Promoting a cleaner future

Article Categories

Hydrogen Explained

SABRE Rocket Engine

The Government is set to invest £60 million in a revolutionary hydrogen powered rocket engine via the UK Space Agency. The new rocket engine will be able to burn hydrogen with oxygen taken from the air in low atmosphere flight - something which has never before been possible. Modern rocket designs have previously had to carry large, high purity oxygen containers to satisfy the concentrations required for successful rapid hydrogen combustion in the lower atmosphere. This is because it was never possible to accelerate enough air through the engine to satisfy the oxygen demands without the engine overheating (or the coolant clogging it with ice!).

The key to the SABRE engine's success is the invention of a new light-weight, highly efficient heat exchanger that is able to cope with the extreme loads. The technology has been developed by a British aerospace company called Reaction Engines Limited (REL), based in Oxfordshire, England. The company was founded by Alan Bond (lead engineer on the British Interplanetary Society's Project Daedalus) and Richard Varvill and John Scott-Scott (the two principal Rolls-Royce engineers from the RB545 engine project).

A prototype SABRE engine is expected by 2017, and flight tests for the engine around 2020. SABRE engine technology will eventually enable aircraft to cruise within the atmosphere at speeds of up to 5 times the speed of sound, enabling a journey half way around the world in 4.6 hours. It is hoped that the new engine design will also facilitate another project, known as "Skylon" to achieve the aim of regular commercial space flights.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, said:

“SABRE has the potential to completely transform how we currently access space whilst further boosting the burgeoning UK space sector. By supporting this breakthrough technology we are giving the UK a leading position in a growing market of new generation launchers and removing one of the main barriers to the growth of commercial activity in space.”

Alan Bond, who founded Reaction Engines and has led the research for over 20 years, added:

“This significant investment in British high-tech technology is a fantastic shot in the arm for the UK aerospace and space sectors, as well as the broader economy. Thanks to the Government’s support, Reaction Engines Ltd – a private company, and a great example of British enterprise - will now be able move to the next phase in the development of its engine and heat management technology, bringing much-needed jobs and investment to the UK. Our proven revolutionary technology is the result of two decades of hard work and has the potential to change the world just as the jet engine did.”

The full press release can be read here.

As we're nearly at the end of 2010 it seems to be a good point to review all of the major hydrogen news stories from the year. The collection of articles is quite impressive and shows a real build up in momentum for the hydrogen economy as we move towards 2011.


River Simple Urban Car Riversimple's hydrogen car hits the headlines as its design is to be "open source".


Bloom Energy Logo

Launch of the Bloom box fuel cell generates a huge media frenzy and features big names such as Google and Ebay. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/22/bloom-box-fuel-cell-launch


RV1 Hydrogen Bus London to create a ‘hydrogen network’ by 2012, in time for the city’s Olympic games. The London Hydrogen Partnership (LHP) is working across London boroughs on plans to deliver over the next two years at least six refuelling sites to refuel hydrogen-powered vehicles in the capital. One is already being built in east London for the refuelling of hydrogen-fuelled buses that will begin running on the RV1 route later this year.


McPhy Solid Hydrogen Storage Solution

French startup McPhy Energy has delivered the first commercial-scale prototype of a solid-state hydrogen storage tank, which it claims could solve the challenge presented to grid operators by the intermittent nature of many renewable energy sources. McPhy claims that its "game-changing technology" can store hydrogen at low pressure in a short space of time.


Kia Fuel Cell Vehicle

Kia announces it is to produce 10,000 hydrogen vehicles by 2015


Lotus Fuel Cell Taxi

Lotus Fuel Cell Taxi announced - and it looks just like a regular black cab!
Read more about the taxi in our article published in September: http://www.hydrogenclub.co.uk/main/index.php/transport/15-20-lotus-hydrogen-fuel-cell-taxis-to-hit-the-road-by-2012


Fuel Cells UK Logo UK Gains "Common Voice" for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Industry. Fuel Cells UK and UK Hydrogen Association Merge to form UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Association. http://www.fuelcellsuk.org/2010/07/02/uk-gains-%e2%80%9ccommon-voice%e2%80%9d-for-hydrogen-and-fuel-cell-industry/


ITM Power Company Logo ITM Power's HFuel unit starts to get attention from a number of large organisations. http://www.hydrogenclub.co.uk/main/index.php/infrastructure/12-itm-powers-hfuel-unit-gains-momentum


Honda FCX Clarity

Honda FCX Clarity hits UK shores to tour existing refuelling stations


Logo On October 28, 2010 the US Fuel Cell Council and the National Hydrogen Association announced a merger between the two organizations. The merger of the industry's leading advocacy organizations will deliver an integrated strategy to the industry and a singular message to stake holders: fuel cells and hydrogen are integral components of our clean energy portfolio. http://www.usfcc.com/USFCC_NHA_Merger_PR.pdf


ITM Power Company Logo

ITM Power demonstrates exceptionally high power densities by developing its proprietary hydrocarbon membrane materials for hydrogen/oxygen fuel cells. A step change from the current state of the art was been achieved, with what is believed to be the highest power density ever recorded for a PEM fuel cell (5.5W/cm2 and 10A/cm2). http://www.itm-power.com/news/40/High+Power+Density+Fuel+Cells.html


RV1 Hydrogen Bus

London launches the UK's first permanent hydrogen bus that will travel along a popular tourist route (RV1). http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/10/hydrogen-bus-london

Vehicles in snowCold weather conditions usually present challenges for most types of automotive vehicle.  Some of these are listed below:

• Diesel vehicles require the fuel to be pre-heated before ignition
• Petrol vehicles require a higher petrol -to-air concentration at startup
• Battery vehicles can suffer from a faster power drain

So what are the challenges facing a hydrogen vehicle? Well that really depends on what type of vehicle you have – Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (HICE) work much in the same way as a traditional car engine and present less of a challenge. However, Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles present a slightly different challenge because water is produced in the cell as one of the outputs and freezes at 0°C. If no countermeasures are taken then some water typically gets left in the fuel cell when it powers down.

The end result can be water getting stuck in the fuel cell before start up because it has frozen. This can both cause damage to the components of the fuel cell as well as failure to start. Manufacturers such as GM and Honda are believed to have worked around this issue by extracting all water from the membranes during shutdown: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/12/automobiles/12CELL.html

It is worth noting that once the fuel cell is running, heat is a by-product and maintains an operational temperature within the cell.
Most manufacturers have now achieved operability down to temperatures as low as -20°C, although the technology behind this is still very secretive.

Honda FCX Clarity Publicity BookletI noticed an article on the BBC last week that mentioned that the Honda FCX Clarity had finally landed in the UK (Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11297952). The article was quite informative and gave a good rundown of the benefits of hydrogen vs batteries.

After further research I discovered that the Honda was being refuelled at Loughborough University's onsite refuelling station (part of the "Midlands Hydrogen Ring" of refuelling stations). Honda has brought the ground-breaking hydrogen fuel cell car, the FCX Clarity, to the UK for the first time, to take part in a series of high profile test drives to raise awareness of the zero emission technology.

Dr Rupert Gammon, Visiting Researcher based in Loughborough University’s Innovation Centre and Chair of the British Midlands Hydrogen Forum, added: “Progress towards environmentally friendly motoring is gathering significant momentum and this region is at the heart if the movement."

“Here at Loughborough University in particular, we are dedicated to bringing zero emission technology to the motoring industry and the hydrogen refuelling station was installed on the campus to enable us to drive forward research in this area. It is therefore both very fitting and exciting that the revolutionary FCX Clarity is to make a refuelling stop here on its first visit to the UK.”

Large scale testing of the FCX Clarity has been ongoing for some time now in both Japan and California, but has not seen as much activity in Europe due to the lack of hydrogen infrastructure. Honda are expecting support to grow for the Clarity as more infrastructure falls into place, citing 2015 as the year for much larger mass production of the car.

An excellent, 32-page publicity pack for the Honda FCX Clarity can be found here: http://www.fcxclarity-media.co.uk/

ITM Power has today announced it will be working as part of a collaboration with Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Johnson Matthey to reduce vehicle emissions and improve engine efficiency. The project will focus on the engine, engine management and aftertreatment systems. ITM will be facilitating the on-board generation of hydrogen which will then be used for emissions treatment/reduction.

Three vehicles will be built to demonstrate the potential of the technology - petrol and diesel cars and a diesel hybrid bus.

 ITM Power will receive £246,975 of grant funding under the project.