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New process for storing and generating hydrogen to run fuel cell cars

By

June 22, 2010

Members of Purdue University's hydrothermolysis research team (Prof. Varma at left)

Members of Purdue University's hydrothermolysis research team (Prof. Varma at left)

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Fuel cell cars have come one step closer to practicality with researchers from Indiana’s Purdue University announcing a new process for the generation and storage of hydrogen. The process is called hydrothermolysis, and is a combination of hydrolysis and thermolysis – the two prevalent methods of hydrogen generation that some scientists consider impractical for use in automobiles. The new process utilizes powdered ammonia borane, a chemical that has one of the highest hydrogen yields of any solid substance.

Ammonia borane contains 19.6 percent hydrogen by weight, which means that when combined with water, a little of it can go a long way. To release that hydrogen using hydrolysis, a separate catalyst would need to be added, while in the case of thermolysis, the material would need to be heated to over 170C (330F). Hydrothermolysis, on the other hand, does the job without needing a catalyst, and at a temperature close to the regular running temperature of fuel cells.

What's more, the cells’ waste heat can be used to operate the hydrogen generation reactor, and that reactor must only maintain a pressure of 200psi, as opposed to the 5,000psi needed by current compressed hydrogen gas systems.

The researchers determined that a temperature of 85C (185F) and a concentration of 77 percent ammonia borane was ideal for maximum hydrogen yields. Under the best possible conditions, released hydrogen accounted for about 14 percent of the combined weight of the ammonia borane and water used in the process. This is reportedly much higher than hydrogen yields from other systems.

Honda FCX Clarity

"This is important because the U.S. Department of Energy has set a 2015 target of 5.5 weight percent hydrogen for hydrogen storage systems, meaning available hydrogen should be at least 5.5 percent of a system's total weight," said Prof. Arvind Varma, head of Purdue’s School of Chemical Engineering. "If you're only yielding, say, 7 percent hydrogen from the material, you're not going to make this 5.5 percent requirement once you consider the combined weight of the entire system, which includes the reactor, tubing, the ammonia borane, water, valves and other required equipment."

The team is now looking at scaling up the size of their reactor, with the intention of being able to power a vehicle for 350 miles without refueling. That said, they believe that hydrothermolysis could additionally be used to recharge the batteries of small electronic devices - perhaps giving the HYDROFILL system a run for its money? They are also looking into ways of recycling the waste products back into ammonia borane.

The research was recently published in the AIChE Journal, published by the American Chemical Society.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
6 Comments

Great! we're getting closer.... we as humankind...

Daniel Plata Baca
22nd June, 2010 @ 10:10 pm PDT

can anyone tell me where i can find more information about ammonia borane?

bio-power jeff
23rd June, 2010 @ 05:43 am PDT

Great, turn every car into an active factory.

That is not complicated or expensive......

-Dennis

www.PrometheusGoneWild.com

PrometheusGoneWild.com
23rd June, 2010 @ 06:40 am PDT

I wonder how many will remember that George W. Bush set the original target, funded early research and got the ball rolling? All his targets are being hit now and Obama is basking in the glory. George W may have played the fool but it was all an act.

Wesley Bruce
23rd June, 2010 @ 07:59 am PDT

A Major break through for hydrogen storage to run Fuel Cell Cars. Hydrogen is the future energty carrier. Congratulations for the wonderful work Purdeue University Researchers.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
23rd June, 2010 @ 08:58 pm PDT

There is a new polymer material (whose name is not easy to remember that contains a couple of indoles and a benzene per unit) used in firemen's coats that is also used as a fuel cell membrane which allows the cell to run at similar higher temperatures and be more efficient at the same time. These scientists might want to check it out. Who knows 2 2 could equal 5.

tummygun
4th February, 2011 @ 10:29 am PST
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