Hydrogen gas is the most clean-burning gas known to man. Yet methane, even if it’s a sibling of petrol, got its way through the alternative fuels industry, and it is more widely used nowadays, as fuel prices oscillate between skyscrapers and small houses. Methane is also one of the cleanest burning fuels, and that makes it viable for a while. Methane reservoirs still exist all around the world, and there’s plenty of it to help make a clean transition to hydrogen.
Transporting the methane, though, has always been a risky and difficult task, because it’s a gas and it can explode, but chemists at the University of Liverpool have developed a way of converting methane gas into a powder form in order to make it more transportable.
Scientists have developed a material made out of a mixture of silica and water which can soak up large quantities of methane molecules. The material looks and acts like a fine white powder which, if developed for industrial use, might be easily transported or used as a vehicle fuel.
Professor Andy Cooper, Director of the Centre for Materials Discovery at the University’s Department of Chemistry, explains: “Many natural gas reserves are geographically remote and can only be extracted via pipelines, so there is a need to look for other ways to transport the gas. It has been suggested that methane gas hydrate could be used as a way of containing methane gas for transportation. The disadvantage of methane gas hydrate for industry use is that it is formed at a very slow rate when methane reacts with water under pressure.
“To counteract these difficulties we used a method to break water up into tiny droplets to increase the surface area in contact with the gas. We did this by mixing water with a special form of silica – a similar material to sand – which stops the water droplets from coalescing. This powder soaks up large quantities of methane quite rapidly at around water’s normal freezing point.”
The research team has also found out that the overall sand-like material they called “dry water” can be made from cheap raw materials. The challenge to them is to investigate how to store larger quantities of methane at higher temperatures and lower pressures.
I wonder if their material could be adapted to store hydrogen. Even if it couldn’t do that, there are recent inventions that store hydrogen very efficiently and safely. There one of them making use of a composition of several metals, and are 40% lighter than batteries.