Scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy (DOE) have discovered through the use of nanotechnology how to densely pack hydrogen molecules for safe storage inside lightweight tanks and easily release those molecules when needed for fuel.
The DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is using a material related to Plexiglas sprinkled with nanoparticles of magnesium as the storage material. Other commercial hydrogen storage methods currently being uses require relatively high heat to release the H2 while oxidizing the metal hydrides on the way out.
Not so with the new hydrogen storage breakthrough. With the LBNL invention, the bonds between hydrogen and magnesium are loose and only require a small amount of heat and the magnesium resists oxidation.
According to Jeff Urban, the DOE’s Deputy Director of the Inorganic Nanostructures Facility, “This work showcases our ability to design composite nanoscale materials that overcome fundamental thermodynamic and kinetic barriers to realize a materials combination that has been very elusive historically. Moreover, we are able to productively leverage the unique properties of both the polymer and nanoparticle in this new composite material, which may have broad applicability to related problems in other areas of energy research.”
The implications of this breakthrough technology are profound. Storing hydrogen in mass quantities under low pressure aboard fuel cell vehicles is inherently safer than compressed gas at 10,000 psi. One of the drawbacks to metal hydride tanks for the storage of hydrogen fuel is the weight of the tanks reduces significantly the storage space and reduces the car’s MPGs.
If the final product from the LBNL research turns out to be an average size tank that is lightweight yet has high hydrogen output then there will be one less obstacle for the commercial rollout of hydrogen cars. And let’s not forget hydrogen storage is not only important inside the car, but may also be important for home hydrogen fueling stations, on-demand hydrogen fueling stations and the transportation of H2 gas to remote locations.