Thursday, July 19, 2007

Prof may hold key to solve fuel crisis


David Antonelli has partnered with Chrysler to research and develop a cheap way of storing hydrogen as fuel for vehicles. Antonelli is the first scientist in the Windsor area to embark on such a project. CREDIT: Ian Williams/Windsor Star


Prof may hold key to solve fuel crisis
Chrysler invests in hydrogen research

Sonja Puzic
Windsor Star
Saturday, July 07, 2007


David Antonelli has partnered with Chrysler to research and develop a cheap way of storing hydrogen as fuel for vehicles. Antonelli is the first scientist in the Windsor area to embark on such a project.
A University of Windsor chemistry professor may be holding the keys to hydrogen-powered vehicles of the future.
David Antonelli's breakthrough in hydrogen storage research is attracting worldwide attention -- and investment from Chrysler.
Antonelli recently signed a deal with the automaker that will give him $100,000 over two years to "optimize" a cheap way of storing hydrogen in fuel tanks at room temperature.
It's the first time Chrysler's fuel cell and hydrogen technologies branch has collaborated with a Windsor-area researcher.
The development of the so-called "hydrogen economy" has long been considered a promising answer to the world's energy shortages and environmental problems.
Many experts have argued that a global energy crisis is inevitable with the rising demand for oil. An alternative energy source must be abundant, cost-effective and renewable. Hydrogen power simply burns water and does not pollute.
Until recently, advanced fuel engineers have only been able to store hydrogen as a gas in massive tanks or as a liquid in high-pressure tubes at temperatures as low as -273 C. Both methods are expensive and impractical.
Antonelli has discovered a way of storing hydrogen cheaply and safely in low-pressure tanks by using a mixture of non-perishable titanium oxide powder and silica, a main component in most types of glass.
The material he's created can store large quantities of hydrogen fuel within its porous structure. Antonelli's first breakthrough was the use of titanium oxide powder and he's since discovered a way to bind hydrogen to the surface of the titanium and silica mixture.
"We found that there is a strong connection of hydrogen at room temperatures," Antonelli said. "It's a huge breakthrough."
Antonelli's work caught the attention of Tarek Abdel-Baset, a Chrysler project engineer who has been working on fuel cell and hydrogen technologies for the past four years.
"Three or four years ago, I set out on an all-Canadian mission to find out who is working on hydrogen storage," he said. "I found (Antonelli) just by doing an Internet search."
Abdel-Baset said he was immediately intrigued by Antonelli's progress.
"Right off the bat, I liked his approach because it was the kind of chemistry that hasn't been done before. He's got some encouraging results," he said.
"There is no material out there that's cheap enough and reliable enough that fits into a regular size gas tank. We don't have anything out there that gets us enough hydrogen on board. So we're looking for that magic material ... and we think that Dave's on to something."
American-born Antonelli, who was educated in Edmonton and did his post-doctoral work at Oxford and MIT, said his research is unique and has already made "a big splash" in the U.S., where he presented his findings at a few major conferences.
He's also been invited to speak to researchers in China about hydrogen storage and has submitted a paper to the prestigious Nature magazine.
"A lot of people work with hydrogen, but they don't have the connection with the auto industry," Abdel-Baset said. "That gives (Antonelli) a bit of a distinct advantage."
U.S. buyout firm Cerberus Capital Management's recent purchase of Chrysler from German-based DaimlerChrysler has not affected Antonelli's contract with the automaker.
"I think it makes (the deal) better," said Antonelli, who also did some research with General Motors.
"I think Chrysler will have more freedom now."
Mass production of viable hydrogen vehicles is considered anywhere between five and 20 years away.
In the meantime, the Canadian government has committed to spending $1.5 billion on green energy. Canadian producers of ethanol and other renewable fuels have said they expect a new federal strategy will put them on a level playing field with foreign competitors.

spuzic@thestar.canwest.com
© The Windsor Star 2007

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