Sandia LabNews

DOE names Sandia virtual Center of Excellence for hyrdogen storage research

Labs selected as virtual Center of Excellence for metal hydride-based hydrogen storage

The Department of Energy has selected Sandia to lead a virtual Center of Excellence for the development of reversible metal hydrides materials. A key objective will be to develop a class of materials capable of storing hydrogen safely and economically aboard a vehicle that can run for at least 300 miles before refueling.

The virtual center consists of eight universities, four other national laboratories, and three industrial companies, with Sandia serving as laboratory lead and coordinator of research and development. It will undertake $30 million of research and development over the next five years.

Sandia takes the lead

Sandia’s winning proposal is in response to a "Grand Challenge" issued by the DOE last year. The center will be established at Sandia’s California site in October. Jim Wang, Manager of Analytical Materials Science Dept. 8773, will serve as director.

The study of a promising class of hydrides, complex metal hydrides, is a key stepping stone in clearing the hydrogen storage riddle, says Jay Keller, Manager of Hydrogen and Combustion Technology Dept. 8367. Currently, no material exists that can be used to construct a fuel tank to safely and efficiently store hydrogen fuel.

Hydrides are metallic alloys that absorb and then release hydrogen. These operate at pressures and temperatures close to ambient conditions, making them highly promising for future on-board hydrogen storage systems.

The laboratory’s 40 years of hydrogen science and engineering expertise leave the group well positioned to lead the research effort, says Jim.

"Achieving or exceeding"

"Our approach will be to focus on achieving or exceeding the DOE’s hydrogen storage targets through novel materials development, supported by our strengths in fundamental and applied materials science," says Jim.

"Our plan is to coordinate, support, stimulate, and focus complementary expertise in chemistry, materials sciences, modeling, and synthesis and characterization with other national lab partners, universities, and industries to achieve the DOE’s hydrogen storage goals."

The FreedomCAR initiative, announced by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in 2001, seeks to promote the use of hydrogen as a primary fuel. The effort targets initial hydrogen storage in a vehicle to accommodate roughly a 300-mile driving range per fill-up.

"No material provides that yet," says Jim. "Our research for the past few years has been on the leading edge of hydride development," however, and has identified the class of material that appears to come the closest to that goal.

Hydrogen’s advantages over fossil fuels include its lack of polluting emissions and the fact that it can be produced anywhere from renewable energy resources, such as solar electricity or biomass. Proponents of an energy economy that emphasizes hydrogen point to the potential to improve urban air quality, decrease greenhouse gases (released by burning fossil fuels), and gain independence from foreign oil.

Meanwhile, Sandia researchers in the Labs’ Combustion Research Facility (CRF) in California have also been building on Sandia’s long-standing strengths in the study of metal-hydrogen interactions and engine studies to explore hydrogen use for electrical production by stationary power sources — turbines in particular.

CRF researchers are also involved in the International Energy Agency’s efforts to create next-generation models for turbines that can burn hydrogen. The CRF is also seeking funding to demonstrate use of hydrogen fuel, with its near-zero emissions of smog-producing oxides of nitrogen, in an internal combustion engine.

Although one of the biggest impacts of switching to hydrogen from fossil fuel will be seen in transportation, its use in stationary power generation will also help to develop an infrastructure for its distribution and use.

The virtual center, says Jim, will bring together scientists and institutions with strong and focused capabilities in several research areas.

Partnering with Sandia are: Brookhaven National Laboratory, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology; the University of Hawaii, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Nevada-Reno, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, University of Utah, California Institute of Technology, and Stanford University; and General Electric Company-Global Research, HRL Laboratories, and Intematix.