HOUSTON, March 20, 2008 -- Hydrogen could be a clean, abundant energy source, but it's difficult to store in bulk. In new research, materials scientists at Rice University have made the surprising discovery that tiny carbon capsules called buckyballs are so strong they can hold volumes of hydrogen nearly as dense as those at the center of Jupiter.
The research appears on the March 2008 cover of the American Chemical Society's journal Nano Letters.
"Based on our calculations, it appears that some buckyballs are capable of holding volumes of hydrogen so dense as to be almost metallic," said lead researcher Boris Yakobson, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Rice. "It appears they can hold about 8 percent of their weight in hydrogen at room temperature, which is considerably better than the federal target of 6 percent."
The Department of Energy has devoted more than $1 billion to developing technologies for hydrogen-powered automobiles, including technologies to cost-effectively store hydrogen for use in cars. Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, and it is very difficult to store in bulk. For hydrogen cars to be competitive with gasoline-powered cars, they need a comparable range and a reasonably compact fuel system. It's estimated that a hydrogen-powered car with a suitable range will require a storage system with densities greater than those found in pure, liquid hydrogen.
Yakobson said scientists have long argued the merits of storing hydrogen in tiny, molecular containers like buckyballs, and experiments have shown that it's possible to store small volumes of hydrogen inside buckyballs. The new research by Yakobson and former postdoctoral researchers Olga Pupysheva and Amir Farajian offers the first method of precisely calculating how much hydrogen a buckyball can hold before breaking.
Buckyballs, which were discovered at Rice more than 20 years ago, are part of a family of carb
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