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New Technology Could Boost Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tech…Or Kill Us

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One of those

hydrogen refueling infrastructure

The Mirai takes just five minutes to recharge

Hydrogen vehicles have been plagued by problems with fuel production. However, a new technology reported in the journal Nature could solve that problem, by converting methanol into hydrogen gas that could be used to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

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Methanol is a type of fuel typically used by racing drivers which can be manufactured from coal. It burns efficiently with fewer pollutants, costs less, and is less flammable in an accident. However, methanol is toxic—it already poisons 1,300 people a year in the US, and its vapor can make people dizzy and lose consciousness.

The technology being developed comes to us from a team of Chinese researchers, uses a new catalyst to extract the hydrogen from methanol. The new method would replace the hydrogen fuel tank in a hydrogen vehicle for two smaller tanks, one for the methanol and one for water. Potentially, this would give vehicles good range and lower emissions than a gasoline vehicle.

There are some problems with the technology—due to the toxicity of the methanol, refueling can’t be handled as casually as refueling a gasoline car. Also, the cost per vehicle is high—the catalyst takes 6-8 grams of platinum per car, which costs somewhere around $32 per gram—and the researchers said that it would take at least 3-5 years to make a demonstration vehicle.

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However, in coal-rich China, it seems that that time frame is too slow for carmakers, as the chairman of Geely (which also owns Volvo) has already submitted a proposal to mass-launch methanol-fueled vehicles in China. The company plans to launch a methanol variant of each of its best-selling models.

No matter how well that goes, according to the researchers, the catalysts could in theory work on any carbon-based fuel, so the next step is to test if the methanol could be replaced by a fuel like ethanol, which contains even more hydrogen but without the “highly toxic” thing.

News Source: South China Morning Post