Hydrogen is a dream fuel because it does not generate climate change-causing emissions when burned, thus a promising alternative to fossil fuels or CO2-emitting energy sources.
The Economist article describes how a research team based in Germany has found an ingenious way to store and carry hydrogen energy by creating a chemical compound called hydrogen goop.
At Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials in Germany, Dr Marcus Vogt and his team created a magnesium hydride-based “power paste” that stores hydrogen in a chemical form and is ready for release on demand.
Supplying hydrogen as a paste is a way to get around its storage limitation and challenges. According to the article, keeping meaningful amounts of hydrogen gas requires compressing it several hundred times, and liquefying hydrogen requires a temperature drop of -235C for this to happen.
Storing hydrogen is very tricky because hydrogen can infiltrate metals, causing them to weaken and crack over time, requiring storage made from special materials to withstand its effects.
How Hydrogen goop works
According to a New Atlas article, hydrogen goop is made by heating hydrogen with magnesium and stabilizers so hydrogen can be stored in cartridges even at room temperature. According to its makers, the result is a stable medium that is ten times more energy-dense than lithium-ion batteries.
The article describes how it works.
“When it comes time to release the energy, a plunger mechanism extrudes the paste into a chamber where it reacts with water to release hydrogen at a dynamically controlled rate, which then feeds a fuel cell to create electrical power with which to run an EV powertrain or other device. Part of the paste’s impressive energy density comes from half of the hydrogen released comes from the water it reacts with.”
According to the Economist article
Hydrogen goop goods can be pumped into a cartridge and release hydrogen gas when needed because its main ingredient is magnesium hydroxide. This compound reacts to water and forms hydrogen and magnesium hydroxide.
Hydrogen produced can then be guided into the fuel cell, where it reacts with oxygen from the air to produce electricity. The magnesium hydroxide waste is then emptied from the reactor automatically.
Hydrogen goop’s advantages over batteries and petrol
- First, hydrogen goop stores more energy per litter and kilogram than petrol or batteries.
- Second, the ease of refilling the goop is just a matter of swapping an empty cartridge of the paste with a new one and then refilling water stored in a separate tank.
- Third, unlike the battery, the paste does not lose its stored energy when it sits on the shelf.
- Fourth, the paste is non-toxic, as is the reaction’s by-product.
With all these advantages, Dr Vogt’s team still has some tiny details to work through. Magnesium hydroxide reacts slowly with water because of a chemical reaction that forms a barrier.
However, Dr Vogt’s and his team found a way to accelerate the reaction and control the reaction in a precise manner that would supply just the right amount of hydrogen needed at any given moment.
The researchers hope that applying this technology will find a niche in the market. It is ideal for small vehicles like scooters or flying drones where weight is a premium and can extend its range and use. Another use of the power paste is the miniature stoves that campers use.
Disadvantages of Hydron goop
Apart from hydrogen’s obvious problem of being chemically and financially expensive to separate into a usable form, substantial logistical steps are involved in preparing the paste and manufacturing the cartridges.
Then there is also the infrastructure needed for refuelling, disposal and recycling of spent cartridges and magnesium.
Today’s hydrogen is processed using carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Clean hydrogen that is hydrogen processed using clean and renewable energy is rare.
Clean energy production must grow substantially before hydrogen goop becomes a serious contender in the renewable energy market.
Hydrogen goop could be a more convenient fuel than hydrogen gas. (2021 February 27). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2021/02/27/hydrogen-goop-could-be-a-more-convenient-fuel-than-hydrogen-gas
Blain, L. (2021, February 2). Powerpaste pack clean hydrogen energy in a safe, convenient gray goop. New Atlas. Retrieved from https://newatlas.com/energy/powerpaste-hydrogen-fuel-paste/
PHOTO CREDIT: GPA Photo Archive via Flickr Creative Commons