Australian team finds way to produce hydrogen fuel cheaper than ever

13 Dec 2019

Image: © hopsalka/

This week in future tech, researchers in Australia are the latest to find a way of producing hydrogen fuel significantly cheaper and more sustainably.

Advances in the production of hydrogen fuel are coming thick and fast, with researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia being the latest to announce a substantial breakthrough. Publishing their findings in Nature Communications, the researchers said they found a new method that can produce the fuel much cheaper and more sustainably than today’s technologies.

They were able to capture hydrogen in electrolysis using low-cost metals such as iron and nickel as catalysts, which speed up this chemical reaction while requiring less energy.

The abundant metals iron and nickel would replace the much rarer metals of ruthenium, platinum and iridium that are currently used.

“At the moment in our fossil fuel economy, we have this huge incentive to move to a hydrogen economy so that we can be using hydrogen as a clean energy carrier, which is abundant on Earth,” said Prof Chuan Zhao.

“We’ve been talking about the hydrogen economy for ages, but this time it looks as though it’s really coming.”

Lithium recycling from EV batteries now within sight

An international research team is confident that its new research will help solve the massive issue of lithium waste during lithium-ion battery recycling. While the battery technology developed by this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has revolutionised the world, lithium is a rare element that is often very expensive to reclaim from batteries.

In the recycling process, the raw material is incinerated, and copper and nickel from the batteries are recycled. But in this combustion process, the lithium is lost. However, a team led by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology believes it is on the way to achieving 100pc recycling of lithium from electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

Leading the project, called Libres, researcher Sulalit Bandyopadhyay is developing a process to recover lithium, nickel and cobalt from what is called a ‘black mass’. Black mass is a black powder that consists of the materials in the battery that are active, meaning the material that is found on the electrodes.

“We plan to launch a pilot plant in 2024 and a full-scale plant in 2027,” said Bandyopadhyay.

Cubic Telecom signs EV software deal with Arrival and Charge

Irish firm Cubic Telecom has announced the signing of a deal with UK auto newcomers Arrival and Charge to provide connectivity software for their EV fleets. The technology will be deployed in selected EV models from 2020 in the UK, followed by elsewhere in Europe and North America.

Founded four years ago, Arrival has built modular EVs from scratch with a range of up to 300km. It is currently undergoing trials with DHL, UPS, Royal Mail and is partnered with John Lewis Partnership ahead of full-scale production in 2021.

As part of the deal, Cubic Telecom will also provide its connectivity software to Arrival’s sister company, Charge Automotive, for specialist EVs including retrofitted classic cars. It will initially be used in a fleet of 1960s-styled electric Mustangs with telemetry, software updates, multimedia streaming, maps and internet surfing.

ESA sending orbital junk collector into space

According to The Guardian, ESA plans to launch a four-armed robot rubbish collector into orbit to deal with the growing space junk problem. The €120m ClearSpace-1 mission is a testbed for future, larger junk collectors.

Set for launch in 2025, it will only collect a single piece of junk called Vespa, which was left in orbit 800km above Earth back in 2013. It was selected because of its sturdy shape and strength, which should prevent ClearSpace-1’s arms breaking it up.

ESA director general Johann-Dietrich Wörner warned last month that up to two-thirds of the satellites launched into orbit since 1957 are now dead. If left up there, they could collide with other satellites providing vital communication relays to Earth, or could threaten astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Now, he said: “Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water.

“That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic