Fast Company

Nanotech Advance Will Make Tranportation of Hydrogen Fuel Safer

hydrogen nano

As an eco-fuel, hydrogen has numerous advantages, including clean emissions. Storing hydrogen, however, has been proven difficult and dangerous--until now. The Department of Energy has achieved a nanotech breakthrough that will allow for the safe storage and transport of hydrogen.

Hydrogen has potential uses in the aviation and road transport industries, in fuel cells and other alt-fuel systems--but hydrogen is dangerous, highly-flammable stuff (just picture the hydrogen fire that destroyed the Hindenberg, or the hydrogen explosions that damaged the nuclear power stations in Japan). Storing hydrogen safely for transport requirements means designing robust and potentially heavy gas tanks, which decrease the efficiency of the whole vehicle. But work by scientists at the DoE's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have created a wholly new composite material packed with nanoparticles that absorbs the gas into its structure for safer, more reliable storage.

The trick was to distribute nanoparticles of magnesium through a polymer called polymethyl methacrylate, creating a nanocomposite material. The resulting material is good at rapidly absorbing molecules of hydrogen gas into its structure, and then quickly releasing it on demand at "modest" temperatures, all without oxidizing the metal in the material (other similar solid storage methods for hydrogen involve serious heating and cooling).

The nanocomposite could be packed into a fuel tank and hold the hydrogen gas in a stable manner, without taking up too much volume in the tank--meaning that if the tank was ruptured in an accident, there would be much less chance for rapid release of hydrogen gas, and any resulting explosions. It could even work for pocket-sized fuel cells in future computers or cell phones.

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