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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Research A Breakthrough For Green Revolution

Cara Palmer |
September 6, 2011 | 2:18 p.m. PDT

Staff Columnist

Travis Williams, assistant professor of chemistry in USC Dornsife. (Photo by Dennis Martinez. Courtesy of USC.)
Travis Williams, assistant professor of chemistry in USC Dornsife. (Photo by Dennis Martinez. Courtesy of USC.)
USC scientists have paved the way for the safe, widespread use of hydrogen as fuel.

Assistant professor of chemistry Travis Williams, postdoctoral researcher Brian Conley, and alumnus Denver Guess, have found a way to produce hydrogen gas from a solid and catalyst. “Hydrogen makes a great fuel because it can be converted easily to electricity in a fuel cell and because it is carbon free,” according to a report about the breakthrough.

Preventing the safe use of hydrogen as fuel in the past, hydrogen has to be stored in very low temperatures and high pressures as a liquid, which is incredibly dangerous. “The downside of hydrogen is that, because it is a gas, it can only be stored in high pressure or cryogenic tanks.” If a vehicle using hydrogen as fuel was to crash, the possibility of a hydrogen explosion occurring would be highly likely.

However, if hydrogen gas could be produced from a solid and a catalyst, the use of hydrogen as fuel would be much safer and easier to manage – and make hydrogen readily accessible as a fuel. Which is exactly what this team of USC scientists discovered.

USC Dornsife reports that the team “figured out a way to release hydrogen from an innocuous chemical material – ammonia borane, a nitrogen-boron complex – that can be stored as a stable solid. Now the team has developed a catalyst system that releases enough hydrogen from its storage in ammonia borane to make it usable as a fuel source. Moreover, the system is air-stable and reusable, unlike other systems for hydrogen storage on boron and metal hydrides.”

This is an incredible breakthrough, especially in light of proponents of the green revolution searching for new ways to protect the environment. After this initial research, if the scientists figure out a way to implement their innovation on a much wider scale, making clean burning fuel for mobile transport much more readily accessible and at a much lower cost, life in a green world will be that much closer to becoming a reality instead of just a daring hope.


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