Working with scientists from the STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the University of Oxford, London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) researchers Zeynep Kurban and Neal Skipper and UCL graduate Arthur Lovell have developed a new technology that allows hydrogen to be stored in a cheap and practical way, making it promising for widespread use as a carbon-free alternative to petrol.
The team have developed a new nano-structuring technique called ‘co-electrospinning' to produce tiny plastic micro-fibres 30 times smaller than a human hair. These hollow micro-fibres have then been used to encapsulate hydrogen-rich chemicals known as hydrides, in a way that allows the hydrogen to be released at much faster rates and at lower temperatures than previously. The encapsulation also protects the hydrides from oxygen and water, prolonging their life and making it possible to handle them safely in air. This new nano-material contains as much hydrogen for a given weight as the high pressure tanks currently used in prototype hydrogen vehicles, and can also be made in the form of micro beads that can be poured and pumped like a liquid. They could therefore 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 technology underpins the new spin-out company Cella Energy Ltd , which is based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire.
UCL doctoral student Zeynep Kurban (pictured), who played a key role in the scientific development  while studying for her EngD in Molecular Modeling and Materials Science , said: "This new technology provides solutions to some of the key issues surrounding hydrogen storage systems, bringing us a step closer to commercialization of these materials for clean energy applications."