New material delivers hydrogen storage boost

An international team of scientists has discovered a new material that allows hydrogen to be stored four times more efficiently, at a fraction of current costs.

Hydrogen powered train (Credit: Pixabay)

Known as KMH-1 (Kubas Manganese Hydride-1), it works by exploiting a chemical process called Kubas binding that distances the hydrogen atoms within a H2 molecule, without the need to split the molecule. The process works at room temperature and around 120 bar compared to current hydrogen storage systems that typically operate at around 700 bar.

KMH-1 would be used to make molecular sieves within hydrogen fuel tanks, which would feed hydrogen cells when the pressure was released. According to the researchers, the material also absorbs and stores excess energy so external heat and cooling is not required. This could result in hydrogen-powered vehicles that are significantly lighter and more efficient than existing designs.

“The cost of manufacturing our material is so low, and the energy density it can store is so much higher than a lithium-ion battery, that we could see hydrogen fuel cell systems that cost five times less than lithium-ion batteries as well as providing a much longer range – potentially enabling journeys up to around four or five times longer between fill-ups,” said research lead Professor David Antonelli, who holds the Chair in Physical Chemistry at Lancaster.

Published by the academic journal Energy and Environmental Science, the research demonstrated that the material could enable the storage of four times as much hydrogen in the same volume as existing hydrogen fuel systems. The technology has been licenced by the University of South Wales to a spin-out company called Kubagen, which is part-owned by Professor Antonelli. While the benefits for cars and HGVs are obvious, the team envisions the technology having many applications beyond road vehicles.

“This material can also be used in portable devices such as drones or within mobile chargers so people could go on week-long camping trips without having to recharge their devices,” said Antonelli.

“The real advantage this brings is in situations where you anticipate being off grid for long periods of time, such as long haul truck journeys, drones, and robotics. It could also be used to run a house or a remote neighbourhood off a fuel cell.”

Contributors to the research included scientists from the UK, USA, Canada, Bulgaria and Switzerland. It was funded by Chrysler (FCA), Hydro-Quebec Research Institute, the University of South Wales, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Welsh Government and the University of Manchester.