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Hydrogen Makes Metals Brittle: Fraunhofer Researchers Improving Material Technologies


Being the core of the dispute between early electric car adopters, hydrogen may be the solution to the electric movement, eventually even beating batteries by cleanliness. The technology behind hydrogen powered cars poses a few issues, though.

One of them is the property of hydrogen of making metals become brittle. Steel, magnesium, aluminum, regularly used in the making of high pressure fueling systems reduce their ductility and hence durability in the presence of hydrogen.

For studying the effect of hydrogen on metals, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg, Germany, have devised a special laboratory that may help them find materials and manufacturing processes that are not affected by this phenomenon. Nicholas Winzer, one of the scientists, says: “With our new special laboratory, we are investigating how and at which speed hydrogen migrates through a metal. We are able to detect the points at which the element accumulates in the material, and where it doesn’t.”

With special heat treatments, the Fraunhofer team is able to measure the diffusible portion of the hydrogen and the rate that it’s transported through the meta while at the same time applying mechanical stress on the material to see how it behaves under such conditions. They even have a special tensile test equipment that measures mechanical loading and hydrogen infiltration at the same time. Aided by computer simulations, the scientists then calculate the hydrogen embrittlement in the metals they studied.

It’s important for the industry to have precise manufacturing technologies because as electric cars will feature more and more power, the mechanical stress on various parts of the vehicle will increase, and in the case of hydrogen the weak part is the fueling system.

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