Robin Gremaud, a researcher from Netherlands, found out through experimentation that an alloy of the metals magnesium, titanium and nickel is absorbing hydrogen very well. What’s most interesting about his discovery is that the three metals form a very light alloy, about 40% lighter than a Lithium Ion battery pack at the same size (for example, a Prius battery weights 317 kg, while this hydrogen tank would only weight 200 kg).
It’s a known fact that hydrogen is considered the gas of the future. It can be burned normally in combustion engines, or it can be used in a hydrogen fuel cell to create electricity, which can be used in whatever purposes (mostly in electric vehicles, where mobility is the key). It’s also known that hydrogen is very explosive, and making safe storage for it is as demanding for its scientists as it is for the battery makers to make lighter and more powerful units.
The discovery started from a discovery of the VU University from Amsterdam of about ten years ago, when they found out that certain metals change their reflecting properties when they absorb hydrogen. The phenomenon is called “switchable mirrors”, and it is currently being used in a technique called “hydrogenography“. What Gremaud did was use hydrogenography to measure the efficiency of thousands of different combinations of magnesium, titanium and nickel.
The analysis requires each of the three metals to be eroded from an individual source and deposited onto a transparent film in a thin layer of 100 nanometres using so-called sputtering deposition. This ensures that the three metals are deposited onto the film in many different ratios. When the film is exposed to different amounts of hydrogen, it is clearly visible, even to the naked eye, which composition of metals is best at absorbing hydrogen.
Although some other hydrogen storage solutions using nano-fibers have been discovered, Gremaud is the first who used this method to quantify the absorbtion properties of different metals. Ilika, a UK-based company in Southampton, wants to use this technology to build a hydrogen analyzer.
Update: I wrote mr Gremaud about the mistake in the text that said the tank is 60% lighter than batteries (200kg of 317kg is not 60 lighter, but 40%), and a colleague of his, Ronald GRIESSEN, replied that there was indeed an error in the text. I corrected this post’s title from “60% lighter than batteries” to “40% lighter…”.