Oct 032010
 
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New research by Rice University scientists suggests that a class of material known as metallacarborane could store hydrogen at or better than benchmarks set by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Hydrogen Program for 2015.

The work could receive wide attention as hydrogen comes into play as a fuel of the future for cars, in fuel cells and by industry.

The new study by Rice theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson and his colleagues, which appears in the online Journal of the American Chemical Society, taps the power of transition metals scandium and titanium to hold a load of hydrogen molecules — but not so tightly that they can’t be extracted.

A matrix made of metallacarboranes would theoretically hold up to 8.8 percent of its weight in hydrogen atoms, which would at least meet and perhaps surpass DOE milestones issued a year ago for cars that would run on hydrogen fuel.

Yakobson, a professor in mechanical engineering and materials science and of chemistry at Rice, said inspiration for the new study came from the development of metallacarboranes, now well-known molecules that combine boron, carbon and metal atoms in a cage-like structure.

“A single metal atom can bind multiple hydrogen molecules,” Yakobson said, “but metals also tend to aggregate. Without something to hold them, they clump into a blob and are useless.”

Abhishek Singh, lead author of the study, a former postdoctoral researcher for Yakobson and now an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, calculated that boron clusters would grip the titanium and scandium, which would in turn bind hydrogen. “The metals fit like a gem in a setting, so they don’t aggregate,” Yakobson said. Carbon would link the clusters to form a matrix called a metal organic framework (MOF), which would act like a sponge for hydrogen.

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