Hydrogen is considered by many analysts to be the most promising energy carrier in the long term and its pollution-free conversion into energy by fuel cells is a very attractive feature. However, one of the key technical hurdles to be overcome for the adoption of hydrogen, is its safe and energy-efficient storage within compact containers and converting it into electricity cheaply.
Hydrogen transportation is largely carried out in compressed gas cylinders at pressures of up to 700 bar for use in prototype vehicles. Such pressures present a major hazard to both suppliers and users and large energy losses are incurred in compressing hydrogen to such pressures.
Ilika believes the answer to effective hydrogen storage lies in the use of metal hydrides, (metal alloys which have reacted with hydrogen to form a stable solid). These hydrides often exist in powder form and can store hydrogen chemically to yield much greater energy densities than lithium-ion batteries.
Using the Ilika High Throughput Physical Vapour Deposition (HT-PVD) platform, Ilika worked in collaboration with Shell Hydrogen to develop these lightweight metal hydrides to deliver high energy density and recyclable H2 storage materials. Working in an open innovation partnership, the companies were able to reduce both technical and business risk whilst exploring the potential of new products and markets.
Ilika’s HT-PVD platform uses high throughput techniques which involve the rapid synthesis of a large number of different structurally related materials in a few automated steps to rapidly make and test potential candidate materials. Working in this way, Ilika and Shell Hydrogen were to develop a number of patents in hydrogen storage: Mg-B-Ti Hydride, granted in China, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, US and Australia and Li-Mg Hydride granted in Hong Kong, United Kingdom and Europe.
These patents are now being scaled-up in a commercial partnership with the Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, who will collaborate with Ilika to commercialise the next generation of hydrogen-storage materials. Both parties believe that this enterprise will become a vital component of the energy industry’s efforts to develop consumer-friendly hydrogen storage materials for fuel cell and clean combustion technology.
“We have been very impressed by Ilika’s unique high throughput discovery capabilities, which are very complementary to our scale-up facilities at Sigma-Aldrich. The collaboration, done as part of our custom research services, creates the unique opportunity to rapidly move from discovery to first commercialisation, making innovative energy storage materials available to end users in a short period of time.”
Viktor Balema, R&D Manager for Sigma-Aldrich