ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2012) —
Sometimes, solutions for hard problems can turn out to be pretty basic.
That's especially true for a team of researchers at the Office of
Science's Brookhaven National Laboratory (Brookhaven Lab), where the
solution for a hard problem they were working on turned out to be pretty
basic…and also a bit acidic.
The hard problem they were working on was how to store hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen gas (H2)
is a clean and powerful fuel, but it's also extremely light, which
makes it difficult and costly to store. It's typically held in high
pressure tanks, although researchers at another Office of Science lab
recently found a possible way to keep it in naturally-formed frozen
In a paper published March 18th in Nature Chemistry,
researchers at Brookhaven Lab led by chemist Etsuko Fujita announced
that they had found a safe and reversible way to store hydrogen under
mild (and therefore hopefully much more economical) conditions, using a
newly developed catalyst.
Their work began by seeing acids and bases in an unconventional way
-- as potential carriers of hydrogen fuel. Students often learn about
acids and bases as part of their science fair projects. The 'volcanic'
reaction of vinegar (a mild acid) and baking soda (a mild base) has
given many students an early interest in the sciences. That was true for
Jonathan Hull, a lead researcher on the paper, who was intrigued by
seeing a similar reaction blow the corks off wine bottles.
However, many acids and bases are actually watery solutions filled
with hydrogen. In an acidic solution, the hydrogen atoms wander free.
They're usually missing their electron too, which gives them a positive
charge (atoms and molecules with either a positive or a negative charge
are called ions). In a basic solution, the hydrogen atoms are usually
connected with something else, a negative ion of some sort. And yes,
when an acid and a base react with each other, they typically create
something neutral, like water.
The catalyst created by researchers at Brookhaven Lab connects
hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide, "storing" the hydrogen linked to
(adduct to) carbon dioxide in a mildly basic solution. The reaction can
be reversed -- and the hydrogen fuel released -- by adding a bit of
acid. The entire process can be run, and easily reversed, in a watery
solution under mild temperatures and pressures with no toxic byproducts,
and at a faster rate than any previous catalyst.
As a consequence, Brookhaven Lab's new catalyst might be used in
future hydrogen fuel vehicles, though additional testing will be needed
to see if it can be economically scaled up to industrial production. It
may show up in other high powered systems too -- time and technology
This new catalyst shows the best of the Office of Science and its
labs at work: Researchers taking on truly challenging problems, and
finding basic (and sometimes slightly acidic) solutions.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.
- Jonathan F. Hull, Yuichiro Himeda, Wan-Hui Wang, Brian Hashiguchi,
Roy Periana, David J. Szalda, James T. Muckerman, Etsuko Fujita. Reversible
hydrogen storage using CO2 and a proton-switchable iridium catalyst in
aqueous media under mild temperatures and pressures. Nature Chemistry, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1295