Hydrogen-powered fuel cells hold enormous promise as a power source for future generations. Hydrogen is the simplest element known to humans. Each atom of hydrogen has only one proton. It is also the most abundant gas in the universe. Hydrogen has a unique property. It carries the highest energy content of any common fuel by weight (about three times more than gasoline), but interestingly it has the lowest energy content by volume (about four times less than gasoline). Hydrogen is the lightest element, and it is a gas at normal temperature and pressure. Hydrogen is not a widely used fuel today but it has great potential as an energy carrier in the future. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of sources (water, fossil fuels, and biomass) and is a byproduct of other chemical processes.
Large quantities of hydrogen can be easily stored for the future use, unlike electricity. Another advantage is hydrogen can also be used in places where it’s hard to use electricity. Hydrogen can store the energy until it’s required and can be moved to the place where it’s needed. Hydrogen is pollution free energy source in a fuel cell. Inside a fuel cell, the hydrogen and oxygen combine and produce electricity, water and heat as a waste. No poisonous fumes emit in this whole process. Another advantage is hydrogen is found in plenty in the universe, constituting about 93% of all atoms. Hydrogen is regarded as perfect fuel. Water is its major reserve on earth which is almost inexhaustible. The use of hydrogen is compatible with nature, rather than invasive.
Scientists all over the world are working hard to make hydrogen as fuel of the future. Hydrogen has the potential to be clean fuel in the future, but storage of hydrogen in a form suitable for mass transport is arduous. Hydrogen is a fuel and in gas form hydrogen is highly explosive, but solid materials come to our rescue here. These solids can absorb and store the fuel in a much safer way. But solid hydrogen storage materials can be very heavy. Lithium ion batteries are used for electric transportation but these lithium batteries can also be pretty weighty.
Dutch researchers are trying out a new method for discovering hydrogen storage materials. They have one candidate metal alloy that could provide a much lighter storage system. Dutch-sponsored researcher Robin Gremaud and his team are developing a mixture of magnesium, titanium and nickel for storing hydrogen. This alloy could be up to 60% lighter than a lithium battery giving out a similar amount of energy for a car. They are using a new technique “hydrogenography” to find out the right kind of metal alloy. They are not going for the normal and laborious method of synthesizing various combinations of alloys. They are using very thin film of thousands of different metal alloys and watching out the changes in their response to light after soaking up the hydrogen. Commercial production of these alloys will take time. But this new technique hydrogenography could bring into light many new candidate materials for hydrogen storage. Gremaud, is currently working on another family of alloys at Empa in Switzerland that could potentially achieve hydrogen storage of up to 18 wt%. A UK company Ilika is also testing Gremaud’s technique to find out potential candidates for hydrogen storage.