It’s solid: storing hydrogen in a new form

A transmission electron microscope image shows the details of graphene aerogel, which is one of the materials the LLNL group will investigate for hydrogen storage. Image by Ted Baumann/LLNL
As part of a tri-lab consortium, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers will develop tools and understanding necessary for designing new solid-state materials for storing hydrogen gas.

Storage of hydrogen onboard vehicles is one of the critical enabling technologies for hydrogen-fueled transportation systems that can reduce oil dependency and mitigate the long-term effects of fossil fuels on climate change.

Stakeholders developing hydrogen infrastructure (e.g., state governments, automotive original equipment manufacturers [OEMs], station providers and industrial gas suppliers) are focused on high-pressure storage at 700 bar (700 atmospheres of pressure), in large part because no viable solid-phase hydrogen storage material has been developed. Solid-state hydrogen storage materials, including novel sorbents and high-density hydrides, are the focus of this project because of their unique potential to deliver hydrogen at lower pressures and higher onboard densities.

For its part, the Lawrence Livermore team, headed by Brandon Wood, is receiving nearly $1 million per year for three years from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office(link is external) within in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy(link is external). Livermore will focus primarily on the theoretical and computation component of the proposal, with additional contributions from the Lab’s synthetic and characterization expertise.

“There is general agreement that a successful solution would significantly reduce costs and ensure the economic viability of a U.S. hydrogen infrastructure,” Wood said. “Researchers have been looking at the storage problem for a long time, but there hasn’t been enough focus on tackling some of the really challenging underlying problems, which is what we are tasked to do.”

The consortium, called the Hydrogen Materials–Advanced Research Consortium (HyMARC), is led by Sandia National Laboratories(link is external) and includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory(link is external) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The total project award is $9 million over three years.

The consortium will address the gaps in solid-state hydrogen storage by leveraging recent advances in predictive multiscale modeling, high-resolution in situ characterization and material synthesis.

“By focusing on the underlying thermodynamic and kinetic limitations of storage materials, we will generate fundamental understanding that will accelerate the development of all types of advanced storage materials, including sorbents, metal hydrides and liquid carriers,” Wood said.

The Lawrence Livermore team, which includes Wood, Tae Wook Heo, Miguel Morales, Stanimir Bonev, Ted Baumann, Jon Lee and Keith Ray, will use its capabilities in world-class supercomputing facilities (two of the world’s 10 fastest) and petascale materials modeling codes; expertise in large-scale simulation of hydrides and sorbents using quantum and continuum methods; synthesis of lightweight, tunable porous graphene-derived sorbents; and in situ X-ray spectroscopy.

Combined with materials informatics, this strategy embodies the approach highlighted within the recent Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) Strategic Plan for accelerated materials development.