Mention hydrogen, and for anyone who’s watched Myth Busters or The History Channel, the name Hindenburg immediately comes to mind. The reason is because hydrogen, especially large quantities of pure hydrogen, is one of the most reactive substances we know of, and it wants to get rid of that solo electron so bad it’ll bond with anything, with fiery results.
This is also the reason we hardly ever find pure hydrogen in the atmosphere, but usually as part of something else, such as water [H2O]. On the other hand, hydrogen’s reactivity makes it a great fuel, if it can be contained. Add to this the fact that it has zero carbon dioxide emissions, and it could be the perfect fuel.
Think back to Hindenburg just a moment and remember the year, 1937, and now that we’re a good 75 years past that, we’ve got a little less to worry about regarding hydrogen-fueled explosions. The 10,000 psi compressed hydrogen tanks in hydrogen fuel cell [HFC] and specially modified internal combustion engine [hICE] vehicles are safe enough, and unlikely to be explosive.
Still, refueling HFC and hICE vehicles requires including production, storage, transportation, and delivery of this highly reactive gas. If the number of hydrogen-powered vehicles continues to increase, then supporting infrastructure, and the risks, also must increase.
Researchers in Italy and India may have perfected the use of ammonia borane [H3NBH3], a hydrogen-rich molecule, in order to produce, store, transport, and deliver hydrogen to HFC and hICE vehicles. Ammonia borane is one of the most stable hydrogen-rich compounds, and when combined with a nanostructured catalyst such as cobalt boride [CoB], releases the hydrogen as a gas, leaving only a spent compound which can be rehydrogenated later.
The benefit of this new method is that production of hydrogen gas can be accomplished, in the vehicle or at the station, on demand, limiting the amount of reactive gas present at any given time. Additionally, it is much cheaper to produce, as it doesn’t require expensive catalyst metals or pressurized storage and transport.