Hydrogen vehicles have taken a leap into the future with the reveal of a plane that can fly for six hours, a car capable of travelling for 480km on one tank, all bolstered by a new method of hydrogen extraction based on photosynthesis.
The Skyblade 360 is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, that is powered by hydrogen and recently flew for six hours over a 300km distance.
The Skyblade 360 has been developed by a consortium of Singaporean institutions and private sector companies, including the Singapore Ministry of Defence, which claim it has achieved the longest ever flight time for a vehicle of its type.
The UAV was built in Singapore by ST Aerospace and boasts a hydrogen fuel cell system that is extremely lightweight in comparison to lithium batteries that typically power this type of aircraft.
The new system is also extremely compact, holding 1000Wh of usable energy its one-litre fuel cartridge.
Unlike a typical hydrogen fuel cell, the system doesn’t store its fuel as pressurised hydrogen gas but as a solid chemical material that is said to be easier to handle for end users.
The hydrogen system has been in development for several years and the team boasts that its UAV can now fly at a cost of just $10 per flight-hour.
Recent advances in hydrogen vehicles have not just been limited to the skies .
A prototype for a two-seater hydrogen-powered road car that can travel for approximately 480km on a tank containing just 1.5kg of hydrogen has also been demonstrated by UK start-up Riversimple Movement.
Dubbed ‘Rasa’, the road-legal vehicle has been built for full approval on European roads and its development was supported by a £2m grant from the Welsh government in 2015.
The Rasa was built to be as light and strong as possible, with a carbon composite chassis and only 18 moving parts in the entire powertrain. Riversimple has also tried to make the vehicle affordable in the hopes of an eventual commercial roll-out.
While its lightweight footprint helps it to achieve its considerable range, the top speed is limited to just 97km/h.
More than 50 per cent of the kinetic energy produced under braking is also recovered and turned back into electricity to boost acceleration via a bank of supercapacitors.
Its creators claim it has the lowest carbon emissions for any vehicle 'well-to-wheel', with water being its only output.
A public beta trial of 20 vehicles with prospective customers is proposed for later this year and it is expected to be sold commercially from 2018.
Riversimple’s founder, Hugo Spowers, said: "The Rasa engineering prototype marks another key milestone in bringing an affordable and highly-efficient hydrogen-powered car to market.”
The Rasa is not the first commercial hydrogen powered car, Toyota’s ‘Mirai’ range became available in Japan last year with the car maker ramping up production throughout 2016 due to demand for the new vehicle.
Transport for London recently added 12 models to its fleet which are used for engineering and maintenance work carried out between bus stops and Tube stations.
One of the drawbacks of hydrogen as an alternative fuel for transport is that it requires a relatively carbon-intensive process to produce.
However, a new type of multilayered photoelectrode that uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen has been demonstrated by a team of researchers from Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology.
The photoelectrode is inspired by the way plants convert sunlight into energy during the process of photosynthesis.
It is capable of absorbing about 90 per cent of the visible light range from the sun, and then using it to split the water molecules into their constituent elements.
The device is described as a ‘two-dimensional hybrid metal-dielectric structure’ that consists of three layers of gold film, an ultra-thin layer of titanium dioxide and gold nanoparticles.
Professor Heon Lee, who leads the research team, states, "This metal-dielectric hybrid-structured film is expected to further reduce the overall cost of producing hydrogen, as it doesn't require complex operation processes."
"Using nanoimprint lithography, mass production of hydrogen will be soon possible."
Professor Jeong Min Baik, who is also working on the device, added: "This simple system may serve as an efficient platform for solar energy conversion, utilising the whole UV-visible range of solar spectrum based on two-dimensional plasmonic photoelectrodes."