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Hydrogen-powered cars creep forward

All thanks to a 'molecular cat-flap'

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Fuel-cell-powered cars moved another step closer yesterday with the announcement that a group of British scientists have developed a material that can safely store and release hydrogen.

Although fuel cell technology is reasonably well developed, scientists have struggled to find a way of storing enough hydrogen fuel to make them viable alternatives to petrol engines. However, the breakthrough that the Liverpool and Newcastle team has made could change that. It has developed a nanoporous material into which they can load highly pressurised hydrogen. However, once the gas is stored in the pores - nanometres across - its pressure is lowered considerably.

Professor Matt Rosseinsky of the University of Liverpool's Department of Chemistry, described the material as "a molecular cat-flap". He explained: "After allowing the hydrogen molecule - the 'cat' - in, the structure closes shut behind it. The important point is that the hydrogen is loaded into the materials at high pressure but stored in them at a much lower pressure - a unique behaviour."

Professor Mark Thomas, of Newcastle University's Northern Carbon Research Laboratories said that the breakthrough, published in the journal Science, was a proof of principle. He explained that although it will need further development to make it suitable for powering a car, it is an important step towards the reality of environmentally-friendly power. ®

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