Delaware University scientists have found that not only the latest hi-tech nanotubes or metal composites can store hydrogen effectively, but also a substance that’s been around for millions of years, naturally: carbonized keratin.
Keratin is found in your hair, for example, or in your nails. It’s also the substance that makes up chicken feathers – and that’s what their research is all about. When heated, the keratin protein creates crosslinks, strengthening its structure, and becomes more porous, increasing its surface area.
Carbonized chicken feather fibers, for example, can store hydrogen at least as well as carbon nanotubes or metal hydrides, or even better. The difference between carbonized chicken feathers and the other two is that making a 20 gallon carbon nanotube tank would cost $5.5 million, making it from metal hydrides would cost $30,000, and from chicken feathers only $200. Which one would you choose?
Richard P. Wool, Ph.D., professor of chemical engineering and director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources program at the University of Delaware in Newark, estimates that it would take a 75-gallon tank to go 300 miles in a car using carbonized chicken feather fibers to store hydrogen. He says his team is working to improve that range.
“The problem with hydrogen as a gas or liquid is its density is too low,” Wool says. “Using currently available technology, if you had a 20-gallon tank and filled it with hydrogen at typical room temperature and pressure, you could drive about a mile. When we started we didn’t know how well carbonized chicken feathers would work for hydrogen storage, but we certainly suspected we could do a lot better than that.”
It’s a known fact that hydrogen is hard to store, and storing it at high pressures require low temperatures. Carbonized chicken feathers might just do that. In addition to this, chicken feathers are abundant: imagine the huge quantities that are thrown away each year from chicken farms – it’s one of the outputs of an immense industry that could be put to use in the favor of clean air. Plus, they could be used in making storm-proof rooftops, lightweight car parts, or ecological computer circuit boards. How about that?