• Kafantaris Posted: 10/29/2009 3:11pm PDT

    The computational model for hydrogen storage with nanotubes developed by the chemical engineers at the University of Massachusetts should help us quickly eliminated the need to store hydrogen as a gas at high pressure and/or low temperature. This means that we could soon be able to make small tanks stuffed with carbon nanotubes that can hold lots of hydrogen at low pressure. This hydrogen could be released back to a gas form by the simple application of heat, perhaps with nothing more elaborate than a heating element of the type we have in our stoves. Such hydrogen tank could feed a small fuel cell onboard a battery car and charge it while we drive it, or even when it sits there parked. This could help us make it back home and alleviate fear of "range anxiety".
    And for those of us who still see mathematical modeling as the abstract stuff of college professors, we should be reminded that every facet of engineering now uses modeling to solve real world problems. Indeed, a mathematical model was recently used to show the release of hydrogen gas from metal hydrides. The amount of the released hydrogen was so well controlled both in and out of the tank through the variation of heat that it made possible to use the hydrogen a silent muscle in artificial limps. See http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/health/artificial-muscles-made-of-hydrogen-can-make-domestic-robots-silent_100263471.html
    Unfortunately, metal hydrides and as well as nanotubes are still very expensive. Yet, we may learn enough from them to be able it to apply to nature's own nanotubes: The carbon microtubes that are made entirely from chicken feathers (now a waste) as raw material. These carbonized feathers had shown great promise four months ago in storing hydrogen. If we can figure out how to mass produce them for hydrogen storage, we might get a lot closer to making the Hydrogen Age a reality in our lifetime.
    In any evemt, here is a comment from back in August that might still have some relevance.
    Chemical Engineer Richard Wool from the University of Delaware told the scientific community on June 23, 2009, that after his team slowly baked chicken feathers to 400 degrees and then cooled them to -266 degrees, the keratin in the feathers formed tiny, but super-strong, carbon microtubes – similar to the expensive synthetic nanotubes. Nanotubes and microtubes are important in hydrogen storage because they hold the hydrogen atoms mechanically within them. This means that the atoms are not free to bounce around in gas form, and the stored hydrogen is not governed by Boyle’s law of gasses.
    This makes it possible, therefore, to store hydrogen safely and cheaply, at room temperature and at low pressure. We may thus be able to build large tanks, stuff them with chicken feather charcoal and fill them up with hydrogen. Once filled, they can sit around until we need them, or they can be shipped elsewhere. And they may not need to be any more complex than the tanks we are accustomed to seeing on railroads. Imagine tons of hydrogen fuel shipped via rail across the nation, supplementing electricity grids, lighting factories, airports, universities, sports arenas, or supplying distant terminals with hydrogen for automobile consumption. All this without expensive pipelines, compressors, or refrigeration.
    Imagine also hydrogen standardized tanks mounted on trucks, busses, water vessels, or airplanes supplying hydrogen that can triple the power of diesel or jet fuel. And once these tanks run empty, they can be replaced with full ones – like the propane tanks of our gas grills.

    Imagine further, small hydrogen cartridges that can power laptops, cell phones, tools, or toys. When these run empty we can refill them with home generators using electricity or natural gas to make hydrogen.

    Who would have expected all these possibilities from silly chicken feathers? Or that the triple-headed hydra of air pollution, greenhouse gasses, and dependence on foreign oil would finally be killed by the waste of chickens.

    And consider this: If hydrogen technology continues at the same rate as computers, it may double every couple of years.
    This means that those at stage 4 now will be at stage 8 later. More importantly, if hydrogen takes off at the rate nuclear energy did in the ‘50s, advances would be exponential (2,4,16,256).
    As farfetched as this may seem, how else can we classify Dr. Wool’s findings that make a $5.5 million nanotube tank equal to a $200 chicken feather microtube tank? If this is not an exponential improvement, then what is?
    Whether we are ready for it or not, the Hydrogen Age seems to have finally arrived – without fanfare, and on the wings of homely chickens.

  • Lawrence Weisdorn Posted: 5/26/2010 1:31pm PDT

    Vision just took the next step in significantly increasing the amount of on board hydrogen by licensing an organic liquid carrier, that is commercially competitive and a small fraction of the cost of dealing with compressed hydrogen. Please check out Hydrnol for yourself.