Revolution in Hydrogen Cars – 650 Miles Per Tank

A team at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have revealed a potential revolution in hydrogen cars, after driving 650 miles on one tank of liquid hydrogen. In a recent test, the scientists set a new world record after they installed a super-insulated hydrogen gas tank in a standard Prius hybrid that was able to keep a full load of the liquid without evaporating for six days.

The tank, weighing in at around 300 pounds, removes a heck of a lot of obstacles to the advancement of hydrogen-powered cars. Current versions, such as the fleet of hydrogen-electric Toyota Prius’s used by various city governments across Southern California, run on compressed hydrogen gas, and have a limited range of around 80 miles between refuels. Even a pretty unambitious three-gallon tank fills the entire trunk of a Prius, yet still only enables a range of approximately 200 miles, not really enough to compete with gasoline-only vehicles.

One way to avoid this limitation is by using liquid hydrogen, which takes up around a third of the volume of compressed gas. However, it is much more problematic to handle, mainly due to the fact it must be kept at extremely low temperatures (around -420oF) and very high pressure to stop it from evaporating as the engine gets hotter.

Announcing the breakthrough, Livermore Lab engineer Salvador Alceves said, “We think if you have the cars, and the technology for the cars, the infrastructure will follow. The cars are the hard part.”

The tank can also hold cheaper compressed hydrogen, allowing users to use it for shorter drives with the option of switching to liquid to triple their range for longer journeys. It can also withstand crashes and fires without exploding. The team apparently even shot one tank with a gun without blowing it up – that must have been an exciting day at the office!

Livermore Lab estimates that we could see prototype cars in 2012. Lead technician Tim Ross said, “We will get there, I truly believe I will see this in my lifetime.”

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Andrew Williams

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.