University of Massachusetts, Amherst scientists have discovered a new way of storing hydrogen that may reduce fuel tank size to that of a briefcase. Using computer modeling and carbon nanotube technology that researchers have shown that it is possible to design a hydrogen storage tank that stores nearly 100-percent H2 atomically plus nearly 8-percent by weight. This exceeds the U. S. DOE (Department of Energy) target for the year 2010.
What makes this storage technology special is the “less is more” philosophy. The carbon nanotubes that are arranged in bundles bond with hydrogen gas. Heat is applied to release the hydrogen bonded with the nanotubes. One of the shortcomings of past experiments has been that the nanotubes have been too thick and swell, when heat is applied, trapping much of the hydrogen rather than releasing it.
What the U of M, Amherst scientists have discovered it that by making the carbon nanotubes thinner, they can bond with more hydrogen and even after swelling will release nearly 100-percent of the H2. This is still at the computer modeling stage so the system has yet to be proven.
But, if and when this method is proven to be practical, this will help solve one of the largest issues facing hydrogen cars, which is the use of small H2 storage tanks that hold enough hydrogen so a car can travel 300 miles before refueling. Is this so far fetched? Not at all.
Over the past several years, Honda has reduced the size of its fuel cell stack (currently used in the FCX Clarity) in half. Also, the next generation of fuel cell system designed by General Motors is 220 lbs. lighter than the previous version.
As fuel cell systems and hydrogen storage tanks become more robust and compact, major hurdles of going towards an H2 transportation system are being left in the dust.