The US$149 426 Phase I SBIR grant was awarded for a 9-month project with the objective to significantly improve the mechanical properties of the carbon fibre/epoxy composite material used to construct the hydrogen fuel tanks using carbon nanotube reinforcement.

The primary goal is to reduce the weight of the tanks by 20-30%. This weight reduction will lower the hydrogen fuel tank costs and also increase the vehicle's fuel efficiency.

Applied Nanotech has developed carbon nanotube reinforced epoxy, vinyl ester and polyester resins for use in carbon fibre and glass fibre composites.

"I am very pleased to see that our nanocomposite technology, first commercialised for sporting goods – badminton racquets and golf club shafts – with Yonex Corporation, is starting to gain traction in other commercial applications with very large market potential," says Dr Zvi Yaniv, CEO of Applied Nanotech Inc, Austin, Texas, USA.

"Nanocomposite materials are a very important part of our business," adds Doug Baker, CEO of Applied Nanotech Holdings Inc. "We are currently working with a variety of companies across several industries to tailor our composite materials to improve the underlying products of our potential customers."

Composite pressure vessels

The International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles reported that sales of composite pressure vessels are expected to reach US$250 million by 2013, and up to $560 million by the end of the decade.

The adoption of nanotechnology enhanced resins in high pressure hydrogen storage vessels represents an immense opportunity. Today, the price of carbon fibre is the main driver of the hydrogen pressure vessel's cost; by incorporating carbon nanotubes into the resin matrix, the resin itself can absorb much of the load currently absorbed by the carbon fibre reinforcement. Using carbon nanotube enhanced resins will decrease the carbon fibre required to construct a functioning hydrogen pressure vessel.

The decrease will result in lower material costs but also in lighter pressure vessels, enabling a more streamlined manufacturing and supply chain process, and ultimately a more efficient vehicle.