One of the principal obstacles preventing the mass adoption of hydrogen as the 'clean' energy source of the future maybe about to be resolved following major investment in a state-of-the-art materials testing facility by The Welding Institute (TWI) in Cambridge, UK.

TWI's new world leading testing system will be the only one of its kind in the world, and should provide industries with a unique opportunity to develop safe storage systems for high-pressure hydrogen

The unit has the ability to expose metals to a pressure of 1,000bar - over seven tons per square inch - and temperatures between -150ºC and 85ºC. The development of the new test facility follows a programme in which the existing facility was built, and tensile testing was carried out at TWI for the Japan Research and Development Centre, working closely with TWI Industrial Member, Nippon Steel Corporation (NSC). The work, in conjunction with similar testing in Japan by NSC, was done to provide input to Japanese planning for the hydrogen economy.

According to the European Commission, a major drawback in the use of hydrogen is its very low storage density at atmospheric pressure, which would require a storage tank to be 3,000 times larger in order to store enough hydrogen gas to drive a car the same distance as one which runs on gasoline.

However, centres such as this one could do much to allay fears and push clean fuel technology forward. In particular, test data is required to ensure the safe performance of hydrogen storage and handling systems for automotive applications, on board vehicles. The new tests will carry out fatigue testing as well as tensile work, anticipating roughly 50,000 refuels during the lifetime of an automotive fuel tank.