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Israeli Scientists Developing Lighter Hydrogen Fuel Cell

April 19, 2010

Hydrogen, once believed to be a viable option for eco-friendly vehicles and then subsequently dismissed due to fear of explosions and other possible drawbacks, has re-emerged as a possible environmentally safe fuel source thanks to the work of Israeli scientists.

Considering its abundance, the ease with which it could be used and the lack of pollutants released when it was burned, hydrogen seemed a good fit as a green fuel source. However, the highly flammable nature of the gas, the bulk of the tanks needed to carry it, and the lack of a refueling infrastructure provided seemingly insurmountable obstacles to hydrogen-based vehicles.

Now, however, experts from Israel are working at Geneva, Switzerland-based C.En Ltd. to develop small glass tubes called capillaries that are, according to the Associated Press (AP), “only slightly thicker than a human hair.” They will then be bundled into a glass tube, known as a capillary array that is “about the width of a drinking straw.”

According to the AP’s Arthur Max, “The scientists say 11,000 such arrays will fuel a car for 400 kilometers (240 miles), take less than half the space and weight of tanks currently installed in the few hydrogen cars now available.”

“While its backers call the technology a breakthrough, it is unlikely to gain traction without a large injection of capital to scale up development,” notes Max, adding that the system would “need a distribution system and the support of major car companies, which have poured billions of dollars into their own closely guarded research programs.”

While hydrogen is a zero-emission fuel source, other fuel sources, including electricity, have taken precedence in recent years. A $1.2 billion dollar U.S. program, first established by then-President Bush in 2003, has been all but shelved today, and many European countries have placed their financial support behind electric cars as well. However, auto manufacturers Honda, Toyota, and BMW are currently at various stages in the development of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Even so, the glass capillary concept may not catch on. David Hart, director of E4tech, a London-based business and energy consulting firm, called the technology “interesting” and possibly “very significant,” but told Max that “it may still not be the right answer for cars.”

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