Fuels like gasoline, based on hydrocarbon, create pollution and carbon footprint. Hydrogen has been claimed to be a good alternative to replace fossil fuel since the 1970s. But hydrogen’s potential has not been realized even partially mainly because of storage and commercial production difficulties. There have been research being done on renewable energy sources like hydrogen for quite some years. Recently, breakthrough research has been successful in creating a new method for storing hydrogen.
Difficulties faced in usage of hydrogen
Hydrogen is a cleaner renewable energy source if only the two problems of safe storage and easy access are overcome. The traditional way of fastening hydrogen into solids has not been very successful. Too less volume of hydrogen was absorbed while storing and too convoluted methods like too high heating or cooling was needed for releasing it which did not make it commercially viable.
New way of storing hydrogen
A team of scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Department of Energy (DOE), US have discovered a new material called air-stable magnesium nano-composites which can help in storing hydrogen without complex methodology. This composite material consists of ‘nano-particles of magnesium metal sprinkled through a matrix of polymethyl methacrylate – a polymer related to Plexiglas.’
Advantages of new material
This nano-composite is a pliable material and it is capable of absorbing and releasing hydrogen at an ordinary temperature without oxidizing the metal. This capacity has been touted as the major step towards a better design for hydrogen storage, hydrogen batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. The scientists have been able to design for the first time successfully composite materials that are nano-scale and which are capable of overcoming the barriers that are thermodynamic and kinetic in nature.
Observing the new material scientifically
The team observed the material and its behavior via TEAM 0.5 microscope at National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM). They tracked the behavior of hydrogen in the new storage material. They further studied the performance of hydrogen in the nano-composite material at Energy and Environmental Technologies Division (EETD), at the Berkeley Lab. EETD has been pioneering research about technologies about renewable energies, their generation and storage etc including hydrogen.
Role of DOE – Nano-scale Science Research Centers (NSRCs)
The NSRCs are a group of five facilities with state-of-art wherewithal to research in depth about nano-scale materials. The National Nanotechnology Initiative from DOE has resulted in huge investments for developing the infrastructure of these facilities. The team has put together and manufactured this new material at Materials Sciences Division. In words of team member Urban, “The successes we achieve depend critically upon close ties between cutting-edge microscopy at NCEM, tools and expertise from EETD, and the characterization and materials know-how from MSD.”
Jeff Urban, Deputy Director, Inorganic Nanostructures Facility, Molecular Foundry, Office of Nano-Science Center DOE, Berkeley Lab, Christian Kisielowski and Ki-Joon Jeon were the co-authors and Hoi Ri Moon, Anne M. Ruminski, Bin Jiang and Rizia Bardhan were the rest of the team. DOE’s Office of Science supported the research work.