Researchers Claim New Material Can Store Hydrogen At Lower Pressures

The new metal-organic framework (MOF) has nanoscopic pores that can retain the gas.

Fuel cells bear a promise of clean transportation that is very attractive. It would just require hydrogen – the most abundant element in the universe – to combine with oxygen, generate electricity, and move cars around. But they face so many issues they are still willing to prove themselves as a viable option. Perhaps the major problem it has is how to store hydrogen more securely. Fans of the solution will be happy to hear Northwestern University researchers may have solved it.

They had to tackle both the volumetric (size) and gravimetric (mass) deliverable capacities of hydrogen and also of methane, which can be converted to hydrogen. Their solution for that was a new metal-organic framework (MOF) with a highly porous surface that they decided to call NU-1501.

The way these researchers found to explain what it does was calling it a “programmable sponge.” In contact with NU-1501, hydrogen forms a layer over it, a process that is called adsorption.

The new MOF has almost incredible properties. One gram of it – which would have a similar volume to six M&Ms – has a surface that is equivalent to 7,310 m², or the same area of 1.3 football field.

Gallery: New Metal Sponge Can Store Hydrogen At Lower Pressures

3 Photos

It is a pity the researchers, led by Omar K. Farha, did not disclose exactly how much hydrogen that could represent. The Riversimple Rasa – which has the most exciting proposition for fuel cells we have seen to date – uses 1.5 kg of the gas, which gives it 300 mi of range. So much so that Farha even considers it can be used with combustion engines, considering what he stated about the study: 

“We can store tremendous amounts of hydrogen and methane within the pores of the MOFs and deliver them to the engine of the vehicle at lower pressures than needed for current fuel cell vehicles.”

We would rather see this hydrogen delivered to a fuel cell and the methane to a reformer that could feed the fuel cells with this gas. If the NU-1501 is as promising as this study suggests, we would like to see it in production as soon as possible. It could help not only the use but also the distribution of hydrogen to be much easier and safer than it is today.

It is still soon to celebrate. We will yet have to solve the hydrogen production equation: If it still comes from natural gas, for example, that’s terrible news. Anyway, the NU-1501 is encouraging for those that believe in FCEVs to be the future. Would an NU-1501 hydrogen reservoir more efficient than a battery at storing energy? How is the hydrogen released from this programmable sponge? We’ll ask the researchers and write about this fantastic solution again as soon as possible.

Source: Northwestern University via EurekAlert! and BBC

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