Now, a team of researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas and Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., has made the counterintuitive discovery that aluminum, with a minor modification, is able to both break down and capture individual hydrogen atoms, potentially leading to a robust and affordable fuel storage system.
In nature, when two atoms of hydrogen meet they combine to form a very stable molecule (H2). Molecular hydrogen, however, has to be stored under great pressure and at very low temperatures, which is impractical if you want to power a vehicle or provide electricity for a home. A better solution would be to find a material that, at easily maintained temperatures and pressures, could efficiently store individual hydrogen atoms and release them on demand.
The first step in this process – hydrogen activation, breaking the chemical bonds that hold two hydrogen atoms together – is typically done by exposing molecular hydrogen to a catalyst. The best catalytic materials currently available are made of so-called "noble metals" (e.g. palladium and platinum). These elements efficiently enable hydrogen activation, but their scarcity makes them prohibitively expensive for widespread use.
In the quest to find an equally efficient yet less-expensive alternative, lead researcher Yves J. Chabal of the University of Texas at Dallas and Santanu Chaudhuri at Washington State University have identified a potential new hydrogen activation method that has the additional advantage of being an effective hydrogen-storage medium. Their proposed system relies on aluminum, a plentiful but inert metal that under normal conditions doesn't react with molecular hydrogen.
The key to unlocking aluminum's potential, the researchers surmised, is to impregnate its surface with some other metal that would facilitate the catalytic reaction. In this case, the researchers tested titanium, which is much more plentiful than noble metals and is used only sparingly in creating the titanium-doped aluminum surface.
Under very controlled temperatures and pressures, the researchers studied the aluminum surface, particularly in the vicinity of the titanium atoms, for telltale signs that catalytic reactions were taking place. The "smoking gun" was found in the spectroscopic signature of carbon monoxide (CO), which was added to the system to help identify areas of hydrogen activity. If atomic hydrogen were present, then the wavelength of light absorbed by the carbon monoxide bound to the catalytic metal center would become shorter, signaling that the catalyst was working.
"We've combined a novel infrared reflection absorption-based surface analysis method and first principles-based predictive modeling of catalytic efficiencies and spectral response, in which a carbon monoxide molecule is used as a probe to identify hydrogen activation on single-crystal aluminum surfaces containing catalytic dopants," says Chaudhuri.
Their studies revealed that in areas doped with titanium, the infrared signature of the CO shifted to shorter wavelengths even at very low temperatures. This "blue shift" was an indication that atomic hydrogen was being produced around some of the catalytic centers on an aluminum surface.
As part of a hydrogen storage system, an aluminum-supported catalyst has other advantages over more expensive metals. If technical advances like this can provide a pathway for aluminum to combine with hydrogen to form aluminum hydride (a stable solid with a composition ratio of a single aluminum atom to three hydrogen atoms) and store hydrogen as a high-density solid-state material, a critical step in developing a practical fuel system can be achieved.
The titanium further advances the process by helping the hydrogen bind to the aluminum to form aluminum hydride. If used as a fuel-storage device, the aluminum hydride could be made to release its store of hydrogen by simply raising its temperature.
"Although titanium may not be the best catalytic center for fully reversible aluminum hydride formation, the results prove for the first time that titanium-doped aluminum can activate hydrogen in ways that are comparable to expensive and less-abundant catalyst metals such as palladium and other near-surface alloys consisting of similar noble metals and their bimetallic analogs," Chaudhuri explains.
Irinder Chopra, the lead student in this project, will present this research at AVS' 58th International Symposium & Exhibition, held Oct. 30 – Nov. 4, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. A paper based on this research – "Turning Aluminum into a noble-metal like catalyst for low-temperature molecular hydrogen activation" –was published online in the journal Nature Materials on September 25. Support for this research came from the Department of Energy – Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
The AVS 58th International Symposium & Exhibition will be held Oct. 30 – Nov. 4 at the Nashville Convention Center.
Presentation SS1-TuM-4, "Turning Aluminum into a Noble-metal like Catalyst for Low Temperature Molecular Hydrogen Activation," is at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
Main meeting website: http://www2.avs.org/symposium/AVS58/pages/greetings.html
Technical Program: http://www2.avs.org/symposium
Catherine Meyers | EurekAlert!
When helium behaves like a black hole
22.03.2017 | University of Vermont
Astronomers hazard a ride in a 'drifting carousel' to understand pulsating stars
22.03.2017 | International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences