Berkeley Lab creates revolutionary storage medium for hydrogen fuel

By Editors on March 16, 2011 1:43 PM

While a number of crucial challenges remain en route to making hydrogen the automotive fuel of the future, a discovery by research scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory may prove the key to helping solve one of the stickiest. This recent breakthough involves the creation of a new storage medium for the hydrogen gas required to power a vehicle's fuel-cell. It comes in the form of a composite material that consists of a matrix of polymethyl methcrylate (a Plexiglas-like polymer structure) laced with nanoparticles of magnesium.

Like previous solid-based carriers, this innovative combination of metallic magnesium nanocrystals dispersed in a gas-barrier polymer matrix eliminates the need for a high-pressure tank to contain the hydrogen gas and keep it stable. However, the material developed at the Berkeley Lab goes far beyond, in that it can process and store a greater volume and density of gas without the associated extreme heating and cooling normally required -- and do so without oxidizing the magnesium during the process.

"This work showcases our ability to design composite nanoscale materials that overcome fundamental thermodynamic and kinetic barriers to realize a materials combination that has been very elusive historically," says Jeff Urban, Deputy Director of the Inorganic Nanostructures Facility at the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science nanoscience center and national user facility located at Berkeley Lab. "Moreover, we are able to productively leverage the unique properties of both the polymer and nanoparticle in this new composite material, which may have broad applicability to related problems in other areas of energy research."