Hydrogen has long been considered a promising alternative to fossil fuels for powering cars, trucks and even homes. But one major obstacle has been finding lightweight, robust and inexpensive ways of storing the gas, whose atoms are so tiny they can easily escape from many kinds of containers.
New research by a team from MIT and several other institutions analyzes the performance of a class of materials considered a promising candidate for such storage: activated carbon that incorporates a platinum catalyst, so hydrogen atoms can bond directly to the surface of carbon particles and then be released when needed.
Such a storage system could avoid the cost and weight associated with conventional hydrogen storage: Current approaches either liquefy the gas, requiring energy-intensive systems and heavy insulation to maintain a temperature of minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit; or store it under high pressure, requiring powerful pumps and robust tanks to withstand 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure. Bonding the hydrogen to a highly porous, sponge-like material such as a metal hydride or activated carbon makes it possible to use ambient pressure and room temperature in storage tanks that could be lighter, cheaper and safer.
Feature written by David l. Chandler for MIT News Office.
Photo: Sow-Hsin Chen, left, and Yun Liu SM ’03, PhD ’05, right.