Hydrogen may soon become far easier (and safer) to store, thanks to the development of a new class of ceramic materials by researchers at the University of California, San Diego.
The new materials are composed of a mixture of calcium hexaboride, strontium, and barium hexaboride — this is the first time that such compounds have been made. Importantly, these new compounds can be produced using a rather simple and low-cost method — combustion synthesis.
One of the great advantages to the (potential) use of these new materials is that they can be manufactured faster and cheaper than the materials currently in use can be. The research is still in the proof of concept stage, though, so some unknowns remain. The work is a collaboration between UC San Diego, Alfred University in upstate New York and the University of Nevada, Reno.
“We are looking for solid materials that can store and release hydrogen easily,” stated Olivia Graeve, a professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. “Storing hydrogen has become increasingly important as hydrogen fuel cells become more popular power sources in industry and elsewhere. But hydrogen, the lightest element on the periodic table, is difficult to store. It tends to diffuse through the walls of pressurized tanks. It also needs to be compressed in order to occupy manageable amounts of space when stored.”
The press release from the University of California – San Diego provides more:
The resulting ceramics are essentially crystalline structures in a cage of boron. To store hydrogen, the researchers would swap the calcium, strontium and boron with hydrogen atoms within the cage.
Engineers mixed boron with metal nitrates and organic fuels, such as urea, in a box furnace at temperatures below 400 degrees Celsius — roughly 750 degrees Fahrenheit — cooler than a commercial pizza oven. The nitrates and organic fuels ignite, generating heat that then drives the reaction without the need for an external source of power. This method is known as combustion synthesis.
“It’s a very simple, nice process,” Graeve noted.
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