paddock, across the country or over an ocean.”
Dr Dolan said in terms of safety, while ammonia will burn, it burns slowly and is difficult to ignite.
“I think before to long their will be hydrogen cars, trucks, trains and tractors, anything really, the technology is becoming mature enough you will see it in a lot of applications,” he said.
Dr Dolan said CSIRO was doing a lot of research work around hydrogen.
“Some of that is around making hydrogen from solar energy, or biomass and other renewable resources,” he said.
“We do a lot of work around hydrogen carriers as well as work to make ammonia production more efficient.
“This also has implications for fertiliser production as well as energy.”
Dr Dolan said the use of straight ammonia, as opposed to hydrogen, was also of potential interest to the agricultural sector.
“Ammonia has been looked at in the US for quite a while, converting conventional diesel tractors to run on ammonia and it has been reasonably successful,” he said.
“it is not the most efficient way of doing it, but it is a low-technology entry into replacing diesel fuel.”
Dr Dolan is optimistic about the future of hydrogen fuel.
“I think before to long every type of vehicle will have hydrogen fuelled products available, I think hydrogen is going to be a very ubiquitous fuel in the future.”
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