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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is aiming to solve this problem by synthesizing novel materials with high hydrogen adsorption capacities.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded Berkeley Lab a three-year, $2.1 million grant for the project, which will also include contributions by the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) and General Motors (GM). The grant was part of more than $7 million awarded by DOE last month for hydrogen storage technologies in fuel cell electric vehicles.
“We’re working on materials called metal-organic frameworks to increase the capacity of hydrogen gas in a pressure cylinder, which would be the fuel tank,” said Jeffrey Long, a Berkeley Lab scientist who co-leads the project along with Berkeley Lab chemist Martin Head-Gordon. “With these materials, we’re working on storing the hydrogen without the use of very high pressures, which will be safer and also more efficient without the significant compression energy losses.”
Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are three-dimensional sponge-like framework structures that are composed primarily of carbon atoms and are extremely lightweight. “What’s very special about these materials is that you can use synthetic chemistry to modify the surfaces within the materials and make it attractive for hydrogen to stick on the surface,” Long explained.
Currently, vehicles using hydrogen fuel cells can achieve a range of close to 300 miles—but only if the hydrogen is stored at extremely high pressures (600 to 700 bar), which is expensive and potentially unsafe. It is also energy intensive to pressurize the hydrogen.
So far Long has succeeded in more than doubling hydrogen capacity, but only at very low temperatures (around 77 Kelvin, or -321 Fahrenheit).
Head-Gordon, a computational chemist, will work on theoretical understanding of MOFs so that he can try to predict their hydrogen storage properties and then instruct Long’s team as to what kind of material to synthesize.