October 27, 2004
UK Researchers Find Workable Hydrogen Storage Nanomaterial

Some British researchers have found a way to store hydrogen without sustained high pressures.

A team from the Universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Liverpool in the UK, who report their findings in the prestigious academic journal, Science, have found a safe way of storing and releasing hydrogen to produce energy. They do this using nanoporous materials, which have tiny pores that are one hundred-thousandth (100,00th) the thickness of a sheet of paper.


The Liverpool and Newcastle researchers have found a workable method of injecting the gas at high pressure into the tiny pores - of ten to the minus nine metres in size - in specially-designed materials to give a dense form of hydrogen. They then reduce the pressure within the material in order to store the captured hydrogen safely. Heat can be applied to release the hydrogen as energy, on which a car could potentially run.

Professor Mark Thomas, of Newcastle University's Northern Carbon Research Laboratories in the School of Natural Sciences, a member of the research team, said:

"This is a proof of principle that we can trap hydrogen gas in a porous material and release it when required. However, if developed further, this method would have the potential to be applied to powering cars or any generator supplying power. Although hydrogen-powered cars are likely to be decades away, our discovery brings this concept a step towards becoming reality.

"Now that we have a mechanism that works, we can go on to design and build better porous framework materials for storing hydrogen, which may also be useful in industries that use gas separation techniques."

Professor Matt Rosseinsky, of the University of Liverpool's Department of Chemistry, said "Our new porous materials can capture hydrogen gas within their channels, like a molecular cat-flap.

"After allowing the hydrogen molecule the 'cat - in, the structure closes shut behind it. The important point is that the hydrogen is loaded into the materials at high pressure but stored in them at a much lower pressure - a unique behaviour. This basic scientific discovery may have significant ramifications for hydrogen storage and other technologies that rely on the controlled entrapment and release of small molecules."

The ability to store hydrogen at high density but under low pressure without extreme cooling is the holy grail for making hydrogen storage in cars practical. But this one result probably doesn't solve that problem. The nanotech material used might be very expensive to manufacture (as is presently the case with many nanotech materials such as nanotubes). Or it might not work over a wide range of environmental conditions. Or it might not work over hundreds of recharges. Still, this report is reason to be hopeful that hydrogen storage is a solvable problem. My guess is that nanotechnology approaches will be where the solutions are found. This report is therefore a step in the right direction.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 October 27 05:18 PM  Energy Tech

Kurt said at October 27, 2004 9:21 PM:

This is good, but I still think that once we go nuclear (which is inevitable), all of that waste heat from the reactor will be used to suck the CO2 out of the atmosphere to make a synthetic hydrocarbon fuel for transportation.

Ed said at October 27, 2004 9:46 PM:

1) Kurt. Good comment on the synthetic hydrocarbons. Nuclear is on path. Another path would be artificial photosynthesis. Either way we end up with a closed loop carbon cycle using liquid fuels. Overall, it is difficult to beat liquid fuels for stability, energy density, ease of handling, etc.

2) According to the available material, the H2 needs to be 'loaded' under high pressure and is then released under low pressure. I'd be interested in the net energy loss in the storage/release cycle. This implies that the native energy form needs to be converted to H2 which is subsequently pressurized. The fuel is then recovered at low pressure. I'm sure there are temperature changes also. This suggests to me an additional loss of energy/efficiency due to the storage cycle. Any guesses on 'storage' efficiency?

Patri Friedman said at October 28, 2004 1:33 AM:

There are several other methods of storing hydrogen without pressure, such as solid or liquid hydrides. My summary is here

Engineer-Poet said at October 28, 2004 10:07 AM:

Kurt:  Waste heat is just that, waste heat.  You're not going to be able to use it for chemosynthesis because the temperature is too low.  To be useful for thermochemical processes, the heat input + chemical input has to have less entropy than the heat output + chemical output (there has to be an increase of entropy in the process).  Low-temperature heat implies high entropy, and there is no way that you can get an entropy increase when your heat sink is at Earth-type ambient temperatures.

Ed:  Add any losses in loading the material to the losses in electrolysis (for electrolytic hydrogen; photochemical and biological processes will not have an electrolytic step).  The losses between electrolysis and fuel cell currently run about 50%.

The advent of this material raises the question of how it could be used.  Do you load hydrogen into high-pressure tanks and just run them at low pressure when not filling?  This requires that all vehicles have the same high-pressure tankage that is such a a problem today.  Or perhaps you load small granules of the nanoporous material externally and then handle storage and transfer under more reasonable conditions, but this begs the question of how you move large quantities of non-fluid matter and store it in shapes and volumes suitable for vehicles.

Any technology useful for transferring granules or powders would also work for zinc-air fuel cells, and would enable the competition.  Zinc-air has a high energy density, high safety (the waste product is sunscreen and the fuel cannot explode) and has a higher throughput efficiency than eletrolytic hydrogen.  It is already in trials in city buses.  I believe that we are concentrating on hydrogen when we have better prospects ready to hand, which could be brought to market sooner.

Brock said at October 28, 2004 10:32 AM:

Administrative Note - Randall, I think you filed this under the wrong Topic. Just FYI.

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