Throughout the fall semester, NYU Abu Dhabi Associate Professor of Chemistry Panče Naumov's Sustainable Energy class has experimented with a range of environmentally friendly technologies, from creating photovoltaic cells to producing and observing the diverse composition of biogas. For the final experiment of the semester, students tested the potentialities of hydrogen gas as a fuel source for vehicles. Each model car was fitted with a small hydrogen cylinder as well as a battery and then tested for distance travelled vis-à-vis the hydrogen content. The victorious group of students managed to propel their car 98 meters before it ground to a halt, having exhausted the 30 cm3 of hydrogen fuel.
In simple terms, water is broken down into its two most basic elements — oxygen and hydrogen — through an electric current (a process known as electrolysis of water). These gases then accumulate into the gas storage tank of the car. When the car is switched on, the gases re-react, releasing the necessary energy for the movement of the car.
Kee Ryung Kim, NYUAD Class of 2015, and her partner sent their car 56 meters on 19 cm3 of hydrogen fuel. Fascinated by the concept of hydrogen-fuelled cars, she said, "It was really interesting to see how we actually made the car move with just water and a battery. I've read about hydrogen-fuelled cars in newspapers and I knew how it worked theoretically, but seeing the whole process in the lab was a totally new experience."
A key component of the class has been to observe how micro-level experiments, including the conduction and transformation of light energy into thermal energy, are then translated into macro-level projects. An example of this was a class excursion to Abu Dhabi's Masdar City and the Shams Solar Energy Fields that are in the final stages of completion. These projects are pioneering some of the most state-of-the-art sustainable energy technologies. When fully operational, the Shams Solar Energy project will be the largest solar energy project in the Middle East. Other class experiments this semester included one that analyzed water quality.
The hydrogen-propelled vehicle is, like many cutting-edge sustainable energy technologies, still in the primary stages of development. The main problem remains the storage of large quantities of hydrogen needed to operate the technology. However, with this budding group of young thinkers experimenting with such technologies, we seem to be edging ever closer to attainable sustainable energy solutions.