New Advances Made in Hydrogen Fuel Cells
The best hope for bringing the hydrogen-fueled automobile to the American roadway may be a technology that is invisible to the naked eye. The technology is in the form of tiny graphite structures that together act as a sponge to absorb and store hydrogen in the fuel system of the automobile. Onboard storage of hydrogen gas is the major obstacle impeding the progress and wide-scale commercial production of the hydrogen-powered vehicle, which many view as the next generation in energy-efficient and environmentally friendly road transportation. The graphite structures are a product of the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. Engineers design the structures at the molecular level, working in scales as small as millimeters and nanometers. The engineers stack the fibrous platelets one atop the other, leaving the optimum gap between the wafers; then they arrange the chemistry so that hydrogen molecules are absorbed in the graphite.
The nanostructures are extremely porous, like a sponge, allowing them to absorb large capacities of hydrogen until fully saturated. Experiments demonstrate that the hydrogen storage in graphite nanofibers is safe. Another method of hydrogen storage derived from nanotechnology involves carbon nano-tubes. With carbon nanotubes, engineers arrange carbon platelets in different configurations. Research has shown the carbon nanotubes to display strong hydrogen storage capabilities.
The contribution of nanotechnology to hydrogen storage is timely, as automobile companies work to advance fuel cell technology amid growing public sentiments to develop alternative forms of energy. Despite the promise of nanotechnology in automobile fuel cells, additional research is required to refine graphite nanofibers and carbon nanotubes and to develop cost-effective means to manufacture the advanced structures. The Nanotechnology Institute at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) strongly supports research in nanotechnology and is dedicated to narrowing the gap between theoretical science and real-world applications. Among other programs, the institute organizes forums that bring together the technical community and general public to review developments in the field.
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