A new material could give a significant boost to development of hydrogen-powered vehicles, according to the scientists who have invented it.

It acts like a sponge and is able to hold and release large quantities of the gas at lower pressure and cost.

The aluminium-based material has tiny pores, and one gram of it has a surface area the size of a football pitch.

The developers say it can store the large volume of hydrogen needed by hydrogen-powered vehicles, without requiring expensive tanks.

Current hydrogen vehicles have to carry the gas at very high pressure, around 700 bar, in order to cram in enough fuel to achieve sufficient range, but this necessitates specially made tanks, which add to the cost of the vehicles.

The scientists believe the new material will enable storage of high volumes of hydrogen under much lower pressure.

Professor Omar Farha, from Northwestern University in Evanston, US, who led the research, explained: “It’s like a bath sponge but with very ordered cavities.

“With a sponge, if you spill water and you wipe it, in order to reuse the sponge, you squeeze it. With this material we use the same thing - we use pressure to store and release these gas molecules. So, it works exactly like a bath sponge, except in a very smart programmed way.”

He added: “We can store tremendous amounts of hydrogen and methane within the pores of the metal-organic framework and deliver them to the engine of the vehicle at lower pressures than needed for current fuel cell vehicle.”

The research, titled Balancing volumetric and gravimetric uptake in highly porous materials for clean energy, has been published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in its journal, Science.