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Indian scientist from Neeri develops technique to store and transport hydrogen

According to reports, following ministry of new and renewable energy ( MNRE) goal of bringing one million fuel cell powered vehicles on the road by 2020, the city-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri) has developed a technique of safe storage, transport and supply of hydrogen for such vehicles.

In the next phase, the lab-based technique will be scaled up for real use in collaboration with the Technology Incubation Centre of IIM-Ahmedabad which would be giving Rs 6 crore for the project.  Neeri director Satish Wate is seeing this as a big achievement for the institute. “Hydrogen is the fuel of the future. But being highly inflammable gas it needs to be stored and transported safely to fuelling stations. A Neeri scientist has developed a technique to first convert hydrogen into a form that is safe to store and transport. However, the process involves reconversion of the gas into pure hydrogen to be used in the fuel cell vehicles,” he said.

The head of the environmental materials division (EMD) Sadhana Rayalu informed that fuel cells could provide much higher energy conversion efficiency compared to internal combustion engines and had almost zero emissions. She said the process developed by the EMD scientist Rajesh Biniwale would definitely help doing away with fossil fuels and enable use of hydrogen as the fuels for cars.

Biniwale who claims to make the process feasible on a large scale by 2014, said his technique involved three major steps. First, the highly flammable hydrogen gas is combined with certain hydrocarbons to reduce its reactive capacity and make transportation less hazardous. This is liquid at ambient temperature and pressure and therefore can be easily transported using trucks. The other advantage is that it has relatively higher hydrogen storage capacity, on both weight and volume basis.

Fuel cells generate electricity to power vehicles by combining hydrogen fuel with atmospheric oxygen and releasing pure water as by-product. Safe transportation and storage of hydrogen, both in the vehicles and on the ground, is one of the big challenges in commercializing fuel cell vehicles.

Next, at the fuelling station, dehydrogenation or removal of hydrogen is performed in a reactor. The liquid hydrocarbon is sprayed over a catalyst resulting in formation of vapour hydrogen and vapour toluene. The toluene is condensed and recycled again to combine with aromatics. “Our process could be of extreme use to the automobile industry as it is the only one that has the highest conversion capacity of 98% per unit of catalyst used. Our strength also lies in the development of the catalyst reactor and the converter which is efficient,” said Biniwale.

Hydrogen is already being produced from refineries and as waste from the chloro-alkali production industries. In the first case, refineries recycle the hydrogen but the industries generally burn it to avoid any hazardous event. Hydrogen will also come from splitting of water but the process is experimental and nascent stage. Western world is already using hydrogen fuelled vehicles but in metal-hydride form which has its own limitations and risks associated with high pressure.

“Neeri process will strengthen the hydrogen economy through fuel cell commercialization in India. It will also increase energy efficiency of the vehicle from existing 13-16% to 20-30% making it superior to metal hydride usage,” said Biniwale.

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