There are two main reasons why hydrogen fuel has not yet become the miracle clean and powerful juice for vehicles. These are storage and safety.
The temperatures at which hydrogen burns in order to turn into liquid fuel are very extreme. This is why all hydrogen-powered four-wheelers currently on the market rely on fusion of hydrogen and oxygen to generate power. What is more, in these cars hydrogen is stored and transported around in very expensive pressurized tanks, capable of safeguard the gas and prevent disasters.
This is of course far from optimal, hence why many engineering ans scientific teams around the world continue to explore all possible options. With all this energy focused on the task at hand, it was only a matter of time before someone discovered the solution to all troubles.
So, here it is- the invention that can potentially make hydrogen vehicles the biggest mode of transport out there.
A new polymer that can be used to build the safest hydrogen-storing containers, developed by a team at the Waseda University, Japan.
The new polymer is made of fluorenol, an organic compound, currently found in antimalarial drugs. The special property of this type of compounds is their ability to form bonds with hydrogen, making transport and storage much safer.
The researchers behind the invention state that the polymer can be molded just as easily as a regular plastic sheet. It fixes hydrogen at room temperature through an electrolytic hydrogeneration at -1.5V (versus Ag/AgCl) in water. The release of hydrogen to make it available for use happens by heating up the polymer to 80°C (176° F) using an aqueous iridium catalyst. Just a note here, iridium is a well know catalyst used extensively in numerous industries including the automotive and medical.
In the paper published in Nature Communications, these conditions are described by the team as relatively mild, and unpretentious. All that is needed is water, heat and iridium.
Now, in terms of capacity, the polymer is not yet great. For fluorenol alone it is 1.1 wt%, and as the fluorenol polymer system – it is 0.29 wt%. The team, however, is very hopeful. They believe that by integrating a hydrogen fixing unit, such as piperazine tetranol, the capacity can increase to 2.8 wt%.
Overall, there is quite some potential and a great hope. It is true, there is room for improvement, but there is also a lot to work with. The polymer is safe, easy to use, cheap, non-toxic, non-flammable and it can be molded into any shape. It does not deteriorate easily, meaning that it can go through numerous fixing-releasing cycles without much change in capacity.
There is nothing that prevents future manufacturers from shaping the polymer into tiny hydrogen-storage containers that can replace all those heavy portable storage devices. Of course, it can also go big, providing safe storage of hydrogen for vehicles, homes and even entire businesses.
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