Saturday, March 13, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
University of Hawaii scientists Satoshi Takara, Ragaiy Zidan
and Craig Jensen, left to right, have developed a more efficient
process to use hydrogen as a power source in vehicles. Jensen
is working on a research agreement with Honda Motor Co.

UH chemist
piques car makers’

Craig Jensen and his
team have made strides in
producing economical,
pollution-free vehicles

By Helen Altonn


University of Hawaii chemists have discovered a new way of producing hydrogen energy that may result in more economical, pollution-free vehicles.

Craig Jensen has been named the "1999 Research Success Story" by the Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel and the U.S. Department of Energy for his work with a team of about 10 researchers.

" 'Success story' might be a little overstated," the UH professor said.

His group has found a cheaper, more efficient method of storing hydrogen for use on-board vehicles. Key researchers with Jensen are Ragaiy Zidan and Satoshi Takara, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry.

Jensen will discuss his work at the Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel's annual meeting April 6-7 in Washington, D.C.

The chemists have patented their process through the university, and Jensen is working with Honda Motor Co. in Japan on a research agreement. "The guys there are very interested," he said, noting he met with them in Japan last month.

Jensen said he received about $200,000 from the U.S. government this year for his research. Japan, which has a parallel program, also is giving him $200,000, he said.

When the U.S. government heard about that, it decided to increase its support next year, he said. "They're worried that I'm going to sell out 100 percent to them (the Japanese)."

He said federal officials asked why he's working with the Japanese.

"I really feel the Japanese are more serious about having hydrogen cars, although Ford recently had a big investment of $400 million. ... Just from judging it, the Japanese really want to bring about hydrogen cars in the near term."

The U.S. program nearly died until California passed a zero-emission bill, he said. "That brought the program right back to life."

He said prototype hydrogen cars have been expensive, with a short cruise range. "But I really think the public, provided the cars didn't cost more and had the same cruise range, would become more environmentally aware."

The researchers explored use of metallic hydride compounds, which Jensen said have a very high amount of hydrogen. "There is more hydrogen in these per unit volume even than in liquid hydrogen, if you can believe that. It would be very good for on-board use."

The problem is that the compounds are metal-based, so they are very heavy, he said.

He said his team has found lighter-weight materials, but those also have a problem: The hydrogen is chemically bonded to the metals and has to be heated to 300 degrees to get it away, he said.

"It takes more energy to get the hydrogen off than get it off the hydrogen," he explained. "So we found a way of getting the hydrogen off without putting very much energy in."

They found a new catalyst that will release hydrogen at a rapid rate below a temperature of 100 degrees because that is what is needed for a fuel cell, Jensen said.

"You can use the exhaust system off of a car, which gives off exhaust heat or steam at 100 degrees."

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