Hydrogen as a fuel and a coolant

Bartek Glowacki and Bill Nuttall have received 3rd prize for their Fusion Island concept in EEEGR's Innovation Awards
Related Films
The following related films are available in our free Lectures on Superconductivity

Hydrogen Islands

In collaboration with researchers from the Judge Business School, Cambridge University Engineering Department, Lublin University of Technology and UKAEA Culham Science Centre [1], ASCG researchers are investigating the future development of superconductivity in transportation and energy technologies.

MgB2 superconductors that operate at liquid hydrogen temperatures are anticipated to be commercially available in the near future. Novel concepts for transportation and energy supply that would be possible using medium-temperature MgB2. The concept "hydrogen as a fuel and hydrogen as a coolant" is fundamental to many feasible applications that fully exploit the complementary properties of hydrogen, including: MgB2 magnets for nuclear fusion, the cryoplane, energy storage, the self-contained whole electric superconducting ship and even magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Development of rapid transport superconducting systems is already underway in Japan, with investment in MAGLEV trains that if placed in evacuated tunnels could travel at speeds of 2800 mph.

The possible environmental advantages of developing these hydrogen technologies have been presented at a Future Technologies seminar of the Cambridge Environmental Initiative (CEI) (see Dr. Bartek Glowacki's CEI research profile).

Each of these technologies can operate independently of a wide-scale power distribution network and can be visualised as "hydrogen islands". The cost-effective, reliable and environmentally benign generation of hydrogen is crucial to successful realisation of these applications. The "Fusion Island" concept is of a hydrogen cooled nuclear fusion reactor with MgB2 magnets could power the thermochemical generation of hydrogen for use as an energy carrier [2]. A dedicated fuel-cell park utilising photochemically generated hydrogen would be used to black-start the "Fusion Island" complex [3].

Fusion Island [3]

Thermochemical water splitting cycles have been developed to allow water pyrolysis at 900°C, a temperature achievable by the "Fusion Island" complex. The sulfur-iodine cycle developed by General Atomics has an overall efficiency of 50% [4].

2HI → H2+I2
H2SO4 → H2O + SO2 + 1/2 O2
SO2 + I2 + 2H2O → 2HI + H2SO4

The sulfur-iodine cycle [4]

For a more detailed discussion, refer to the text of the Fusion Island article published in the Engineer [3]. The concept won third prize in the East of England Energy Group's 3rd Annual Innovation Awards.

Superconducting conductors based on magnesium borides have been developed in Cambridge that can be fabricated into cables for power transport with minimal losses. Research is on-going to investigate the optimisation of photocatalysts for hydrogen generation for use as a coolant.

The Cryoplane

The use of hydrogen as an aviation fuel has also been considered [5]. As well as the environmental advantages of using hydrogen as a fuel, the presence of liquid hydrogen introduces the possibility of simultaneously exploiting it as a coolant.

Schematic of the location of the hydrogen cryotanks in the aircraft [5]

The hydrogen engine — The heat exchanger converts the liquid hydrogen to a gas before injection into the combustion chamber [5]


[1] B.A. Glowacki, A.P. Finlayson, W.J. Nuttall and T. Janowski, Hydrogen as a Fuel and as a Coolant - From the Superconductivity Perspective, Submitted to the Proceedings of the ELMECO 2005 conference, 11 October 2005

[2] Nuttall, W J, Fusion should put its energy into oil, The Engineer, 28 May 2004, p. 18

[3] William Nuttall, Bartek Glowacki and Richard Clarke, A trip to 'fusion island', The Engineer, 31 October 2005. Read text (open access) | View original (subscription required)

[4] Raissi, A T, Analysis of solar thermochemical water-splitting cycles for hydrogen production, FY Progress Report for Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies Program, 2003

[5] Russian-German Cooperative Venture Study Report, Cryoplane, 1992