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Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Apr 18

Hydrogen Generation & Storage Made Easy with Nano-Technology

Posted in Fuel Cells | Future Technology | Hydrogen Fuel

Hydrogen Nano-Technology 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.”

The team

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.

  • Scott

    This is fine, but you still have to separate the hydrogen first using energy.

  • Vinny

    They heat it & this releases the hydrogen – mixed with petrol it can be used in existing IC engines & 21p per litre is pretty damn good!

    See BBC Focus mag.

  • Scott

    Where does the heat come from?

  • George

    solar, geothermal? and also fossil fuels…!!

  • Matt

    They use wind in scotland Scott

  • William

    Less energy to split an H2O than to find, drag up, transport, refine, transport and dispense more complex hydrocarbons. A trickle of current in a beaker of water is all it takes.

  • Ed

    This is long overdue. H is feared by many as “explosive”. That must be put to rest before we can move forward w this

  • Alex

    Sounds like a great possibility. By the way if anyone needs a solar control module let me know.

  • Gene

    Hydrogen is no more explosive than propane or other transportable gases until you mix it with oxygen or another catalyst for proper combustion.

    Also, the US govt. uses H. in the war machine and I for one think these working systems that belong to the American public,not just the govt., need to be made available now, they have coveted OUR technology long enough.
    Hydrogen is not a secret, and the propaganda against it is only for scaring the uninformed and to protect Big Oil and other established energy concerns, against the American public and all other peoples of the world.

  • Jim Butts

    Hydrogen is not a source of energy. Takes more energy to separate H2O than you get back when you burn it. The best way to store H is attached to Carbon — CH4 or methane (natural gas). And because there are 4 Hs per molecule in CH4 and only 2 in H2 you can store twice as much in natural gas form at the same pressure. And, if you liquify it the relative advantage is even greater because of density and the much higher temperature at which CH4 liquefies.
    The hydrogen economy makes no sense at all!

  • Jim Butts

    Furthurmore, the CH4 (natural gas) infrastructure is almost in place — natural gas is already in most houses.

  • Bruce

    Generating hydrogen does not necessarily require a great deal of energy. Prof. Jerry Woodall, of Prudue University, has worked with a hydrogen separation model for years at ambient pressure and without electrolysis.

    Aluminum alloys with gallium at very low temperatures (you can speed it up by heating the gallium to 100 degrees C.). When water is introduced to the Al & Ga alloy, the oxygen atoms rapidly bond to the aluminum (resulting in a sludge of aluminum oxide, aka alumina). The remaining H2 molecules are freed.

    The alumina separates itself from the alloy, making the gallium available for reuse. Further, the alumina itself can be recycled back to it’s pure form.

    Combining this or similar techniques to produce hydrogen in a distributed network would make this nano-technology development in hydrogen storage quite workable.

  • Toygar Unal

    The problem with H2 gas has always been storage. You would need 2 times the volume to store H2 gas versus propane. Propane has more energy stored/unit volume than H2.

    Hydrogen is the most abundant gas, and does possess great potential as an alternative energy source. However to separate H2 from H20, you need electricity. Using solar panels is not a cost effective way of doing this on a large scale.

    Therefore to drive the cost/kWh down, Nuclear power plants would have to generate the electricity to separate the two gases. Of which both 02 and H2 gases can be burned for Hydrogen powered vehicles or used for heat and hot water.

    Sound pretty inefficient? I think so too…Instead of wasting electricity on the separation process. It’s more efficient and safer to charge batteries. I’m not a fan of batteries either, but it is what it is…

  • K Moore

    This nano-composite research is good news!

    I’ve been promoting my wind to hydrogen concept

    And the one thing I hear a lot, is that we need a better way to store hydrogen, rather than a 5000psi tank.

    @ safety concerns
    I’ve seen tests that show that hydrogen is safer than gasoline, because gasoline falls and spreads and hydrogen rises and quickly dilutes in to the air.

  • Col. Panek

    “…the US govt. uses H. in the war machine and I for one think these working systems that belong to the American public,not just the govt., need to be made available now, they have coveted OUR technology long enough.”

    Nice rant, but no basis in fact. H2 is not used as a fuel; mostly they use diesel and jet fuel. The DOD is actively pursuing alternative energy (i.e. spending big research money) not only to reduce cost, but reduce dependency on foreign fossil fuel. Useful research trickles down to the civilian level. (Note: my name is just a Linux in-joke, not an actual rank.)

  • Deepak

    hydrogen has still a very long way to go, but Is the closest we can get to replacing fossil fuels with minimum changes in existing infrastructure.

  • Greg

    it is not as far as many think it is, what it needs is a powerful special interest group to push for backing.

  • William

    There are current functioning systems out there, built on the relative cheap by just plain folks (well OK pretty intelligent folks really) for personal consumption. Isn’t that where Henry Ford’s cronies where about a hundred years ago with oil? And true enough the biggest road blocks to Hydrogen systems came from people who thought a hydrogen tank if ignited would create an atomic explosion.

  • Randy

    don’t worry, big oil will not allow any hydrogen production success until the oil starts to run out. They will purchase all patents and set it on a shelf. If they are not able to purchase, they will do things to rid the earth of the inventors. Innovation suppression exists whether people want to accept it or not.

    Check out this design that will be suppressed.

  • lowell

    This is quite interesting but I agree with William, H2O is a better alternative. Storing hydrogen in the form of water is very much possible without complex process. But hey, this is still a good news. This only means alternative energy is till making great progress to these days. And I hope few years from now we can see better energy sources like hydrogen thrive for a better world not just for money just like what oil companies do.

  • Greg

    It’s not a possibility, or a long way off, if you want to know the truth look up united nuclear, they have had a working system for years. It was made illegal by the Bush administration because folks could take it apart to make fireworks, yes thats right, Fireworks. They have a system that pulls hydrogen out of the air and fills tanks with hydrogen. The system lets you switch back and forth from gas to hydrogen, and if you hook the machine up to solar panels it creates free fuel. I doubt the powers that be let this post stay for long so check it out for your self.

  • jim

    “Storing hydrogen in the form of water is very much possible without complex process.” But getting it to burn is a little harder. Good luck. Oh, all your “miracle” engines have to meet emissions regulations, and driveability, manufacturability, reliability, noise, cost, etc.

  • LouG

    General Question Here. If solar generates “excess” electrical during day -grid can’t use- is it practical and economical to use it to generate hydrogen rather than feed it into grid. Yes, it might be inefficient but given the abundance of sunlight who would care? LouG

  • styke

    I agree with Jim Butts regarding the superiority of natural gas over hydrogen for almost all uses. The thing about natural gas (methane) is that, like hydrogen, it takes high pressures and large volumes to store the fuel. Not as bad as hydrogen, mind you, but still a real problem.
    But solutions like this one may help with methane storage, too. Cutting the pressure and volume of methane storage tanks would enable it to become the fuel of choice for transportation.

  • Jason

    I thought United Nuclear’s system cracked water into Hydrogen via the home based refueling system, maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t surprise me that some “oil buddies” had this system shelved. I have been following some plans laid out by the late Stan Meyer. His idea was to crack water into Hydrogen and Oxygen by using a PWM system running around 20kHz, to make the power usage efficient instead of a power hog by running straight DC from a battery. Still building mine PWM, but my tank works. If I can make it work, it would be cheaper than United Nuclear’s and would be on demand, no Hydrogen storage.

  • Scott

    There is still the problem that it takes at least as much energy to separate hydrogen as you get by when burning or reacting it. Energy is not free and solar is not either.

  • Samaira

    It sounds great but… will it be a practical success?

  • Rob

    This should be done with wind power night time generation when demand is low. Otherwise this excess wind power lost due to ‘curtailment’ because there is much less demand for it. Hydrogen is also considered an ideal medium for storing energy, and now with this method of storing hydrogen it could become practical.

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