Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new highly efficient technique for making hydrogen fuel cells suitable for vehicles. The technology has the potential to be twice as effective as current fuel cells at around half the temperature and much lower pressure.

The process uses ammonia borane, a high hydrogen-content powdered chemical and combines two hydrogen generating processes — hydrolysis and thermolysis — to achieve conditions appropriate for use in vehicles.

Currently hydrogen fuel cells run at pressures of aound 5,000 psi. Hydrolysis alone requires a catalyst to turn hydrogen into energy, and thermolysis requires a temperature of 170°C to function. By combining hydrolysis and thermolysis processes, and introducing ammonia borane into the reaction, the required temperature is lowered to about 85°C and the pressure requirements lower to 200 psi.

The researchers believe that, if this technology can be scaled up, it would be the perfect reaction to generate electricity for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and small appliances. As well as scaling up the process, the researchers are working on ways to recycle the ammonia borane used in the reaction and return it to its original state.