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.
"The unique nature of Berkeley Lab encourages cross-division collaborations without any limitations," said Jeon, now at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, whose postdoctoral work with Urban led to this publication.
To investigate the uptake and release of hydrogen in their nanocomposite material, the team turned to Berkeley Lab's Energy and Environmental Technologies Division (EETD), whose research is aimed at developing more environmentally friendly technologies for generating and storing energy, including hydrogen storage.
"Here at EETD, we have been working closely with industry to maintain a hydrogen storage facility as well as develop hydrogen storage property testing protocols," says Samuel Mao, director of the Clean Energy Laboratory at Berkeley Lab and an adjunct engineering faculty member at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. "We very much enjoy this collaboration with Jeff and his team in the Materials Sciences Division, where they developed and synthesized this new material, and were then able to use our facility for their hydrogen storage research."
Adds Urban, "This ambitious science is uniquely well-positioned to be pursued within the strong collaborative ethos here at Berkeley Lab. 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."
This research is reported in a paper titled, "Air-stable magnesium nanocomposites provide rapid and high-capacity hydrogen storage without heavy metal catalysts," appearing in the journal Nature Materials and available in Nature Materials online. Co-authoring the paper with Urban, Kisielowski and Jeon were Hoi Ri Moon, Anne M. Ruminski, Bin Jiang and Rizia Bardhan.
This work was supported by DOE's Office of Science.
The Molecular Foundry is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE's Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit nano.energy.gov.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory managed by the University of California for the DOE Office of Science. Berkeley Lab provides solutions to the world's most urgent scientific challenges including sustainable energy, climate change, human health, and a better understanding of matter and force in the universe. It is a world leader in improving our lives through team science, advanced computing, and innovative technology. Visit our Website at www.lbl.gov
Contact: Aditi Risbud email@example.com 510-486-4861 DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory