A team of engineers from the University of New South Wales has made an exciting discovery that it hopes will help advance the cause of hydrogen fuel as a viable alternative energy source – particularly for use in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
The researchers from UNSW’s Materials Energy Research Laboratory in nanoscale (MERLin) have demonstrated, for the first time, that hydrogen can be released and reabsorbed from a promising storage material, overcoming a major development hurdle.
The team synthesised nanoparticles of a commonly overlooked chemical compound called sodium borohydride and encased them inside nickel shells, with the resulting unique “core-shell” nanostructure demonstrating what they describe as “remarkable” hydrogen storage properties.
“No one has ever tried to synthesise these particles at the nanoscale because they thought it was too difficult, and couldn’t be done. We’re the first to do so, and demonstrate that energy in the form of hydrogen can be stored with sodium borohydride at practical temperatures and pressures,” said Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou from the School of Chemical Engineering at UNSW.
“By controlling the size and architecture of these structures we can tune theirproperties and make them reversible – this means they can release and reabsorb hydrogen,” says Dr Aguey-Zinsou, lead author on the paper. “We now have a way to tap into all these borohydride materials, which are particularly exciting for application on vehicles because of their high hydrogen storage capacity.”
The exciting development comes hot on the heels of a declaration this week from the US Department of Energy, that hydrogen fuel cell EVs may enter into the US market soon, thanks to rapid progress in driving ranges and durability of fuel cell stacks.
The DoE’s prediction was prompted by the results of its own NREL-led research, a seven-year project that tasked four teams – each comprising an energy provider and a car maker – with the goal of creating hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles with a 250-mile driving range, 2000 hours of fuel cell durability, and a $US3 per gallon gasoline equivalent for hydrogen production costs.
The National Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Learning Demonstration Final Report found that at least one of the four teams – including Daimler and BP; GM and Shell; Chevron/UTC Power and Hyundai-Kia; and Ford and BP – exceeded each of the DOE’s targets for driving range and fuel cell durability. One industry team achieved a 254-mile driving range and another showed projected average fuel cell stack durability of 2,521 hours.
Back at the UNSW, Dr Aguey-Zinsou says the new materials that could be generated by the team’s new strategy could provide practical solutions to meet many of the energy targets set by the US DoE. “The key thing here is that we’ve opened the doorway,” he says.