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A breakthrough technology to remove the hydrogen storage bottleneck

It’s the lightest, most abundant element in the universe. And when it burns, all it leaves behind is clean.

So, it’s puzzling why more people haven’t heard of hydrogen – and of the role it is earmarked to play in the shift towards a carbon-free energy mix.

One reason for the public’s lack of awareness is the way climate change is portrayed in the media. Invariably, discussions around the emissions behind climate change focus on ‘renewable energy’ and ‘electrification’.

What is often overlooked is the fact that a large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions originate from sectors that are difficult to de-carbonize – from activities such as heavy industry (steel, cement, and chemicals), transportation, aviation, shipping, and heating and cooling in residential and commercial sectors.

Batteries alone are not going to de-carbonize these sectors. And we just don’t have time to wait while businesses shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. We require a fuel that is already known to be safe, emissions-free, and available on demand. The answer is hydrogen.

Hydrogen – the good and the bad
Hydrogen has long been recognized as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The gas is, after all, abundant and highly reactive. It is also surprisingly benign. When burned, it does not produce any of the following:

However, the incredible low density of hydrogen makes it technically challenging and expensive to store, either compressed or liquified. Both these methods have their drawbacks.

With compression, hydrogen must be kept at anything from 350 bar to 700 bar. Despite this, hydrogen stored under high pressure requires more storage space than liquid or solid fuels. The current alternative to compression is liquefaction, which is the process of maintaining the gas as a liquid at the extremely low temperature of -253°C (-423°F).

Compression drawbacks

Liquified hydrogen drawbacks

The good news is a breakthrough hydrogen storage technology has been developed. Based on advances in reticular chemistry, it uses metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to safely store hydrogen at low pressure and ambient temperature.

MOFs are composed of repeating arrays of cage-like building blocks, which are empty cells known as ‘voids’ or ‘pores’. Hydrogen gas molecules fill these voids and attach to their surfaces in a process called adsorption. Large volumes of hydrogen can be adsorbed in small amounts of MOF, due to their immense surface areas. In fact, if a single gram of MOF were rolled out flat, it would cover an area the size of a soccer field. Subsequent pressurization of the MOF releases the hydrogen as a gas.

The right technology at the right time
The maturing of MOF-based hydrogen storage technology comes just as enthusiasm for hydrogen is reaching an all-time high. And these commitments go far beyond promises or vague policy statements. Some recent highlights in hydrogen and hydrogen infrastructure investments and initiatives include:

In 2015, the community of nations came together and agreed to implement measures to try and limit the rise in global warming by 2050 to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Much has been achieved. Battery-powered cars are now common in many cities. The share of solar and wind in the energy mix is slowly increasing. But the fact remains that vast swathes of our basic economic activities – making things and moving them around the world – remain reliant on fossil fuels. And it is a reliance that will remain until such time as it becomes more cost-effective to store and transport hydrogen.

H2MOF is a company founded by two eminent chemists, each of whom have created new fields of chemistry. They and others have now pooled their intellect and research to achieve one objective: to realize the tremendous potential of MOFs as a cost-effective hydrogen storage technology.

H2MOF welcomes discussions with likeminded companies and individuals who are interested in helping to advance MOF-based hydrogen storage and realize its potential applications even further.

Want to learn more? Download our white paper

Reticular chemistry

According to Prof. Omar Yaghi, co-founder of H2MOF and the recognized founder of the modern field of reticular chemistry, the term describes:

The chemistry of linking molecular building units into extended two- and three-dimensional ordered structures using strong bonds. In these structures, either organic or inorganic units are linked together by strong metal-ligand bonds to make metal-organic frameworks (MOFs).