hydrogen-fueled cars could zip along America's highways.
Hydrogen fueling stations could be as ubiquitous
as today's gas stations. And petroleum-sputtering
cars could be as quaint as the horse and buggy.
Sounds ideal, but a future with zero-emission vehicles
powered by a renewable source of energy won't happen
unless scientists overcome several daunting technological
hurdles. Can large amounts of hydrogen be produced
without also creating carbon dioxide, a greenhouse
gas? And can enough hydrogen be stored aboard a car
to power fuel cells for hundreds of miles without
For now, the answer is no on both counts. But a
team of Berkeley Lab scientists is working to turn
the corner on the latter problem.
"Pressurized hydrogen cylinders take up a lot of
volume in a car. They don't leave much room for luggage
if you want to drive 300 miles without refueling," says
Jeff Long of Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division. "Hopefully
that will change, but for now it is difficult to
store a lot of hydrogen in a small volume without
cooling it or placing it under very high pressure."
Long heads a group of nine Berkeley Lab scientists
who are investigating new classes of materials that
can efficiently store hydrogen — a very light and
volatile gas — aboard cars under less extreme temperatures
and pressures. The team is among the recipients of
$64 million in DOE funding aimed at making hydrogen
fuel cell vehicles and refueling stations available,
practical, and affordable for U.S. consumers by 2020.
The funding was announced in May 2005, by Secretary
of Energy Samuel Bodman and is divided among 70 R&D
projects at more than 50 institutions.
Their project will receive $4.5 million in DOE funding
over the next four years. Another Berkeley Lab project,
headed by Lutgard DeJonghe of the Materials Sciences
Division, also received DOE funding to explore the
development of nanocomposite proton conductors, which
are used in hydrogen fuel cells.
For his project, Long assembled a materials sciences
dream team of leading experimentalists and theoreticians.
Like Long, most of them hold joint appointments at
Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley's departments of chemistry
or physics. Collectively, the group has a formidable
range of experience when it comes to materials discovery.
Paul Alivisatos will examine how hydrogen storage
properties change with a material's size, from the
nanoscale to the bulk scale. Martin Head-Gordon will
help predict what kinds of metals and ligands bind
to hydrogen. Jean Fréchet, a polymer scientist,
will try to create nanoporous polymers that absorb
hydrogen onto tiny cavities. Alex Zettl, a pioneer
in developing nanotubes, will explore how boron nitride
nanotubes can be used to store hydrogen.
Theoreticians Marvin Cohen and Steven Louie will
predict new boron nitride nanostructures that can
more efficiently capture hydrogen. UC Berkeley's
Tom Richardson will synthesize and characterize metal
hydrides. And to test these new materials, UC Berkeley's
Samuel Mao will set up instrumentation that measures
hydrogen uptake under a range of temperatures and