Case study: ISIS contributes to zero-emission vehicles
01 Jan 2006



ISIS helps identify materials that can store hydrogen safely, efficiently and cost-effectively

​Hydrogen storage
  • A key component of future greener transport lies in a safer, cheaper and more efficient method of hydrogen storage
  • Existing approaches are expensive and cumbersome, involving specialist equipment to convert hydrogen into a super-cooled liquid and transport it under pressure
  • Scientists using the ISIS neutron source have been able to look deep into the atomic and molecular structure of new materials and see how they absorb and release hydrogen gas

Today’s technology is capable of powering a car using hydrogen, which could reduce harmful automotive emissions to zero. However, the automotive industry is yet to find a safe, low-cost way to store hydrogen, and this is holding up the development of hydrogen-powered cars. Scientists at the ISIS neutron source are developing new materials that could put hydrogen power onto our roads and into our homes.

Liquid hydrogen is easier to store than hydrogen gas but requires cooling to -253°C. Maintaining this temperature requires heavy and expensive equipment. Storing hydrogen as a pressurised gas is considerably less expensive but more dangerous because it is flammable.

Scientists at ISIS have been able to closely examine the atomic structure of new materials that could solve the hydrogen storage challenge. ISIS has enabled the design of hydrogen-rich solids that can safely release hydrogen at just the right temperature for the operation of a fuel-cell based or internal combustion engine.

These materials hold upwards of 10 percent of their own weight in hydrogen and do not require further equipment for compression or cooling. They also avoid the safety fears associated with compressed gas.

“We’ve discovered new sets of materials that can store hydrogen more efficiently than hydrogen itself,” says Professor Bill David at ISIS.

“Neutrons are without doubt the best way to see hydrogen entering and leaving these storage materials and this enables us to identify the most promising storage options. Essentially, ISIS allows us to look into the hydrogen fuel tanks of the future and watch them operate in real time.”

​P.A. Chater

Research date: January 2006