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Since the 1970s, hydrogen has been touted as a promising alternative to fossil fuels due to its clean combustion -- unlike hydrocarbon-based fuels, which spew greenhouse gases and harmful pollutants, hydrogen's only combustion by-product is water. Compared to gasoline, hydrogen is lightweight, can provide a higher energy density and is readily available. But there's a reason we're not already living in a hydrogen economy: to replace gasoline as a fuel, hydrogen must be safely and densely stored, yet easily accessed. Limited by materials unable to leap these conflicting hurdles, hydrogen storage technology has lagged behind other clean energy candidates.

In recent years, researchers have attempted to tackle both issues by locking hydrogen into solids, packing larger quantities into smaller volumes with low reactivity -- a necessity in keeping this volatile gas stable. However, most of these solids can only absorb a small amount of hydrogen and require extreme heating or cooling to boost their overall energy efficiency.

Now, scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have designed a new composite material for hydrogen storage consisting of nanoparticles of magnesium metal sprinkled through a matrix of polymethyl methacrylate, a polymer related to Plexiglas. This pliable nanocomposite rapidly absorbs and releases hydrogen at modest temperatures without oxidizing the metal after cycling -- a major breakthrough in materials design for hydrogen storage, batteries and fuel cells.

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Category: Science