Team at VCU Studies Hydrogen as Fuel
A physicist at Virginia Commonwealth University believes he and his team may have solved the hydrogen riddle and in doing so, opened up an inexhaustible supply of fuel for American cars in the future.
Hydrogen gas is what lights our sun. It is the most plentiful element in the universe.
Jena: Oh yeah. That is the reason why everybody would like to have a hydrogen-driven car. Because (a) it is abundant, (b) it is renewable, and (c) it is clean.
Dr. Puru Jena is a physicist at Virginia Commonwealth University who has, along with an international team of researchers, identified a new theoretical approach that may one day make storing and using hydrogen more efficient. And, as the world’s oil resources are depleted, it could be a critical discovery.
Hoffer: We are in the period now where I liken it to where we were at the turn of the last century.
Dr. George Hoffer is an economist and expert in the automotive industry.
Hoffer: There are wild new technologies on the table and it is not clear what technology will win 10 or 15 years from now. Gas, electric, hybrid, small diesel, just small gasoline cars, or hydrogen cars, because of the problems with hydrogen. While hydrogen was always looked upon as the eventual escape valve or savior of the automobile, in reality in the last few years it’s really been put on the back burner. So any really technological breakthroughs that would make hydrogen viable in terms of storage, in terms of safety, would put it back on the front burner.
Dr. Hoffer’s colleague at VCU may just be part of that breakthrough.
Jena: If we can find a way to store hydrogen in a light material or a material where we could use electric fields as a controller mechanism to enhance a hydrogen binding, then we are in pretty good shape.
There are hydrogen cars on the road today, but they have problems.
Jena: There are two reasons why hydrogen cars are having difficulty to penetrate. One, of course, is the cost.
Jena: Yes, something like that. Once I asked how much they cost they will tell you the price. To see if I can afford it.
The other problem is finding and storing the hydrogen. There’s no network of hydrogen filling stations and hydrogen has to be stored in high-pressure tanks, up to 10,000 pounds per square inch.
Jena: And that pressure of the amount of hydrogen you can put in is equivalent to one-fourth the power we get out of gasoline.
Dr. Jena says his theory is just a very good computer model and it will need lab tests and real world tests before we know that it works.
Hoffer: Technology will bail us out again and realistically the individual car, that is for the person drives their own selves, is going to be with us in one form or another for the indefinite future.
Hydrogen is an abundant, renewable and clean. And something else we haven’t seen in a while.
Jena: More and more the gasoline you use the cost will keep on rising. More and more hydrogen you use the cost will come down. So therefore we are approaching a scenario that is much better for the future.
Fishburne: I love that scenario. Well, do you think the day will come in your lifetime or mine that you have a hydrogen car in your garage?
Jena: I’m certainly hoping that. I hope I live long enough for that.
VCU’s Dr. Puru Jena, part of a team of researchers at VCU, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Science in Shanghai who have developed a process using an electrical field that can significantly improve how hydrogen fuel is stored and released.
I’m Charles Fisburne, WCVE News.