Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Little Engine That Can

Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Little Engine That Can

Article excerpt

TOYOTA, HONDA, GENERAL Motors, and at least a dozen other automakers are jostling to dominate the nascent market for zero-emission, hydrogen-powered vehicles. But the newest commercial hydrogen car, the Toyota Mirai, still comes in at a whopping $57,500--blame the steep expense of onboard hydrogen storage--so it's no surprise that only a few are on the market today. Hydrogen fuel cells typically generate electricity by fusing stored hydrogen gas with oxygen. And though special tanks can store the gas at high pressures, they take up huge space under the hood and waste precious energy because so much is needed to lug them around.

But nanoengineer Joseph Wang of the University of California, San Diego, might have discovered a cheaper, more compact alternative that turns this method on its head. In a recent paper in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, Wang and his team outline a system that stores hydrogen as a space-saving liquid instead of as a bloated gas.

When they were developing this model, their biggest challenge was creating a metal catalyst that would produce enough hydrogen gas to power a car, while avoiding chemical byproduct accumulation--two factors that are crucial in keeping the cost of fuel-cell parts down. …

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