Rice Researchers Say Tiny Cages Can Hold Super-Dense Hydrogen

With gas prices well over $3 a gallon, scientists are working harder than ever to figure out ways to perfect alternative ways to power vehicles. At Rice Univeristy, researchers have taken a small step toward figuring out how to store hydrogen in a dense-enough form to be used as fuel. Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams explains.

For years, researchers have looked for ways to store hydrogen in a
practical and cost-effective way for use in vehicles. It hasn’t been
easy for scientists like Rice University mechanical engineering
and materials science professor Boris Yakobson.

“The difficulty with hydrogen is that it’s a very volatile gas. It likes to
be in gas form. It’s very difficult to compress to sufficient density to
be stored onboard a vehicle or an airplane someday. As a result, there
is a pretty broad and diverse research effort nationwide and even
worldwide in trying to find some storage options.”

But Yakobson thinks he’s closer than ever to proving tiny
carbon cages, known as buckyballs, can store highly-dense
volumes of hydrogen. The research is only theoretical at this
point, but using calculations, Yakobson has found the super-
strong carbon cages, even at larger sizes, can hold enough
condensed hydrogen to make them viable as possible energy
storage devices.

“To be safe, I can tell you from the graphs and plots which we
included in this report, you can see that even if you go down
to one-quarter of the failure limit, you still have pretty good
density of hydrogen and good fraction between amount of
stored hydrogen and the weight of the cage.”

While Yakobson and his colleagues have determined the
buckyballs are strong enough to hold condensed hydrogen,
they haven’t figured-out yet how to get the gas inside the tiny
carbon cages. He says there might be several options.

“You can open cage wall, open hole there, and then you can
close it again. It has been demonstrated. The question is of
course which remains, can you do it at high pressure, because
after you open it you have to put hydrogen inside and then
doing second reaction may be difficult.”

Another option Yakobson wants to try is to simply immerse the
buckyballs in hydrogen and see if they somehow absorb the gas.
His research appears on the cover of the American Chemical
Society’s journal Nano Letters this month.


Jack Williams

Jack Williams

News Director and Afternoon Host

Jack Williams is HPM’s news director and afternoon host on News 88.7. He’s been with the organization since 2000, including stints as a reporter and news anchor. Jack leads the largest public radio newsroom in Texas and has overseen significant growth in HPM’s news division since he became news director...

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