I often wonder what it will take to get the hydrogen economy going full charge.  Now one research group is claiming a very large gain in the storage area that deserves notice.  Bellave Shivaram and Adam Phillips, physicists at the University of Virginia are discussing and disclosing their latest results at the International Symposium on Materials Issues in a Hydrogen Economy.  The press release by the University of Virginia is here.

The press release is written in cautious terms like “could prove a world record” in hydrogen absorption and “could provide a highly affordable solution to energy storage.”  I find both comments to be reassuring somehow as the cautious words spell careful thinking by the pair to not overly hype up the work.  Meanwhile, the University of Virginia has them at the university’s patent foundation and that means as they’re talking about it in symposiums and press releases are out that the cautious words have a lot of hard data behind them.

The claim is 14 percent hydrogen by weight in the storage media.  That essentially doubles the current materials at 7 or so percent.  But the current crop of materials has some problems with temperature, pressure and recovery systems that greatly diminish their workability from a point of view of mass consumer use.

The gentlemen’s hydrogen storage product is said to mitigate these problems with much faster kinetics that would allow the hydrogen absorbed to go in and come out faster and the temperature is much closer to “room temperature.”  The room temperature is good but I expect a certain amount of study of the materials at minus twenty and one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit are in order.  The pressure issue is exciting as hydrogen at high pressure strikes me as risky and economically disappointing as pressure is what makes hydrogen move and escape, so a pressure drop is very good news, indeed.  As for just what recovery system is required no information has been released at this writing.

One can get a small feel for what’s up by looking at the graphic along side the press release.  It shows H2 molecules on the sides of a “carbon metal complex” that looks anchored to an unnamed substrate.  This is pretty thin information, but one hopes as the funding came from public sources more will be forthcoming soon.

This is a large step that just begs for improvements and competitive thinking.  I would say that 14% might be workable from a transport point of view for a storage medium, although every jump that includes a low pressure ambient temperature solution with recovery that is low power and not too terribly complex to be hugely beneficial.  Another doubling to near 30% by weight would shift the hydrogen economy drive to hydrogen production as its last tough issue for mass adoption.   I expect a race to start soon.  A milestone of more than 50% by weight would change the fueling dynamic completely as the need for transport of hydrogen cooled and at high pressure would likely disappear.

As a distinctly dubious watcher of the hydrogen economy this is quite a jump into realizing the evolution to non-petroleum fuels.  It will definitely reassure a lot of investors in the hydrogen economy that their faith and confidence is well placed.  I’m still dubious, but its not so improbable looking as just last week!

If it’s cheap enough, and safe enough I could be sold a home hydrogen generator to refuel the car and/or power the HVAC at home.  That’s just become closer but it’s a ways off yet.


1 Comment so far

  1. Who Is James Hunt and Why He Might Be Really Famous Soon on November 15, 2007 9:29 AM

    […] into thinking there might be some chance that a hydrogen economy could be part of the future. The problems of storage saw a big boost earlier at the University of Virginia and now portable generation has a story to tell. In any case the sharp pencils in the fuel cell […]

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