U of Virginia Discovers Hydrogen Storage Breakthrough

Scientists at the University of Virginia have announced the discovery of a new hydrogen storage material that could nearly double the capabilities of current storage technologies. If the material turns out to be something that can be commercialized, it could bring hydrogen storage tanks much closer to the size of gas tanks. The researchers plan to license to technology via the University of Virginia.

While much attention is focused on the creation of energy, investors know that storing and transporting the stuff is just as important as its point-source generation. That’s why the work done by oil pipelines and tankers is such a big business. When it comes to cleaner energy sources, the storage problems don’t go away. In fact, they’re usually worse.

The hydrogen that is supposed to underpin “the hydrogen economy” is a great lens into cleantech storage problems. Normally, hydrogen is a gas, which is, by definition, very low density, making it difficult to move large amounts of it. In liquid form, it needs cryogenic storage to move, which obviously isn’t feasible for most uses. (Unless you generally happen to carry a handy freezer around with you.)

So, researchers use certain solid materials inside which they can transport the hydrogen. These alloys can release hydrogen gas on demand without deteriorating. Previously, magnesium hydride was the hydrogen storage king, able to store around 7.5 percent hydrogen in a given amount of the metal. And the metal required all sorts of special temperature conditions to work.

The U.Va. researchers claim that their metal can store 14 percent hydrogen at room temperature, which, if it proves replicable, would be a major advance. According to a local newspaper, the material is “a mixture of carbon and metals such as titanium, nickel and iron.”

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