Breakthrough Hydrogen Storage Solution Paves the Way for Large-Scale Adoption

Hydrogen was thought to be the perfect solution for decarbonization, but the fact that it is expensive to produce and complicated to store has limited its use. Now, researchers at the Leibniz Institute of Catalysis found a simple and effective way to store hydrogen as a fuel.
Breakthrough hydrogen storage solution paves the way for large-scale adoption 6 photos
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Theoretically, hydrogen is the ideal fuel for a carbon-free future. It can flow through existing gas pipes and be burnt in the same manner fossil fuels are. When it burns, it produces mostly water as a by-product. Well, that is not entirely true because the air contains other components, mainly nitrogen, which means harmful nitrogen oxides (the NOx we keep hearing about) are also released into the atmosphere.

The best argument for hydrogen is that it can be used as fuel in existing combustion engines with minimal modifications. But there are plenty of arguments against it as well. For starters, it isn’t easy to produce. It’s funny because hydrogen is the most abundant element on Earth, but it is almost never found in pure form. It needs to be sourced from water or fossil fuels, both methods being polluting and energy-consuming. This makes hydrogen a pretty expensive fuel and not quite clean.

Even if we could produce it at scale with minimal costs, there’s another problem: storage and transportation. Hydrogen is highly flammable and pretty unstable, so transporting and storing it is problematic. Usually, hydrogen is liquified to make it easier to store and transport, but this requires ultra-low temperatures and high-pressure containers, which raises the costs. But there’s another method, to use chemical processes for hydrogen storage.

More specifically, storing it in solid salts through hydrogenation. The process is reversible, which means the hydrogen is released when a reverse reaction happens. Until now, such methods needed precious metals as catalysts, resulting in carbon dioxide being released during the reverse reaction. As you see, expensive and environmentally unfriendly. German researchers at the Leibniz Institute of Catalysis found a cost-effective solution to this problem by using carbonate and bicarbonate salts.

Their study published in the journal ACS Central Science shows that carbonate and bicarbonate salts are a better storage method, allowing the use of metal manganese, a widely available element, as a catalyst. It took a while to gauge the right combination of salts and acids, and they finally found out that converting bicarbonate and hydrogen into formate (the salt of formic acid) was most effective with potassium in the presence of manganese as a catalyst.

Their method also solved the carbon dioxide problem. By adding lysine, an amino acid that acts as a promoter of the reaction, the carbon dioxide is fixed, preventing it from releasing into the atmosphere. The reaction temperature does not exceed 200 Fahrenheit (93 Celsius), below the water’s boiling point.

The process is reversible, and the study shows that the method gave a high hydrogen yield at 80% after five cycles. The hydrogen release was 99% pure, which makes it suitable for commercial applications. The researchers believe that tweaking the chemical components further would raise the yields above 90%. Thus hydrogen would be quite easy to store and transport as salts and released at the point of sale (fueling stations) as needed.


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