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18 January, 2007 - 09:42 By Staff Reporter

TWI powers to European lead with hydrogen materials testing

TWI, the Cambs based world leader in materials science has invested a "significant amount" in a new facility aimed at spurring the development of hydrogen powered cars in the European automotive industry.

The organisation is building equipment that will enable materials for components and assemblies, including automotive parts and fuel cells, to be tested in hydrogen at pressures of up to 1000 bar.

According to TWI, the facility will be the most advanced of its kind in Europe and will be of critical importance to the development of hydrogen-based power within the automotive industry.Specifically, its unique capabilities will help anyone seeking to understand how materials are affected by hydrogen embrittlement.

This understanding is of vital importance in many industrial fields, including the automotive sector.If hydrogen is to power vehicles, such as cars, trucks and buses, it will need to be stored in tanks at pressures of the order of 700 bar.

Components for fuelling stations, on-board storage, fuel cell reformers and associated pipework will also need to be designed and tested to withstand the containment of a high pressure gas that's explosive, corrosive and subject to a vast range of temperatures throughout its usage cycle.

"Firms developing vehicles powered by hydrogen, whether they use combustion or fuel cell technology, will need materials testing facilities such as those being installed at TWI," said a spokesman for the company.

While TWI's existing equipment operates in the temperature range of ambient to 85C, the new test chamber will be designed to enable testing at -150C.

And while tensile and fatigue testing can already be carried out, TWI's new equipment will enable additional tests to be executed, such as fracture toughness testing.

The new test vessel is now in the design stage, with installation and commissioning due for completion in 2007. TWI says the equipment will give manufacturers an opportunity to carry out research and development work in a facility that's unique within Europe.

According to Germany's Linde Group, the world's largest industrial gases firm, there are currently around 500 hydrogen powered vehicles on the road in the world.

It believes there will be more than six million hydrogen powered vehicles in use by the end of the decade. Many companies aim to be in mass production by 2015.

Meanwhile BMW has announced a 7 Series luxury saloon equipped with a hydrogen combustion engine which it will deliver to a 100 selected customers in early 2007.

Its long-term goal is to offer hydrogen motors in all of its cars. Interest in hydrogen is not limited to road vehicles, TWI says. Companies including Boeing and Smartfish are considering the gas as an aviation fuel of the future, with Boeing planning its first manned test flight of a hydrogen powered plane in early 2007.

TWI is one of the world's foremost research and technology organisations. Its headquarters are at Granta Park, Great Abington, where over 450 staff provide technical support in welding, joining and associated technologies such as NDT, surfacing, coating and cutting. In recent years TWI has expanded throughout the country. It now has regional offices and research facilities in Middlesbrough, Rotherham and Port Talbot, Wales. There is also a training and certification facility at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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