Hydrogen has great potential as a clean fuel source for powering our cars and airplanes, but it also poses some big hurdles – namely production, distribution infrastructure and storage. Storing hydrogen in gas or liquid form onboard a vehicle raises difficulties in terms of volume and pressurization – a hydrogen gas tank for a car would need to be around four times larger than current petroleum tanks. Another possible solution is the use of solid state hydrogen and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), along with the University of Glasgow, hope to boost this approach by developing a new storage system using materials modified at the nanoscale that receive and release the hydrogen at a faster rate.

The research collaboration will involve changing the composition and microstructure of the current Hydrisafe hydrogen storage tank. This involves replacing the currently used lanthanum nickel (LaNi5) storage alloy with other hydride materials such as magnesium hydride (MgH2).

It's hoped the research can deliver a storage solution able to feed a fuel cell at the required energy densities required of an aeroplane.

"Using new active nanomaterials in combination with novel storage tank design principles presents a hugely exciting opportunity to address the considerable challenges of introducing hydrogen as a fuel for aviation," says Professor Gregory from the University of Glasgow, School of Chemistry says."

If successful in this research, EADS plans to fly an unmanned hydrogen powered test plane in 2014.

"Replacing traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels with pollution-free hydrogen in aeroplane and car engines would deliver huge benefits to the environment because carbon emissions would be dramatically reduced," says Dr.-Ing. Agata Godula-Jopek, Fuel Cells Expert in the EADS Power Generation Team.