AN AUSTRALIAN innovation could overcome one of the biggest hurdles facing hydrogen-powered vehicles, following a CSIRO demonstration that refuelled a pair of fuel-cell cars with locally made high-purity fuel.
For the demo, Toyota provided a Mirai while Hyundai came to the zero emissions party with an example of its Nexo, which the science agency then topped up with hydrogen produced in its breakthrough process.
While fuel-cell technology is already proving itself as a viable form of vehicle propulsion thanks largely to the Hyundai and Toyota models, transporting and storing large volumes of hydrogen is a stumbling block.
Liquid hydrogen must be contained at incredibly high pressure or maintained at very low temperatures by complex cryogenic systems. But the CSIRO has developed a process that allows the gas to be converted into more stable liquid ammonia for transportation and then reconverted back to hydrogen once it has reached its destination or point of use.
The CSIRO is keeping exact details of the membrane process a closely guarded secret, but says it is simple enough to complete using a modular unit that could travel with the liquid ammonia, or by equipment built into refuelling stations.
According to the science and technology authority, the highly specialised membrane separates the ‘ultra-high purity hydrogen’ from ammonia by blocking all other gasses, and turns expensive and complex bulk hydrogen shipping into an economical and efficient process.
The demonstration is a bittersweet irony given Australia trails the rest of the developed world in hydrogen infrastructure, with minimal government incentives or funding for the emerging alternative energy.
Read next: 2016 Toyota Mirai review
However, the Australian breakthrough removes a significant technical challenge in the global proliferation of hydrogen-powered cars, that is likely to boost the feasibility on home turf.
Australia already produces large amounts of hydrogen for industrial uses and the CSIRO technology could be the key to unlocking a large part of that stock of vehicle use.
The CSIRO points out that, while large scale industrial production requires massive amounts of electricity produced by mostly unrenewable sources, “recent advances in solar and electrochemical technologies mean renewable hydrogen production is expected to become competitive with fossil fuel-based production”.
The initial concept-proving process will now be scaled up for larger demonstrations by the CSIRO both in Australia and overseas.