Hydrogen makes a great fuel because it can easily convert to electricity in a fuel cell and because it is carbon free. The downside of hydrogen is a true safety issue because since it is a gas, it only stores in high pressure or cryogenic tanks.
In a vehicle with a tank full of hydrogen, “if you got into a wreck, you’d have a problem,” said Travis Williams, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife College.
A possible solution is to store hydrogen in a safe chemical form. Earlier this year, Williams and his team found a way to release hydrogen from an innocuous chemical material — a nitrogen-boron complex, ammonia borane — that can store as a stable solid.
Now the team has developed a catalyst system that releases enough hydrogen from its storage in ammonia borane to make it usable as a fuel source. Moreover, the system is air-stable and re-usable, unlike other systems for hydrogen storage on boron and metal hydrides.
“Ours is the first game in town for reusable, air stabile ammonia borane dehydrogenation,” Williams said, adding the USC Stevens Institute is in the process of patenting the system.
The system is lightweight and efficient to have potential fuel applications ranging from motor-driven cycles to small aircraft, he said.