Hydrogen really could be the energy of the future. It is renewable, abundant, and 100% environmentally friendly. The obstacles restricting its global use are the difficulties of collecting it (pure hydrogen doesn’t occur naturally) and storing it in the quantities necessary for producing significant energy levels. Scientists at the University of Oregon have recently developed a way of storing hydrogen in a liquid form that is stable in both air and moisture, and workable at room temperature. It could minimise the current obstacles to storage and transportation, enabling an eventual transition to a hydrogen based energy infrastructure.
Pure hydrogen burns and reacts with the oxygen readily available in the air to produce heat and water, with no other chemical by products. Due to the clean nature of the fuel and the energy it produces it is already being researched for powering vehicles, however, as I mentioned earlier the current storage options available are limited.
Obviously, being a gas hydrogen stores far less potential energy than current liquid fuels such as petroleum. The density of the gas, and therefore the energy stored, can be improved by storing hydrogen at higher pressures but this increases the working costs. Current, state of the art hydrogen storage includes carbon fibre reinforced tanks to store the gas at 5,000-10,000psi, and is currently used in prototype hydrogen powered vehicles, but due to the high pressure requirements of the tanks the production costs are high. Also, such high pressured gas storage could prove devastating if the tanks rupture in crashes.
A group of four scientists under the supervision of Shih-Yuan Liu at the University of Oregon have managed to develop a material that combines with hydrogen to form a stable liquid storage solution.
The compound, BN-methylcyclopentane, remains as a liquid and can be “charged” by introducing hydrogen atoms. Iron chloride is then used as a catalyst to release the hydrogen in a clean, fast and controllable manner.
The research was funded by the US Department of Energy in the push to discover a viable carrier for hydrogen fuel by 2017. Many believe that this new approach could prove more useful than other techniques currently studied because it is liquid, rather than the solid metal hydrides, absorbent materials and ammonia borane upon which most efforts currently focus. A liquid based form of storage would ease a transition from petroleum to hydrogen as existing templates and systems would require little modification.
As Liu said, "The availability of a liquid-phase hydrogen storage material could represent a practical hydrogen storage option for mobile and carrier applications that takes advantage of the currently prevalent liquid-based fuel infrastructure."
If this new storage platform is approved and continues to work following further tests and application, the major challenges it faces are to increase the hydrogen yield of the liquid so that more energy can be stored, and also to develop a more energy efficient method of combining the hydrogen with the BN-methylcyclopentane.
The widely available, practical application of hydrogen based fuel is still in its infancy, but hopefully with continued breakthroughs such as this the dream of CO2 emission-free transport is not too far away.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com