April 04, 2014

Researchers at Savannah River National Laboratory report they have made a significant breakthrough in finding a way to pack more energy into a hydrogen fuel cell battery.

The researchers are using aluminum-hydride battery chemistry, also known as alane. Aluminum hydride can store twice the hydrogen in the same volume as liquid hydrogen and can do so at a very high capacity, said Ragaiy Zidan, a researcher at the lab.

“Alane also shows very favorable discharge conditions, making it ideal,” Zidan said.

Alane can store five to 10 times more hydrogen than what similar materials can store. It can also store hydrogen more compactly than compressed gas.
About the only downside for alane is its availability and high cost to produce, Zidan said.

Zidan, the lab and Stanford University spinoff Ardica Technologies Inc. have been working on an effort to make alane and alane reprocessing less expensive.

When combined with a fuel cell, chemical hydrides operate much like a battery that is used and recycled and not directly recharged, Zidan said.
“These materials have some of the highest hydrogen storage densities and show great potential for many near-term applications, but still require lower cost and more efficient regeneration and recycling methods to make them practical,” he added.

By combining a small fuel cell with a hydrogen storage device, power systems are being developed that provide higher energy storage capacity, longer run times, faster recharge, and potentially lower operating costs. This technology is also being developed for use in commercial vehicles and in military applications, researchers said.

The alane technology is being developed because the performance of traditional lithium ion batteries has not improved significantly in recent years.

Instead of using lithium ion batteries, electronic devices could have a small fuel cell and a hydrogen storage material.

The fuel system will last approximately four times longer than current lithium ion technology, researchers said. The fuel cell would operate like a continuous battery and could run for an extended period of time, providing electricity as long as there’s fuel. The fuel would come from the hydrogen storage material and oxygen from the air.

Lab-scale results to date have been successful, and efforts are now underway to scale up the process, which someday may open the door for a new line of portable devices that may only need to be charged once a week instead of once a day, scientists said.

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