Do you know that for the past 60 years, we have been shooting our rockets using hydrogen? Who would have thought the smallest and simplest molecule can have so much power that can be carbon free. In fact, in June 2021, the Department of Energy launched a Hydrogen Earth Shot program aiming create a connected hydrogen-economy by 2050. But to achieve this, we must first make hydrogen storage work. The conventional high-pressure compression, or low temperature liquification, can take up to 50% of hydrogen's embedded energy.
With this said, scientists have recently developed different materials that can help us store hydrogen more efficiently under near-ambient conditions. We can use a small but porous material, like a sponge or cheese, to physically adsorb a lot of hydrogen. Or use materials that can chemically bind to many hydrogen molecules. Within each type, there are different groups, containing tens to thousands of materials. So in total, there could be millions of potential hydrogen storage materials, a lot of which only exist in theories right now!
Here, my research aim to screen and predict the most economical and energy efficient hydrogen storage materials under different applications. Sounds like finding a needle in a haystack, right? But with the right screening tool we are developing, this could be achieved.
From the fascinating structural data and place them in a defined scenario, we conduct automated system simulations to understand the unique change of material properties and hydrogen storage behavior, from laboratory, to being deployed in the target large-scale application, and connect that with economics.
So far, for example, we have looked into using hydrogen to provide backup power when there’s an outage, like the recent hurricanes, and identified less than 10 of the promising candidate materials. We are currently expanding this approach to identify the leading energy storage materials for more applications in the future, for example powering a truck or a sail boat. In the case where none of the materials would work, negative results are also valuable because they will let experimentalists know, whether or not there is a target that will even make hydrogen work.
Will hydrogen be the holy grail for clean energy? Honestly, I do not know. It is like a rising sun that will give us a lot of hope, but we have no idea how many clouds it has to go through. But you, or everyone else that cares about sustainability, can help us brainstorm brand new hydrogen storage applications that we haven’t even thought of, and help me challenge and push its limit.