While hydrogen fuel cells research has been an active area of research for years, certain fundamental challenges have yet to be overcome.
“The main objective is to develop a storage system to be used with a fuel cell for powering cars,” says Jason Graetz, a materials scientist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory managed by the Research Foundation’s affiliate Brookhaven Science Associates.
Graetz is the recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
One of the biggest challenges for transportation applications is that hydrogen takes up a lot of space. “Even when the gas is compressed, the volume needed for a 300-mile trip would crowd out the trunk and half of the back seat of an average-sized car,” he says.
Graetz is working on the development of new materials that can store hydrogen in a solid-state form. “A metal hydride is in some respect like a sponge,” he says. Hydrogen would be released from the material when heated.
Still there are challenges to be overcome. These include developing materials that don’t weigh too much, release hydrogen quickly on demand, and have functionality at practical temperatures and pressures.
To achieve such goals, Graetz is tinkering with materials like aluminum-based hydrides by swapping different elements in and out to change its thermodynamic properties.
In a separate project, he is testing materials that might improve performance of lithium batteries.
To Graetz, it’s still fundamental material science of energy storage – it’s just storing lithium rather than hydrogen.
The new work also aligns closely to research taking place at the Northeastern Chemical Energy Storage Center at Stony Brook University, in which Graetz participates.
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