Researchers in the US have discovered that aluminium could make it cheaper and easier to store and transport hydrogen.
They claim that by impregnating an aluminium surface with another metal that facilitates a catalytic reaction, they can break down and capture individual hydrogen atoms, potentially leading to a robust and affordable fuel storage system.
Hydrogen naturally occurs as molecules of two atoms and has to be stored under great pressure and at very low temperatures, which is impractical if you want to power a vehicle or provide electricity for a home.
Noble metals, such as platinum, have traditionally been used as the catalyst to break the chemical bond between two hydrogen atoms. However, their scarcity makes them prohibitively expensive for widespread use.
Yves Chabal from Texas University and Santanu Chaudhuri at Washington State University used aluminium coated in titanium.
‘The results prove for the first time that titanium-doped aluminium can activate hydrogen in ways that are comparable to expensive and less-abundant catalyst metals such as palladium and other near-surface alloys consisting of similar noble metals and their bimetallic analogues,’ Chaudhuri explained.
The titanium further advances the process by helping the hydrogen bind to the aluminium to form aluminium hydride. If used as a fuel-storage device, the aluminium hydride could be made to release its store of hydrogen by simply raising its temperature.
The study was published online in the Nature Materials journal.