Alloy ‘Sponge’ Touted as Fuel Cell Breakthrough

Scientists are claiming the creation of an aluminum ‘sponge’ that could hold the key to promote mass adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The UK’s BBC has reported that the Science journal has published details of the material that help carmakers replace bulky and expensive high-pressure hydrogen tanks with cheaper, lightweight alternatives that can carry more fuel and extend the range of FCEVs. The material contains billions of tiny pores where a single gram (0.035oz) of it boasts a surface area equal to that of a soccer pitch.

At present one of the current issues with hydrogen fuel is that to carry enough of it at normal atmospheric pressure, the tanks would have to be unfeasibly large – to reach a 62 mile range a vehicle would need to carry 11,000-liters of hydrogen. So, currently the gas is stored under very high pressure of about 700 bar in heavy duty expensive tanks to allow a usable range of around 320 miles.

The new material, dubbed NU-1501, is described as a metal-organic framework built from organic molecules and metal ions which self-assemble to form highly crystalline, porous frameworks. The BBC reports Professor Omar Farha, from Northwestern University in Evanston, US, who led the research, saying: “It’s like a bath sponge but with very ordered cavities. With a sponge, if you spill water and you wipe it, in order to reuse the sponge, you squeeze it. With this material we use the same thing – we use pressure to store and release these gas molecules. So, it works exactly like a bath sponge, except in a very smart programmed way.”

He said the framework allows gas to be stored in the vehicle at a much lower pressure. Farha added: “We can store tremendous amounts of hydrogen and methane within the pores of the metal-organic framework and deliver them to the engine of the vehicle at lower pressures than needed for current fuel cell vehicle.”

His team of researchers developed the absorbent material for the US Department of Defense as potential protection for its military personnel against nerve gas attacks. The material has already exceeded targets set by the US Department of Energy for on-board storage and delivery systems for alternative fuels.

Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *