There’s growing interest in electric motorcycles and they’re starting to show up in greater numbers, but range and recharge time are still stumbling blocks to widespread acceptance and even if you increase range, you’re still looking at a lengthy stop when you need to plug in. If you could recharge as quickly and easily as you can fill up with gasoline, electric power might really take off. That’s the motivation behind POWERPASTE.
Instead of batteries, electric vehicles can run on electricity generated by a fuel cell, but you need to fill up with hydrogen, a process that needs a highly specialized infrastructure in place and the vehicle has to carry high pressure tanks to store the gas. Motorcycles are poor candidates for fuel cell operation, unless you have an alternative to those high pressure tanks.
POWERPASTE stores hydrogen in a convenient form
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Dresden have now come up with a hydrogen-based fuel that is ideal for small vehicles: POWERPASTE, which is based on solid magnesium hydride. “POWERPASTE stores hydrogen in a chemical form at room temperature and atmospheric pressure to be then released on demand,” explains Dr. Marcus Vogt, research associate at Fraunhofer IFAM. And given that POWERPASTE only begins to decompose at temperatures of around 250 °C, it remains safe even when an e-scooter stands in the baking sun for hours. Moreover, refueling is extremely simple. Instead of heading to the filling station, riders merely have to replace an empty cartridge with a new one and then refill a tank with mains water. This can be done either at home or underway.
The starting material of POWERPASTE is magnesium, one of the most abundant elements and, therefore, an easily available raw material. Magnesium powder is combined with hydrogen to form magnesium hydride in a process conducted at 350 °C and five to six times atmospheric pressure. An ester and a metal salt are then added in order to form the finished product. Onboard the vehicle, the POWERPASTE is released from a cartridge by means of a plunger. When water is added from an onboard tank, the ensuing reaction generates hydrogen gas in a quantity dynamically adjusted to the actual requirements of the fuel cell. In fact, only half of the hydrogen originates from the POWERPASTE; the rest comes from the added water. “POWERPASTE thus has a huge energy storage density,” says Vogt. “It is substantially higher than that of a 700 bar high-pressure tank. And compared to batteries, it has ten times the energy storage density.” This means that POWERPASTE offers a range comparable to – or even greater than – gasoline. And it also provides a higher range than compressed hydrogen at a pressure of 700 bar.
Real and practical or laboratory dream?
The description sounds extremely promising, obviously, but we still need to see a vehicle in operation running on POWERPASTE and we need to know what it will cost, but I definitely like the concept. I’ll be watching this one.
If you’re on the fence about electric motorcycles, would this change your mind?