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The Ultimate Hydrogen Storage – Made of Corncobs!


We can call this week the “hydrogen storage week”, here on The Green Optimistic. We discussed so much about hydrogen storage, that it’s a pity not to include the following news related to it.

Scientists from the University of Missouri and Midwest Research Institute (MRI) were recently awarded a three-year, $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to continue studying a solution to hydrogen storage in vehicles.

In short, what did they find so interesting, that it’s worth $1.9 million? Well, by using corncobs to make carbon briquettes through a special multi-step process, and doping the carbon with boron, they managed to make a material that can store large amounts of gas (in this case hydrogen) at low pressures, eliminating the danger of explosion and allowing for more flexible and less bulky fuel tank designs. One thing is to be noted here: one gram of carbon made from corncobs has its molecular internal surface equal to a football field, plus it has been proved that adding the boron will further increase this capacity in great amounts.

“Developmental hydrogen vehicles exist today but current designs require large, bulky tanks of compressed hydrogen gas to hold the fuel,” said Peter Pfeifer, professor and chair of the Department of Physics in the MU College of Arts and Science. “The tanks also have a relatively small range, only holding enough fuel to travel up to 200 miles. We will be working on reducing the size and weight of the tank and increasing the storage capacity by developing storage materials that hold hydrogen at a much lower pressure than the current high-pressure tanks. The new tanks will store hydrogen on the surface of appropriately engineered carbons.”

Pfeifer will work with M. Frederick Hawthorne, professor of radiology, chemistry and physics and director of the MU International Institute for Nano and Molecular Medicine; Carlos Wexler, associate professor of physics; Galen Suppes, professor of chemical engineering; and researchers at MRI in Kansas City to develop the hydrogen storage material. The research is a continuation of previous studies of  Pfeifer and his colleagues who found out the previously-mentioned properties of carbonized corncobs.

Making hydrogen tanks out of corn is a much better idea than making fuel out of it. Being funded by the DOE, the projects are a part of Bush’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative as well as the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative for reducing the foreign oil dependence. I hope, that if finalized well, this invention will be ported to Europe, too.

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