Dearborn (MI) - Jun Yang of the Ford Motor Company, is announcing a potentially safe way to store the mass quantities of hydrogen necessary for use in hydrogen powered vehicles. It's a three-part mixture which, when heated to 150C, begins to give off hydrogen gas, and only hydrogen gas. This could prove to be a significant necessary step toward the future dream of hydrogen powered vehicles.
In previous attempts to find materials capable of storing large quantities of hydrogen gas in dissolved, or chemical form, a binary (two-part) mixture of lithium borohydride (LiBH4) and magnesium hydride (MgH2) were used. These would store large quantities of hydrogen, and then emit it when heated to a high temperature. The problems came from the side-effects, as they would also give off ammonia. This made them an undesirable solution for the masses. In addition, the "recharging" phase, a process where the material would receive and chemically store hydrogen back into itself, required a very high pressure and so high a temperatures that it was even more unsuitable for the masses.
Still, these early attempts at safe storage solutions provided key research which continues even today.
The announcement yesterday, is that the newest research has moved away from a two-part mixture to a three-part mixture. While LiBH4 and MgH2 are still used, they now add lithium amide (LiNH2) in a 1:1:2 ratio, resulting in a ternary hydride (three parts). This new substance, when heated to only 150C, begins to give off its hydrogen gas in a sufficiently large volume to power normal driving. And, unlike the two-part mixture, there are no other gases given off. The hydrogen can also be recharged into the ternary hydride under much more acceptable conditions, including lower pressure and temperatures.
Research is not over
Work for this research was carried out as part of a joint research effort between Ford Motor Company and the University of California in Los Angeles. The researchers believe this new finding will not ultimately prove to be the final hydride that is used for mass hydrogen distribution and consumption, but rather it will serve as a jumping-off point for additional research into even safer combinations.
Hydrogen powered vehicles will result in zero-emission operations, but the power source which initially creates the hydrogen gas from some other source has to come from somewhere. If this can be processed through a solar powered system, or through water or wind power, or arguably even nuclear, then it will be a completely green form of energy in terms of gas emissions. If not, then hydrogen simply becomes a way to store fuel and release it as necessary while driving.
While this will reduce harmful emissions in congested areas, it will, of course, cause the related emissions to simply come out of a coal-fired power generation facility's smokestack somewhere, rather than out of our car's tailpipe.