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BHU eyes hydrogen as fuel for future

According to reports, even as the rising prices of conventional fuels burn holes in people’s pockets and threaten governments, scientists at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) are busy devising ways to increase the production of Hydrogen from water to find a suitable substitute for fossil fuels.

According to scientist and professor emeritus at Centre for Hydrogen Energy, department of Physics, BHU, Prof ON Srivastava, the BHU scientists are currently carrying out interdisciplinary studies to maximize extraction of hydrogen by replacing anodes with nano-structured titanium dioxide as photo electrodes.

  He said the photo electrode is expected to increase the production of hydrogen by nearly 50% during photo electrochemical process for producing the gas. The centre is also carrying out research to find out the best ways to store the extracted hydrogen. “Hydrogen is a light gas and its storage is a major challenge. It is therefore stored in the form of hydrides and extracted by raising the temperature. We are studying the storage of hydrogen in some new nano materials and composite type alanates to achieve a matured hydrogen technology,” he informed.

It is worth mentioning that the department of Physics, BHU has already produced two wheelers and three wheelers which run with hydrogen under different projects supported by the Ministry of Non Renewable Energy and department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India.

Srivastava said after production and storage of the gas is sorted, the main focus would be on its application for various purposes, of which vehicular transport is the most important. “In our country, two wheelers and three wheelers form about 70% of the total vehicle population. They are often also the most polluting. The centre seeks to persuade industry to produce hydrogen fuelled two-wheelers and three-wheelers and for this, we plan to develop around 10 to 15 such motor cycles for industrial demonstration. We have converted a petrol-driven three-wheeler manufactured and provided by a Jalandhar based company, to run on hydrogen stored in Mm-Ni-Fe hydride. The engineers of the company have been trained to convert these wheelers to run on hydrogen,” informed Srivastava.

“The vehicle under trial can cover up to 60 to 80km in a single fill. With higher storage capacity hydride, this range can be increased. We have recently developed Mn-Ni-Fe hydride with a greater storage capacity. We are now in the process of using this hydride so that the average of the vehicle can increase up to 80km to 100km. Later, this work will be extended to three wheelers and small cars,” he informed.

According to Srivastava, it is difficult to make an internal combustion engine on hydrogen fuel, because of significantly different properties of hydrogen as compared to petroleum, especially with regard to density and self ignition temperatures. “The power of a hydrogen fuelled engine can be increased by increasing the compression ratio. The self-ignition temperature of Hydrogen is 630 degrees Celsius as compared to petrol which has a self-ignition temperature of 230 degrees Celsius. Higher compression ratios leading to higher thermal efficiency can be achieved with hydrogen as a fuel. This aspect is also being studies by us,” he added.

Interestingly, in the hydrogen fuelled two-wheeler, the hydride heat exchanger tank is so designed that it doubles as silencer, thereby saving space. It may be mentioned here that the byproduct when hydrogen burns as fuel for vehicular transport is water. Seeing its eco-friendly nature, the centre is also developing room heaters and substitutes to LPG cylinders based on hydrogen gas.Very recently, we also experimented the same technique in four wheelers because most people, especially in big cities, are switching towards four-wheelers, considering them more convenient and safe. Dr R Chidambaram, principal scientific advisor, Government of India, inaugurated the hydrogen based four-wheeler in the university premises in April,” Srivastava said.

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