Re Research: Research Items November/December 2010

Hydrogen-Compatible ManufacturingAlthough hydrogen is considered to be a future alternative to fossil-fuels, there are certain factors preventing it from taking off today.

Hydrogen-Compatible Manufacturing

Although hydrogen is considered to be a future alternative to fossil-fuels, there are certain factors preventing it from taking off today. For instance, there is the problem of embrittlement: when steel, aluminum and magnesium are constantly exposed to hydrogen, their ductility is reduced. This could lead to sudden failure of the fuel tank, fuel cell parts, ball bearings, and other components. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics and Materials IWM ( are working to bring hydrogen power a step closer to reality by developing materials and manufacturing processes that are compatible with the element.

“We are investigating how and at which speed hydrogen migrates through a metal,” says researcher Nicholas Winzer. “We are able to detect the points at which the element accumulates in the material and where it doesn’t.”

Since problems with the metals result from the diffusible, or mobile, portion of hydrogen, researchers have separated it from the rest of the hydrogen content. They’re then able to test the material under several conditions to determine how resistant the material is to the exposure to hydrogen. Results from the lab tests are used for computer simulation, where hydrogen embrittlement in the metals is calculated. Testing at the lab is ongoing.ydrogen. Ammonia borade is said to have one of the highest hydrogen contents of all solid materials, which researchers say makes it ideal in the process.


Whiskey in the Car-o

Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland ( have created a new super biofuel from the remnants of an unusual source: whiskey. This new biofuel uses the two main by-products of the whiskey production process: pot ale, or liquid from the copper stills, and draff, the spent grains. They’re used as the basis for producing butanol which can be used as fuel.

The process is said to be compatible in ordinary cars without any special adaptations. What’s more, researchers say the biofuel is capable of producing 30% more output power than ethanol.


Advancing Diesel Sensors

“Our research is contributing to the development of a sensor, that, when placed in the fuel line prior to where the fuel enters the diesel engine, can detect if there are any contaminants in or other problems with the fuel.” That’s Alan Hansen, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois (, who is working to improve sensors to better monitor the quality of diesel and biodiesel fuel during engine operation. Hansen is experimenting with electrochemical sensors to detect the contaminants and other quality issues that today’s sensors can’t. He says electrochemical sensors are expected to be significantly more sensitive to the chemical composition of diesel fuel and able to detect specific chemicals that could harm the engine.