Efficient hydrogen storage aim for Bolton and Berkeley collaboration

Posted on Wednesday 4th December 2013
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Dr Sofoklis Makridis

Efficient hydrogen powered vehicles could soon be a regular sight on the world’s roads, according to an expert in hydrogen storage at the University of Bolton.

Researchers at Bolton are working in collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, USA, one of the world’s leading research institutions, on developing Nano-composite materials to store hydrogen more efficiently.

Combining basic science and engineering, they are also trying to achieve other new developments in hydrogen storage technology and CO2 capture, by using innovative membranes. The projects could revolutionise the green energy and hydrogen storage sector in the UK.

Many scientists and environmentalists see hydrogen as an ideal clean fuel as it produces no air pollutants or greenhouse gases when used in fuel cells. It also produces only nitrogen oxides when burned in traditional Internal Combustion Engines (ICE).

The downside is, when used in vehicles, hydrogen contains much less energy than petrol or diesel on a per-volume basis so the vehicle doesn’t travel as far. This makes it difficult to store enough hydrogen to make it a viable, cost-effective alternative to traditional fossil fuels. That is why finding efficient ways of storing the gas is so important and that is what this collaboration project is aiming to achieve.

Dr Sofoklis Makridis from Bolton’s Institution for Renewable Energy and Environmental Technologies (IREET) is researching and developing the complex composite nanomaterial at Bolton. He said: ‘Hydrogen storage is the Holy Grail in the hydrogen economy and green technologies.

‘The techniques we use in this project are to turn materials into more efficient hydrogen absorbers. It can be applicable to many conventional technologies like nuclear applications, improvement of cheap mineral coals, small hydrogen storage for laptops and mobile phones, but the main idea is for electric cars coupled with fuel cells.’

Many of the world’s top car manufacturers are developing hydrogen powered vehicles, but their cost still makes them a more expensive alternative to fossil fuel-powered cars. This makes efficient hydrogen storage even more important for commercial purposes.

Dr Jeffrey Urban is Director of the Inorganic Nanostructures Facility at Berkeley’s Molecular Foundry and a world-leading expert in nanomaterials and gas storage and transportation. Dr Makridis thinks working in collaboration with such an esteemed academic and institution like Berkeley can only improve the prospects of a long-term hydrogen storage industry in the UK.

He added: ‘There are some companies that deal with hydrogen technologies in general, but for hydrogen storage in conventional nano-intermetallics there are none in the UK. It is a complicated matter if you want to go to development, so I am certain through this collaboration we can write some patents and help the industrial sector to invest.’

Dr Makridis thinks, with a lot of hard work, hydrogen could be viable alternative to fossil fuels within a decade. He said: ‘Where ever we need power, green power, we need to use hydrogen.  I am optimistic that 10 years from now we will see our results in practice.’