Researchers at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton have made a breakthrough in hydrogen storage. They have successfully condensed hydrogen gas into a usable solid under mild conditions.
“The challenge is to find a safer, more efficient and economical way to store hydrogen so that it can be released on demand,” explained chemist Sean McGrady, the lead researcher on the project. “The way to do this is to turn hydrogen into a compound — a solid — so you can use it when you want, safely, in the amount you want.”
Hydrogen gas is typically stored under pressure in large metal cylinders, approximately four feet high. These cylinders are heavy and expensive to transport. Since they are under pressure, they also pose a safety hazard.
“We’ve reached a milestone with our ability to condense hydrogen into a usable solid,” said Dr. McGrady. “The next step is to produce a safe, compact storage system for the compound that is both lightweight and affordable.”
The research is expected to produce reversible hydrogen storage materials that can be processed into a powder for use in limitless commercial applications.
UNB has a Research and License Agreement with HSM Systems Inc., a local company dedicated to the development and commercialization of novel technologies and materials for the storage and transport of hydrogen.
“We are ecstatic about the results” said Chris Willson, president of HSM. “One of the bottlenecks for bringing hydrogen into everyday use is the problem with storage. This storage problem prevents hydrogen from competing with gasoline as a fuel, even though it burns more efficiently and pollution free.”
In collaboration with Dr. McGrady’s team, HSM is currently testing an initial product that stores more than six per cent hydrogen by weight. The next step is to develop a more cost efficient product that will store more than nine per cent hydrogen by weight.
HSM believes that this will lead to acceptance of its materials as the industry standard. This will allow for the expansion of HSM into hydride tanker trucks for the widespread distribution of hydrogen, and the use of its hydrogen storage container as a fuel tank within fuel cell and hydrogen powered vehicles.
“Working with UNB as our main technology partner has paid huge dividends for the company” said Mr. Willson. “Having the brilliant research minds at the university combined with a very co-operative work environment has made the board decision to locate the company in Fredericton an easy one.”
HSM, with UNB, has secured more than $3.3 million in research and development funding, including a $2.2 million repayable loan from the Atlantic Innovation Fund and over $800,000 from private equity investors in the United States.
Today HSM is engaged in multiple research projects with the university and others that will lead to the storage and distribution of hydrogen that is lighter, safer, and more economical than existing means.
“We not only see these technologies being adaptable for current hydrogen applications but for future ones such as automotive, distributed and bulk energy, and residential fuel cells,” said Mr. Willson. “From an environmental perspective, this will also help reduce greenhouse gases and non-renewable energy use.”
Dr. McGrady has assembled a world class research team of eight — one of the largest research and development teams focused on hydrogen in Canada and one of very few in the country dedicated to novel hydrogen storage materials. The UNB team is collaborating with one of the top hydrogen research groups in the world. This team is led by Craig Jensen, an inorganic chemist at the University of Hawaii. Dr. Jensen has won several awards from the Department of the Environment in the United States for his work on hydrogen storage and holds four U.S. patents.
Drs. McGrady and Jensen are presenting the results of their latest studies and experimental details at the American Physical Society’s March meeting this week in Denver, Colo.
A professor in the department of chemistry at UNB Fredericton, Dr. McGrady has over 20 years’ experience in handling reactive inorganic materials. With nearly 60 peer-reviewed publications and two U.S. patents to his credit, he has achieved an international reputation for his research in the area of organometallic and inorganic chemistry. Dr. McGrady earned a PhD at the University of Oxford and held faculty positions at the universities of Oxford and London before moving to Canada in 2003. In 2006 he was named a UNB Research Scholar, an award which allows him to concentrate on his research full time.
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